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I don't use testing when I teach; I observe and promote when students are ready (hopefully avoiding various observer effects). That said, I judge individuals based on their individual capabilities and ability to move (which is a vital component of our art). I've also, however, never trained with anyone who has had a significant physical disability, though I've met a small number of martial artists in wheelchairs and with other disabilities.

In organizations in which students have a prescribed test, are tests modified to make allowances for such disabilities? If so, how?

  • This is another wiki question. All answers will be subjective. – Bob Cross Feb 17 '12 at 21:26
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    @BobCross: Even subjective does not necessarily indicate wiki. See Good Subjective, Bad Subjective – stslavik Feb 17 '12 at 22:46
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    Check the comments on that post, particularly Robert's comment "But, if your question is intended to gather a list of equally relevant answers, and you don’t expect one answer to be the most applicable, it should be a community wiki anyway. Community wiki on a “list of X” question suggests that the value of the question is in having the list of answers as a collection (i.e. a collaboration)." Is it possible to answer this question definitively? As far as I can tell, the answers "yes", "no" and "maybe" are all equally valid. – Bob Cross Feb 18 '12 at 2:34
  • Yes, so long as they are backed up by either facts or personal experience they are acceptably subjective. I'm not asking for a list; I'm asking if they're tested differently and how. – stslavik Feb 18 '12 at 20:46
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    It's also worth noting (though this is more of a meta discussion) that the proper answer to "polling opinion" questions is to close them, not to wikify them. See, for example, my comment here. – David H. Clements Feb 20 '12 at 21:57
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+200

I have trained with several people with disabilities. None of them wanted to be treated differently from the rest. We, as teachers, did not want to treat them differently. So they passed the same tests as the rest.

But do let reason dictate things: Of course, we had to adapt some tests. If you do not have a right arm, it is impossible for you to have your right arm grabbed. If you are blind, it is impossible to avoid an attack that is not a grab.

If the students requires breaks (insulin, prosthetic falls off, or just MS being too painful) then of course, you should allow it. In the same way that an on call medic (or whatnot) during a grading should be able to rush to their cell phone.

Mental disabilities need to be taken into account as well. For me, dyspraxia was one of the hardest one to deal with. But getting that same test others and passing it meant a lot to the practitioners even if they took a little longer to get there. It require a lot of change of how the techniques were taught: reinforcing good behaviour as opposed to pointing out what is wrong. Mentally handicapped people can be hard work -- mainly because we are not generally used to dealing with them, again how you teach must change not what you teach or how you grade them.

I guess the answer boils down to "How can a disabled person do the same tests or as close as it is feasible as everyone else?". Mostly, this becomes self evident once you think about it that way.

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    Cheers. I like the points you made; I only disagree with a blind person being unable to avoid anything other than a grab. Cheers. – stslavik Feb 22 '12 at 16:45
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    If you can find a way for them to be able to avoid non-grabbing attacks, I would be interested in finding out how. BTW, it does depend on the level of blindness the person has. Of course, you can test those methods by just putting on a blind fold... Maybe inviting accidents there. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Feb 23 '12 at 8:15
  • We train using blindfolds a lot, starting with shoving attacks, and progressing up to striking. The intent, as I was taught, was to train in sakkijutsu, which is necessary for passing our test for godan. This same method can be applied, I'm sure, to training the blind; it's essentially using your other senses and trusting your subconscious to move you to a safe place. – stslavik Feb 23 '12 at 17:32
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They can be. I don't know that they are universally, but a lot of schools/teachers seem to be willing to accommodate at least some degree of disability. I suspect that it would be something that could be asked of each individual instructor.

In my school, at least, testing is a formality that takes place when the instructor judges that you are ready to advance. You essentially aren't going to be given the test unless the instructor believes you are ready to advance, after which the result of the formal test is as much there for the student as anything. We've had students with injuries or non-crippling disabilities (e.g., can't do most kicks but can still walk) both take and pass tests. The test just gets adapted: perhaps we do more lock techniques, we emphasize the techniques in that set that they can do, or we work with the modified versions of the techniques for their particular situation.

So, at least for my specific school in my specific art, the answer to this question is "yes."

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Here is a video of an MMA studio training kids with autism. The key thing is understanding the disability and using positive reinforcement. Different approaches will need to be taken with different individuals. I know of some instructors who do not have the patience nor skill set to effectively train students with disabilities, and they wisely decline such students. I know others who do an amazing job working with students with mental and physical disabilities.

I primarily commented to share an experience I had with this, however. I trained in a system of Kenpo Karate that was being taught in a church by a youth pastor. He had effectively created his own system to teach to churches. The system taught self defense techniques and students memorized bible passages and wrote about various faith-based topics along with learning the martial art (these additional steps were required during belt tests). What I found interesting is that this instructor awarded traditional colored belt rank but he also assigned military rank to students in the form of patches. The military rank was subjective, but some leadership was implied. He used this military rank as a means of rewarding students for working hard and achieving immediate tasks/goals while working towards the next belt. I saw several students with disabilities receive this alternate rank, which I believed further encouraged them as they worked towards their next belt (which often took them longer than other students). Just an interesting idea.

  • The military rank thing is interesting. Were the military ranks subdivisions of the more traditional belt ranks, or was it a completely orthogonal system? For example, could a student achieve first black belt by passing the standard tests but still be a Private because they were a lazy slacker who somehow could show up and pass the tests, or, alternately, could a student remain a white or yellow belt due to lack of specific skills or abilities but rise to the level of General by showing a lot of effort and hard work? – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jun 26 at 22:55
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    @RobertColumbia great question: my understanding is that the rank was completely orthogonal. – Dan Jun 27 at 0:58
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Here, by means of example, are the guidelines for examination of disabled judoka entering a Dan grading in the British Judo Association (BJA):

TECHNICAL EXAMINATION FOR DISABLED PLAYERS

The purpose of the grading syllabus is to help coaches provide a safe, fun and stimulating learning environment where all people with special needs feel confident and motivated to reach their individual potential as a judoka.

The coach, examiner and judoka should work together and in the practical section where a Waza is not possible due to any type of restriction or limitation by the judoka, then the Waza should be substituted for a Waza more appropriate but within the grading criteria. For any verbal part of the exam, the judoka can by any appropriate means, pass on the information required to the examiner. There is no pass or fail and the examination process has no time limit. When the examiner is satisfied that the candidate has completed the requirements for the module, this is recorded in the candidate’s exam sheet and when all required modules are complete the candidate registers the application for promotion with the NDGA, submitting exam sheet together with Record Book, Technical Dan Grade record card, current licence and fee of £40. Where techniques are substituted to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge, the intention is that the same standard is reached, by alternative equivalent means. The purpose is not to lower the standard to be demonstrated, but to allow some flexibility in reaching the standard indicated by the grade the judoka is aiming to achieve.

A great amount of discretion is given to the examiner, with the grading scheme being very flexible in dealing with all needs and all mainstream documentation should be utilised.

Important Note:

Each candidate taking part in an examination should be relaxed with no tension or stress. It is acknowledged that the candidates own coach is best placed to determine the ability and best time to carry out the exam and therefore can assist the examiner during the process. If the candidate is unable to complete any section of the examination, the examiner will either adapt or replace the Waza with one that the candidate is able to complete. The aim is to challenge players according to their individual abilities so that each player is fully able to reach their potential. The candidate should be given the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and understanding of judo and therefore qualify and progress through the higher grades by virtue of their personal efforts. This grading process is a working partnership between coaches, examiners, players and parents/carers. Naturally it has to be accepted, that in the same way as mainstream judoka, there will eventually be a point in the disabled judokas chosen pathway where it is not possible to progress any further, in exactly the same way that all judoka, at some stage reach their limit of progression.

The kyū and Mon grade syllabuses have similar guidelines, though with an illustrative example of how techniques may be substituted:

e.g. If the exam states two throws and two hold-downs it may be more appropriate only to have four hold-downs.

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