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I'm 43 and got myself a spinal cord injury 16 years ago that keeps me in a wheelchair most of the time. I can stand and walk with crutches and have some decent (for a quadriplegic) upper body mobility but definitely impaired strength, balance and function to say the least.

Pre-injury I was a relatively fit and athletic person and always interested in martial arts. With the rising popularity of BJJ, and my need/want to continue to build strength and coordination (lest I lose it quicker than you can bat an eye) as well as participate in physical activity other than the gym is drawing me in that direction. I've spoken to people/practitioners in person and even an instructor at a friend's school way way out who have said, seemingly patronisingly, "go for it buddy", but I've never felt enough sincerity in that to believe that it would actually be something feasible to learn, much less something a school would be willing to take on, or even how that would work. My suspicion is that in person, people are trying to sugarcoat (not my style), but in reality it might not be feasible. Hence my presence here. It's no secret that people feel more comfortable setting the sugarcoating aside with the anonymity of the interwebs... this time it's working in my favor, I hope.

I haven't been able to find much info online and getting it straight from the horses mouth is always better anyway. But all this is to say, is BJJ something someone in my position could pursue in a manner more less of that of an able-bodied person? I know I can pay anyone to do anything (rather people can be paid to do anything), but between physical therapists, recreational therapists and the general population, I get enough of that. My question is: is it worth inquiring with some local schools to find what I'm looking for?

If the general consensus is "probably not", it's not some obstacle I have an undying drive to overcome. I'd rather save everyone the time and awkwardness and continue weights, swimming, skiing and the rest of the stuff I've been doing, if that makes any sense.

Sorry for the extra-long post. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  • Please clarify what "could pursue in a manner more less of that of an able-bodied person" means to you. Your condition obviously puts you at a disadvantage to able-bodied people, but it's not clear what you would find acceptable. – mattm Sep 5 at 20:50
  • my bad - i see how that can be vey ambiguous. I guess I mean, I would like to learn the art of BJJ... not how to roll around and flail and call it something it's not. I don't know if I could be in a class with other beginners or how far that could even go. What kind of criteria would an instructor base that on... or would it automatically be a necessity for an "adaptive", -on-1 kiNd of thing... if there even was someone willing to train me? – Daveh0 Sep 5 at 21:07
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Adaptive Jiu Jitsu

It is definitely possible to train and progress in BJJ with a spinal cord injury. Pete McGregor has the following advice when looking for a place to train:

I will note that my disability is a spinal cord injury. I am a complete T-7 paraplegic so all of my jiujitsu is done without the use of my legs. [...]

Before we even get to the jiujitsu part, let’s talk accessibility... Before you go to an academy, phone over there and introduce yourself, ask to speak to the instructor. Explain a little about yourself and your disability and that you’re interested in giving jiujitsu a try. They should give you an immediate vibe of whether or not it’s for you.

The instructor should be warm and inviting and pleased to try and help someone who may give them a challenge. If you get a bad vibe, move on, it’s not worth the time or the money to find out something bad. Also, make sure you ask if the WHOLE facility is accessible. Sometimes the mats are but the changing rooms/showers, parking stalls, and access points aren’t. You should know these things before you show up so there’s no confusion.

Para-Jiu-Jitsu World Champion (2017) Sean Fong (leg, arm amputee) has given a number of interviews in the past few years. In one he describes how he initially opted for private lessons in BJJ since he was self-conscious about what he could and couldn't do, but he quickly found a very welcoming environment in the regular group classes.

If you live near one however, note that in the US there there are several programs specifically catering to adaptive jiu-jitsu e.g. Yamasaki's DC's Adaptive Jiu-Jitsu Program.

There is even a YouTube series demonstrating adaptive Jiu-Jitsu techniques.

Adaptive Jiu-Jitsu Competitions

There are a number of national and international level adaptive Jiu jitsu competitions, including:

Other Adaptive Grappling Sports

I have trained with a number of judoka with various physical disabilities and in all cases the clubs and coaches have been more than happy to accommodate. Many countries have Adaptive Judo competitions specifically for such competitors, and training courses for coaches to accommodate students of various abilities.

This may serve more as an inspirational point than any concrete advice about the feasibility of training, but there are exceptional grapplers who have reached the highest levels of competition against able-bodied competitors, e.g. Anthony Robles, 2010–11 NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Champion (125lb) (born with one leg).

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I don't think we can tell you whether or not you're able to do a BJJ class. I think that's something you're going to have to try and see for yourself.

If I were you, I'd call up a BJJ school I like, and I'd ask to talk with the head instructor. On the phone, I'd explain the situation and ask if it would be possible to meet with him or one of his assistant instructors sometime to see if my disabilities really would exclude me from BJJ altogether or not. Then when you meet, they're going to see where you're at and whether you have something you can work with. They'll explain what you will and won't be able to do.

Another thing to consider is joining Facebook groups and attending meet-ups where you can ask this question of people with similar disabilities near your location. Ask them if they know of anyone doing BJJ. If so, you can go check out that school.

If the logistics of having to be in the regular BJJ class don't work well, or if you become too self-conscious or get tired of people holding back when they're partnering with you, you might consider starting up a weekly group lesson for others with disabilities. You just need one or more others who are interested. Private lessons are expensive, but if you get a few guys like yourself to split the cost, it's going to much more cost effective. You might do this in addition to the regular class, also.

You can also stick with private lessons only for a while, until you've gotten to the point where you can hold your own. And then you might feel better entering the regular class. That way, the instructor can also get to know you and your limitations and can tailor your training to fit you better.

Keep in mind that physical attributes do matter in fights and in competition. For example, a black belt who weighs 100 pounds will find it's hard to win against a white belt who weighs 250 pounds. Anyone with disabilities is going to find themselves in a similar situation. But that just means you're going to have to work harder and longer than people who don't have disabilities just to match them. It might be a long time before you can win against white belts who have no disabilities. You'll need to go into this with that understanding. You will lose a lot, maybe even all the time for a year, two years, etc. Instead of feeling bad about it, you'll need to see each loss as getting one step closer to the day that you start to win.

Hope that helps.

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    Thanks Steve. From your response I get the feeling you absolutely get where I'm coming from. And competition is 100% important to me but working my a** off to see results is of far greater importance. so thank you for your wisdom and candor! – Daveh0 Sep 5 at 21:17
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I trained with disabled people: missing arms; wheel chair bound ME; and blind. Any good instructor will modify what they teach to suit your condition. With that in mind, go find a good school (not style), and try a few sessions.

Do not limit yourself to BJJ; look at all the martial arts clubs close to you, regardless of style, since a good instructor is what you are looking for. Do not limit yourself to Asian styles/arts; look up HEMA, bows, and even axe throwing.

In any case, you will not be able to do all the things that a non-quadriplegic person can do. However, it means nothing about what you can achieve. I can say with 100% certainty that anyone who competes in the Paralympics or the Invictus Games is much better than me at what they do with very little chance of me coming even close to their performance.

As they say in Japanese: 頑張ってください “Do your best”.


Get medical advice as well. You do not want to make it worst. Medical advice is off topic here, so I'll leave it at that.

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