Getting a grip on self-defense

Blind Richmondite wins gold, reporter gets bold

Johnny Tai may not see it shine, but his skill in self-defense martial arts has won him gold at the 2014 Tiger Balm Internationals.

Determined not to let his blindness hold him back, Richmondite Tai, who studies the art of Krav Maga, competed against sighted opponents and came away a champion.

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Losing his vision at a young age, Tai's family believed he would be behind his peers in self-confidence, and enrolled him in various sports, but it was martial arts that motivated Tai.

"Martial arts is a big part of my life. It gives me a reason to get active everyday, and it is something that I can use as motivation," said Tai.

Although Tai doesn't consider himself a role model, he does hope he can inspire other blind people to not let their lack of vision leave them feeling helpless.

Because of his blindness, Tai initially had a hard time finding a gym where he could train in martial arts. Today, more options are available, such as Richmond's Hit and Run Self Defense.

The program, run by partners James Chartier and Louisa Weizmann, is based on cooperation and letting the participants learn at their own pace. It can also be tailored to suit people with physical barriers, such as wheelchairs and other limitations.

"There are people here from eight-yearsold to 68, and they all love it," said sensei Weizmann.

The program stresses a proactive approach to avoid falling victim, starting with the unsaid physical cues.

According to the instructors, the first thing students develop is a stronger sense of confidence, stemming from the knowledge that they're more prepared to deal with an unexpected encounter.

Unlike traditional martial arts training, there's no rigid discipline with this group, and it encourages people of all physical levels to have fun and participate.

The group is hosting a free, one-hour self-defense seminar, in conjunction with the City of Richmond, on Tuesday March 25, for children (7:15 to 8:15 p.m.) and adults (8:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.). Register online at hitandrunselfdefense.com.

Putting the idea that anyone can do this to the test, this reporter had sensei's Weizmann

and Chartier demonstrate.

As a writer, my physical activity level is not as high as it could be, and with no knowledge of martial arts, I was hesitant to try it out.

Within a few moments, that hesitation turned to enjoyment as I was quickly shown how to avoid being taken down, how to escape different grapples, how to effectively disarm someone, and was given a preview of just how quickly I could incapacitate an assailant.

Instructors Weizmann and Chartier stress the program is not strength-based, rather it is all technique and is suitable for men, women and children.

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