In many countries today, children are fascinated by Karate and eager to learn this ancient, artful form of self-defense. Youngsters with cerebral palsy share this fascination with Karate-but rarely have a chance to learn it.

In SPASTN (The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu), an innovative program in southeast India, children with mild to moderate CP are taught Karate. They take it very seriously. Likewise their trainers, who are volunteer professional Karate instructors, take the children and their learning seriously.

At its best, Karate is a physical art which teaches disciples self-mastery of body and mind, as well as a philosophy of harmony and non-aggressive self-defense. Its guided rhythmic movements conform with many of the therapeutic movements and positioning used for children with cerebral palsy.

Seeing these children proudly demonstrate their Karate skills is a mind-altering revelation, even to those of us who work routinely with disabled kids. It awakens us to the children’s hidden potentials. We learn that when the children are challenged with an activity they passionately want and chose to do, it is astonishing what they can accomplish. Observing their concentration and unexpected grace as they perform this ancient art stretches the boundaries of what therapists, caretakers, and the children themselves dream is possible. For doer and viewer alike, it is a liberating experience.

The Karate program at SPASTN was initiated by Karate master ShihanHussaini, who is also trained in social work and guidance counseling. The parents are delighted with the results, and the teachers are amazed. Observable benefits are many:

  • better coordination, both gross and fine;

  • improved behavior and attention span;

  • a greater sense of personal adequacy, self image, feeling of fulfillment, and more self-confidence.

The introduction of Karate to children with cerebral palsy was observed by David Werner during a recent trip to India with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). See [here](#addlink/pg 4)

Using What Works Best

In addition to Karate, the SPASTN Center assists children with cerebral palsy to discover and expand their capabilities. Rather than try to ‘normalize’ them to do things the same way as non-disabled children, they help them to do things in whatever way is easiest and works best for them.

Children with mild to moderate spastic cerebral palsy practice Karate with concentration and pride. In the last picture, a boy (using his spasticity to good advantage) lies stretched rigidly between two chairs while a Karate master breaks a stone slab resting on the fearless boy’s body.