Martial Arts Disability

91 – How To Train And Teach Martial Arts With A Disability

Sam Broughton proves that anything is possible and shares how to overcome the challenges of training martial arts with cerebral palsy.

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN: 

  • How Sam copes with his limitations and overcomes challenges in training martial arts
  • The common barriers that people with disabilities face when trying out martial arts
  • How martial arts can benefit people who are disabled or have cerebral palsy
  • Sam’s mindset in running a martial arts school in a small town with small population
  • And more

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TRANSCRIPTION

I think a lot of people or almost everyone that walks into a martial arts school has a really good idea of where they would like to be. They also generally know quite well what their limitations are and what things are stopping them to get there. The thing that a lot of people really struggle with is those smaller steps in between. So they know the start point and they know the endpoint, but they're not sure on the thing they should focus on first. 

GEORGE: Cool. Hey, this is George and welcome to another Martial Arts Media Business Podcast. Today, I'm chatting with a good friend of mine, Sam Broughton. Now, fortunately enough, I speak with Sam pretty frequently. He’s part of our Partners program where I work with school owners and help them with their lead generation and marketing and so forth. 

So we chat on a frequent basis, but I really wanted to bring Sam on because he's a wealth of knowledge, lives in a very small town in Port Lincoln, which people say they live in a small town and they can't reach a market. Sam is about to squash that whole idea, as well. And, yeah. We've got some interesting things to chat about. So, hey. Welcome to the call, Sam. 

SAM: Thanks very much, George. 

GEORGE: Cool. So just to kick things off, if you could give us just a bit of a background. Who is Sam? How did you get into martial arts and how did your whole journey evolve? 

SAM: Okay, cool. So as you said, I run a martial arts school here in Port Lincoln. I teach standup self-defence, Muay Thai, and some Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I started martial arts around 20 years ago now, when I was 14 years old, training in stand-up, I was training in Zen Do Kai. I always wanted to do some martial arts, but it was something that I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to do.

Actually, I have a physical disability called cerebral palsy that affects my legs, balance, coordination, that kind of thing. So I was always inspired by martial arts movies, Bruce Lee, the same kind of stuff most people are getting into martial arts for initially, but I just needed to find the right open-minded instructor that was willing to take me on. And from there, I never looked back.

GEORGE: Awesome. Cool. And we'll chat a bit more about that, but I guess just to touch on the business side of things and just for everyone listening, it's Spektrum Martial Arts. Spektrum with a K. I want to backtrack more into your journey, but how do you find running a school in a smaller town? Are there certain challenges that you're aware of or is it just, hey, this is just the way it is and we just do what we do, either way? 

SAM: The obvious challenge, I guess, would be the population density. We've got about 16,000 people in Port Lincoln, itself, and some smaller outlying communities. There's definitely that, as a challenge. But I guess the other thing, too, is less competition we are the only full-time school here. Initially, I always thought of the population thing as a challenge, but then when I actually looked at the amount of students that I needed and that I envisioned for my business and the actual percent of the population that that was, that made it seem like a more manageable task. 

GEORGE: Okay. So you started martial arts when you were 14. 

SAM: Yep, that's right. 

GEORGE: Okay. Having the disability, cerebral palsy, how did you overcome that to actually take a step? Were there sporting things that you did before you got into martial arts? Or how did you go about that? 

SAM: There were some sports I tried, some team sports in different things, and some of those experiences were good, some not so good. But I think the thing that really kind of pushed me in my childhood to try things was the way I was raised. I've got a twin brother that I grew up with and an older sister but, especially having a twin brother, he has fully able-bodied so, while he wanted to ride bush bikes and climb trees and do all those normal things, I just kind of followed along behind and just found my own way to do it. 

And my mum, especially, she never really wrapped me up in cotton wool, although she probably wanted to. She never told me I couldn't do anything. She always just encouraged me just to give it a go, modify things where I needed to, and I got pretty good at finding a different way to get the same result. 

GEORGE: All right. So in your experience, what type of challenges did you face just up until before the whole martial arts thing even started? What type of challenges do you face, just on a day to day, just getting through things? And especially from the childhood stage.

SAM: Yeah. I had a bunch of surgeries, corrective surgeries, as a kid. So there was definitely that. Lots of rehabs, learning to walk again, those kinds of things. In and out of the hospital. I had to be very focused and very disciplined working through all my rehabilitation. So that was tough. Because of those things, I kind of stood out at school because, quite often, I was in a wheelchair. I had plaster or walking stick and those kinds of things. So that was a little bit tricky, always explaining to people what was going on, getting looks from people in the street and all that kind of thing I grew up with. 

And everyone's always asking the question, especially kids who don't necessarily understand, “Oh, what's happening with your legs? How come you walk like that?” All those sorts of things. Most people were just genuinely curious, so I got pretty good at handling that. And then, obviously, I had a little bit of the more so discrimination, derogatory type things. That was mostly a minimum. I think, too, because I had a pretty tight circle of friends around me, they kept a lot of that out of the way, as well. 

GEORGE: I would just think that would be probably the toughest thing to handle, as a kid. Bullying, as in a big sense, people getting bullied about just simple things. And for you, you actually have a real challenge. It's not like someone's laughing at you, hey, because you've got a booger wiped on your shirt. 

It's not just something happening, an embarrassing moment. You've got a real thing that you've got to deal with every day and you've kind of got to make peace with that it's not really going away. I guess you feel fortunate. You were saying that you had a family that really supported you and so forth. How do you find that people, in general, with your situation, actually deal with that? How do you really overcome all those tougher challenges? 

SAM: Well, for me, I was born like this. It might've been different if I was fully able-bodied and then there was some kind of accident to cause me to be this way, but I was always like this. It was my everyday life, from day one. So I was used to finding different ways to do things and overcome challenges and things like that. I struggled quite a bit when I was younger, sometimes understanding why people would treat me differently because this was normal for me. It was everything that I'd ever had.

And when people talked about, “Oh, you've got a disability,” or, “You're not the same as everyone else,” that kind of thing, I didn't really understand that as a kid because I was kind of like, “Well, I'm just like you. This is the way that I've always been.” But then, as I said, on the other side of that, I had a lot of people encouraging me, helping me along, willing to work with me, sometimes modify group activities so I could be included and things like that. So it was definitely a challenge, especially as a kid, but one that I worked hard to overcome.

GEORGE: Yeah. Amazing. So let's walk into the martial arts space. So you built up the courage to start martial arts. How did that then evolve and get going? 

SAM: I was fortunate enough to have a really good instructor from day dot, that was just happy to basically have me along to class and see what I could do. He was really open to just sort of assess me on my own merits and not really rule me out of doing any kind of activity. He was just happy for me to give everything a shot. I've progressed through belt grades and things like that by showing my knowledge in the syllabus and the requirements and demonstrating what I could. 

And I also have become a little bit more advanced, a little bit more experienced and got into helping out with a little bit of teaching of the techniques that I couldn't do, the high kicks and things like that that I couldn't physically demonstrate, he started getting me to teach those to lower-level students to help show that, maybe I couldn't demonstrate the technique physically, but I certainly had the understanding. But as long as through a combination of being able to physically demonstrate techniques as most people would, but also teach them and show that I had the understanding of the things that I couldn't do, he was always happy to grade me and help me progress in that way. 

GEORGE: Got it. And sorry, what was his name again? 

SAM: Andrew Adriaens was his name. 

GEORGE: Andrew Adriaens. And which school? Just so we give him some credit. 

SAM: He runs a Zen Do Kai school in Port Augusta in South Australia, which is about three and a half hours from where I am now. 

GEORGE: Okay, cool. So you started off in Zen Do Kai and now … What's your main focus in martial arts at this point? Still Zen Do Kai or … I know you also do jiu-jitsu. 

SAM: Yeah. I still teach a lot of stand-up classes. Also do some Muay Thai kickboxing within that, as well. And probably for the last 10 years or so, quite a bit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. 

GEORGE: All right. So now, we talk about the challenges, but where do you feel you have an advantage? Because I'm sure that there are challenges, but you have to approach things on a whole different level. How do you go about that? 

SAM: Definitely advantage is definitely the area that I've kind of been focused on most of my life. Being born the way I am, I never really had anything kind of taken away. So I didn't really understand what I was missing, but as I got older and definitely got into martial arts, I started to understand how I could use what I had. 

I had quite a lot of upper-body strength from having to push myself around in wheelchairs and pull myself along and use my arms where I couldn't use my legs. So that was definitely an advantage. And anyone that knows me well will also tell you how stubborn I am. I don't give up easily and I think that's really good and productive, having a lot of challenges thrown at you early in life. 

And probably the other thing that I alluded to a little bit earlier is I couldn't just demonstrate techniques and maybe kind of bluff my way through showing understanding like that. I really had to be able to verbalize the technique and be able to explain it in fine details for a student that had no idea what I was talking about or that I couldn't even give a physical demonstration of the technique. I had to explain those techniques in words, try to get that result of that technique into the student without maybe having to rely on a physical demonstration. So I had to really learn how to break things down and verbalize techniques really, really well. 

GEORGE: I like that. I mean, how do you really go about that? Is it just a really super intense focus of, look, I've got to look at something and I've got to break it down? Do you have a process that you go about? 

SAM: Obviously, I start by looking at the end result of the technique. That's obviously the thing that I need to make happen. And then I sort of try to backtrack and look at what are the working parts of that technique that made that thing happen? How can I use my arms and sometimes my legs, to some extent, to try to get that same result? So I needed to really understand how a technique actually works to get me from the point I am to the point that I'd like to go to. 

GEORGE: All right. That's with your own training and then with the teaching. Okay. Let's just start with other instructors. If you had to speak to other instructors that had to teach people that are in the same situation as you are, how would you go about actually educating them on how to do that properly? 

SAM: Yeah. I would say, first of all, just be open and take the student as they come. Let them tell you what they think they maybe can and can't do. They've lived with their particular challenge their whole life, so they're very aware of what capabilities they have and also ways that they can modify techniques. It's really a collaborative effort because, as an instructor, to have a student with a disability, they can't necessarily follow that same path, that same lesson, that same even syllabus, to some degree. 

They're used to using all of their other students. It's really a collaborative effort of, “Okay, usually I would use this technique. Let's see how that would work for you.” You can't quite make that happen but, as an instructor, kind of try to work out where those students strengths are, what they can and can't do, and then use their martial arts knowledge to try to get that student to the same point. 

Like I said before, I think one of the things that everyone focuses on the disability because it's obvious, because you can see it, but it's not until they get to know the person that they start to realize, “Oh, no. Hang on. They've got all these other kinds of extra attributes because they've been through that early in their lives.” 

GEORGE: Do you have anybody that you teach that's in the same situation? 

SAM: Yeah. I've got two students at the moment that have cerebral palsy, a little bit different to my own. I've got one student that has what's called hemiplegia, which is a little bit different to me. My cerebral palsy just affects my legs. His cerebral palsy is down one side, so it's one arm and one leg. He does a lot of jiu-jitsu and some stand-up, as well, so his rips are a lot different. 

His ability to make a fist and fine motor skills with lapels and things like that with jiu-jitsu are a little bit more challenged than most. And his ability in striking is a little bit modified, kicks and things like that. So that's an interesting problem for me as a coach. I've also got a student who actually had sepsis and doesn't have a hand and actually has no feet, as well. So that's a really interesting challenge for me. 

GEORGE: For you, you've had support. Even having the support, it's a tough road to work. Right? Now, let's say you have somebody that inquires about martial arts. Maybe you've got a parent listening to this and the parent doesn't have faith in the child. It's coming from the top, almost, that they just … maybe they feel challenged by the situation, themselves. They've got a child and they don't know if the child can do this and it's actually fearful for themselves that they're going to create hardship for their child because they're going to put their child in a situation. 

Perhaps, they're not going to cope with it or they're going to have those obstacles. How do you have that mental conversation? How would you have that mental conversation with someone? And let's say, if not that direct, but if someone had to actually walk into the school and they were toying with the idea of martial arts. 

SAM: It's a really interesting conversation because, as I said, every student, every child is different, anyway. And then you're putting disability on top of that. Then you just add that difficulty, add that complexity, but I think it's got to start with an openness from the parent just to allow their child to have a go and just see what they can do because they can get the same things out of martial arts that anyone else can, but obviously their path is going to be a little bit different. 

And I think it's definitely a big mindset challenge on the student's part to understand that there's going to be challenges, there's going to be obstacles. There's no sort of cookie-cutter path that they can follow that's going to lead to sort of X result. If they're willing to put the time in, put the work in, and kind of do that collaborative journey with their instructor, then they can definitely reach the same result and milestone. 

GEORGE: Perfect. And if you had to say that to someone directly in your shoes, what would you say to them if they're having the challenges and thinking, “Oh, could I? Should I? Shouldn't I?” And having those doubts and that resistance? And it's so funny. We have this conversation and I think it's something I could ask almost anyone, right? 

Because a lot of people, before they start martial arts, they've got this … and now it almost feels like this imaginary obstacle. Right? They've got this obstacle that they don't want to start because of XY reason, which is factually so small, in comparison. How would you have that conversation with someone directly, in similar shoes to you? 

SAM: Yeah. Well, we talk a lot about future pacing when we're talking about signups and intros and things like that. And I think a lot of people or almost everyone that walks into a martial arts school has a really good idea of where they would like to be. They also generally know quite well what their limitations are and what the things are that are stopping them to get there. The thing that a lot of people really struggle with is those smaller steps in between. So they know the start point and they know the endpoint, but they're not sure on the thing they should focus on first. 

And some of the problems, too, or limitations that they might have might seem quite big and they don't know how to tackle them. They don't know what small steps that they need to focus on. So I think that's really important. Creating a start point and an endpoint, but a lot of small steps, as many as that student needs, in order to be able to sort of make that journey. 

GEORGE: Because again, it's not a cookie-cutter approach, but if you had to think of one or two situations where you could install confidence quickly … somebody starts and you've painted this future pace and you've painted this journey that this will be where you want to go, this is how we want to go, is there something that you can do that's the quickest confidence-builder in that situation to install some confidence to move forward? 

SAM: Yeah. Most definitely. I would say, definitely focus on what you can do and not what you can't do. And often when you do that, some of those things that you can't do, I've found those problems kind of solve themselves or you find ways around them quite easily. And I think jiu-jitsu, for me, has been a massive example of that. There are tons of tons and techniques when I started as a white belt that seemed like I'd never been able to do them or lack of motor skills or flexibility, things like that. 

And of course, a lot of people have that in jiu-jitsu because, a lot of the movements, they're quite foreign and they're not relatable to things that we do as humans in everyday life. It was a little extra for me and it was a lot of techniques that I just kind of ruled out from day one, like, “I won't know how to do that, I won't know how to do that.” 

Now, with 10 years’ experience and a purple belt, finding other ways to do those techniques is something that I actually really enjoy and something that I'm bringing a lot of stuff into my game now that I never thought that I'd be able to do when I stepped on the mat as a white belt on day one. So if you give it a little bit of time and you build up that little bit of experience and knowledge, then you become almost like your own coach, to some degree, because you know your own body and you also know a little bit about the martial art, you know a little bit about the system. You can start to develop those techniques and then run them back through your instructor as a little bit of a filter. 

GEORGE: Got you. Now, you still Zen Do Kai and jiu-jitsu, right? So I know you're teaching both. And you're still actively training both? 

SAM: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. 

GEORGE: Okay. So it's on the jiu-jitsu side, who's helping you with that journey, at the moment? 

SAM: My jiu-jitsu instructor is John Will. I don't think I could've chosen a better jiu-jitsu coach for myself, personally, because he's been 100% invested, 100% willing to do this journey side by side with me. He enjoys actually kind of solving the problem that me and my disability kind of present. As a coach, he's really into that. He's really into finding ways to get those same results for me as he would for any other student. That's definitely something that he's taught me, as well, to have that kind of mental, analytical-type approach, really look at breaking a technique down into its working parts and really try to understand what's happening and re-engineer or reverse engineer the technique to fit me. 

GEORGE: Awesome. And I know, because the other day just before we jumped on a call, you were actually chatting to John by Skype. So with you being in a different location, I take it you travel a lot, but is there also a lot of things that you really, in your case, break down just on Skype chats and things like that? 

SAM: Yeah. Luckily for me, John Will, he's made himself super accessible for me. I travel over to Geelong to train with him, face to face, quite often to train with the students at his school. They're always great. They really look after me when I go over there. But we also do a Skype lesson every fortnight, which is ultra-cool. He'll be on the other side of the camera explaining techniques, breaking them down and coaching me through them. I'll be on the mat with a training partner and working through those techniques.

Sometimes, he'll have a partner on his end and I'll be watching a physical demonstration and following the verbal instructions, as well. And other times, he'll quite literally just be basically on his couch in his lounge room talking me through the techniques, step, by step, by step. And it's just that he knows me well enough as a student to know what I'm able to physically do and he knows his techniques inside out. He can talk me through exactly what I need to do to make those techniques happen. 

And even sometimes, I'll say to him, “Oh, I've got an idea about this technique. Can I show you?” And we'll break the technique down and look at the pros and cons of what I've kind of thought of or come across to do in a given situation. And he'll do the same. Sometimes he'll say, “Oh, I've got this technique that might be really good for you. Let's try it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't quite work, but we always end up with something we can take away from it. 

GEORGE: Fascinating stuff. Okay, awesome. Sam, it's so great to really speak to you on this level and getting to know your real story, how you've evolved and got into the whole martial arts journey. Before we wrap things up, you're running a really successful school, Spektrum Martial Arts. You're doing really great things. What's known as a, as you said, there are 16,000 people in the town. Any advice you would give to someone in that same situation that's running a small school in a small town or a smaller market? 

SAM: There are definitely advantages with word of mouth, with being known in the community on a face-to-face kind of basis. It's probably much easier in a small community to build up a little bit more of a public kind of a profile than maybe it would be in a larger community. And I think, focus on your strengths and focus on how you can maybe diversify what you offer a little bit.

Obviously, as I said, we have three different martial arts styles, so that was part of the reason that I decided to branch out from just doing stand-up to start doing some jiu-jitsu, as well, just to cater for that market. It made it a little bit easier for me to open a school and kind of cater for a more varied kind of a population than if I maybe just did just the one martial arts style. 

Be realistic about the kind of numbers that you're going to get, but also understand that … and this is one thing that we did early on that was really good for me with you, George. I worked out that, to have my goal number of students at my school, that was only 2.3% of the population of all of Port Lincoln. So 16,000 seems like a really small ball to work with in terms of marketing and the student base and things like that, your total number that you'd be happy with, with your school pumping and you work out that it's only 2.3% of the population, it makes it seem much more doable. 

GEORGE: Yeah. Love it. Awesome. Hey, Sam, thanks for much for being on. If anybody wants to reach out, have a chat either about your school does this, getting started, if someone's listening in Port Lincoln or somebody that has a disability and got this mental challenge of do I start, how do I go about it? If somebody wants to reach out to you, what's the best way to do that? 

SAM: I'm more than happy to help anyone wherever I can. They can either look me up on Facebook, Sam Broughton on Facebook or feel free to message me on my school's page, Spektrum Martial Arts. 

GEORGE: Sam, thanks so much for being on. I'll speak to you soon. 

SAM: Thank you, George.

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George Fourie

Hi I'm George Fourie, the founder of MartialArtsMedia.com. When I'm not doing dad duties or training on the mats (which I manage to combine when my son is willing! :), I'm helping Martial Arts Gym owners grow their business through the power of online media.

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