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Martial arts helps vision-impaired kids

University wants to study program

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Tamia Thomas, 11, didn’t say much as she sat on a bench Monday night at Superior Academy Self-Defense School waiting for a lesson, only that she was there “to learn.”

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Children with visual impairments attend a martial arts class to learn basic moves and build awareness.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Children with visual impairments attend a martial arts class to learn basic moves and build awareness.

Asked whether she would promise not to use what she learned against her brother, Keanu, 9, sitting nearby, she just smiled and shook her head.

Tamia was among more than a dozen patients from Georgia Regents University Pediatric Ophthalmology and their family who got a lesson in the basics of what was being called Visionary Warriors Training. Doctors with the department hope it is the start of regular trips to get the training.

“It’s really to build their self-confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness of their environment,” said Dr. Julian Nussbaum, the chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology
at GRU and co-director of the James and Jean Culver Vision Discovery Institute.

The department plans to seek a grant that would allow it to follow children taking the training to more objectively measure its impact, Nussbaum said. He suspects it would be positive.

“For kids with visual impairments, they are tremendously malleable,” he said. “They really are adaptable to their environment. The more tools we give them, perhaps the better they will be.”

Nussbaum said he was encouraged by other organizations such as Kids Kicking Cancer, which works to get martial arts training to children with cancer to help them manage the physical and emotional effects of their disease and treatment.

The children might also follow a famous example in the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who apparently benefited from his training to overcome his vision problems. In a blog on the Web site of the Bruce Lee Foundation, a friend says Lee once confided that he was near-sighted since childhood and originally chose his style of martial arts
because it involved fighting up close, where he could see his opponent better.

What the academy teaches is derived from Lee’s brand of martial arts, which it called Jeet Kune Do, said owner Jason Herrera.

“That’s what we’re teaching the kids, on a basic level, of course,” he said. “We’re hoping the kids get the sense that they can accomplish things, that they can, despite the adversity of having an impairment, can move forward past that into accomplishing things in life.”

Dr. Stephanie Goei watched as her patients went through the moves and smiled. Her own two children were on the floor with them and have been going to the studio since March.

Parents of children with vision problems are often very protective for fear that they could make the problem worse, and Goei said she wanted to open up the possibility to them.

“I’d like to share this with them,” she said.


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