"A Different Kind Of Prodigy"

This is an article I wrote a few years back on one of my students, it was professionally published by lockflow.com as the cover story in their January newsletter.  Enjoy.

One Saturday morning, not too long ago, a kid’s karate class was in session.  One of our students hadn’t trained in a while, and he showed up without his gi while the other kids warmed-up. He came in with his father and told us he wouldn’t be able to train because he jammed his finger. When he said that, my father and I had no response. Instead, we looked to the mat. The boy who jammed his finger didn’t say another word once he saw BJ—10 years old with one fully functional arm and without legs—on the mat, training.

When BJ first came to us, his father explained that they had been turned away from every other school that they visited. Shocked and appalled by how BJ had been treated, we told BJ that we’d be more than happy to take him. His father then asked us how we would teach BJ. Our response was that we didn’t have the slightest clue. BJ is the only one that knows how his body moves and reacts, so we explained that it’s up to him to adapt the techniques we teach to his own physical ability. His father was ecstatic and signed BJ up that day.

BJ has been training with the Family Martial Arts Center for over 6 months now. He comes in to work out with his sister two or three times a week, and he always smiles. BJ embraces his challenge. He does not look at his “handicap” as a handicap; he sees it as a positive feature. From climbing the high dive at the local pool to participating in karate classes every week, BJ does not hold back on living his life.

The first day BJ was in class, he did exceptionally well. He put everything he had, both physically and mentally, into training. The other instructors and I knew that this would be the beginning to the formation of a great martial artist. With the kids drenched in sweat and the class ready to end, we decided to let them attempt breaking boards. The first one was the easy one; every kid broke it, including BJ. The excitement and joy that came from each student was overwhelming. So, we brought out a more difficult board.

We started with the highest belt rank in the class, our purple belt. She aligned her fist perfectly with the board, settled into her stance, and unleashed a wicked punch. The board didn’t budge. The kids

were stunned; everyone thought that if anyone could do it, she could. We went down the row, belt by belt, every student failed, and every student became more and more disheartened. We got to the end of the row, and BJ was the last one left to try. The other students had already left BJ out of the equation.

BJ set back into his stance. He aligned his first two knuckles at the crease of the board, cocked

his hand back, and let it fly. The cracking over the board split the silence of the room. The parents were astonished, the kids were stunned, and BJ asked “Did I do that?” We responded, “Yes you did.” Moments later, applause filled the dojo. From that time on, everyone in the school respected BJ.

Just a few months ago, BJ decided that he wanted to try competing, so he entered the kata and self-defense portion of a local tournament. BJ was a white belt at the time, and was competing against yellows and purples. When BJ’s division was called, the head judge at the table told all of the competitors to stand. All of the kids stood except for BJ. After all, he had no legs on which to stand. The head judge, unknowingly, looked directly at BJ and said “stand up!” When BJ saw me whisper into the head judge’s ear, he laughed. I whispered that he had no legs. Red in the face with embarrassment, the judge told the kids to sit back down. BJ continued to laugh.

When the judges called his name, BJ presented himself, took a few steps back, and began his kata. He stepped out into his first front stance, threw out a strong low block combined with a snap in his gi and a kia. The judges were astonished. BJ took second place. BJ, perhaps gaining confidence, also performed exceptionally well in self-defense and took first.

BJ approaches martial arts the way any serious student should; he trains hard and is willing to try anything, but his modesty and humor are his greatest tools. His determination undoubtedly helps him overcome challenges, but his passion for living is his true strength.

One day, we were working on stances, and my father said to the class, “Make sure those legs are straight.” BJ responded, half-giggling, “Sensei, I don’t have any!”

I know at least for me, if there’s ever a time when I consider giving up, I think of BJ, and for a split second his strength overwhelms me, and radiates throughout my body. For that split second, I regain that ability and drive to push through. And I know as I’m writing this that BJ would disagree with this whole article. He doesn’t see himself as the inspirational super-hero type of a person that he is. No. His humble nature makes him see himself as no different from anyone else. That is what makes BJ, BJ.

He doesn’t need legs. His heart carries him.