Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Blind Vets Gain Confidence Through Martial Arts
Each Tuesday in the Houston VA Fitness Center, a group of visually-impaired Veterans can be found grabbing, twisting, and pulling each other with one goal in mind—to put a would-be attacker out of commission.
The Veterans are learning 1Touch Self-Defense. Houston VA Medical Center began the classes in January, with the idea to make visually-impaired and wheelchair-bound Veterans less vulnerable.
“We found that people with vision impairments were hesitant to go out into the community,” said Amy wheeler, Vision Impairment Services team coordinator. “This class gives people tools for empowerment.”
Watching the Vets practice is like watching a dance; they must learn to move in a way that affects the other person’s body.
“Do it again,” says Mark Melonson, self-defense instructor, who also is blind. “The more you do it, the better you’ll get.”
Army Veteran Louie O’Neal, who has lost nearly all of his sight to glaucoma, takes what he learns in class and repeats it at home.
“I practice these moves with my wife and daughter,” he said. “My wife doesn’t like it all, but she does it for me. You’ve got to do it over and over again until you don’t have to think about it.”
For Army Veteran Frank De Leon, the reason for taking these classes was twofold—protection and increased confidence.
“You’ve got to learn how to defend yourself,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re just a victim. The biggest thing you get of this class is confidence … confidence that I can at least protect myself. I’m blind and my wife is a stroke victim, so I don’t have to just defend myself, I have to defend her too. I’ve got to be able to man up.”
The program, which originally was set up for six classes to give the Veterans an introduction, has been extended indefinitely.
Melonson has studied traditional jiu-jitsu since 2005 and has been teaching since 2010. As he moves around the room working with each person individually, he smoothly transitions from one move to the next, all the while telling his students that repetition is the key.
“There’s a method to the madness,” he said. “You give general instructions, but must have that one-on-one connection. Everyone learns differently. Everyone moves differently due to injuries or range of motion. You have to work specifically with whatever they are capable of doing and keep practicing the moves until they become second nature.”
His skills are not lost on his students.
“When training with Mark, he just moves and that is what I want,” said De Leon. “I’m not looking to hurt anybody, but I do want to defend myself. This is a godsend to us blind Veterans.”
Visually-impaired Veterans interested in taking the classes should contact Wheeler at (713) 791-1414, ext. 23894.