Disability in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is nothing new. Last August I wrote a blog concerning two MMA fighters, David Steffan and Garrett Holeve, who have cerebral palsy and Down’s Syndrome respectively. The pair of them of them were set to go toe-to-toe in a momentous fight, but at the last moment, their dream was thwarted by the State of Florida who issued the fight organisers with a cease and desist letter. However, recently I came across another contender who is slowly opening up the world of martial arts to other disabled youngsters.
Brandon Ryan was born with cerebral palsy when internal bleeding caused damage to his brain. Despite a challenging journey of leg braces and wheelchairs through his early years, he has dedicated a substantial part of his life to martial arts, in particular Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It was when he attended a seminar taken by Larry Hartsell, that Ryan was inspired to pursue a career in this discipline. Hartsell, a well known disciple of Bruce Lee’s ‘Jeet Kune Do’, was taking a session on grappling and wrestling. Ryan realised this was a form of fighting which was accessible to him even though he was wheelchair-bound at the time. Despite his cerebral palsy, he began training with his father, also a professional martial art’s teacher.
What makes his story of particular interest to me, is that I was introduced to Brazilian jui-jitsu in a similar way, when I was at university. Whilst in my final year, reading law, I had the fortune to meet a student from São Paulo who was studying Theology at my college. He was obsessed with jui-jitsu, having participated in a number of national competitions and insisted that I should let him train me. After a certain amount of hesitation, I eventually agreed, donning a rather well worn gi and a very nervous expression!
I wasn’t sure I would be able to perform half the techniques that my new sensei was intent on demonstrating to me, but to my surprise, I found that I was more that capable. A great deal of jui-jitsu consists of floor work. It’s about finding locks and adapting one’s own technique to combat one’s opponent. The truth is, you really don’t have to be a gymnast to excel at martial arts and I found the whole experience both enlightening and a lot of fun.
Brandon Ryan teaches jui-jitsu as well as being an author and psychology student. One day he hopes to run his own dojo, where he can encourage others to discover martial arts. He also hopes to develop a system designed for those with disabilities. Indeed, Ryan has already started down that road by taking on one of his friends, who has a more severe form of cerebral palsy.
I wish Brandon every success. Martial arts is a wonderful way to discipline your mind and focus your energy and, as he has proven, it is not a sport limited only to the able bodied.