Karate and disability – a powerful combination

Adam Sharp is a 1st kyu in shotokan karate. For the uninitiated, that’s one belt before shodan, his black belt. Pretty impressive for any 17 year old, but particularly for Adam as he is physically disabled. ​However, he is proving that karate and disability can be a powerful combination.

A brain tumour, discovered when Adam was 4, affected the left-hand side of his body. Operations and chemo followed, and basically he had to learn to walk again. For a while, he needed support to even stand or sit up straight. It’s difficult to appreciate how far he’s come when faced with this smiling, confident – and very strong – young karate student. (He’s also a table tennis champion – but more of that later.)

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Working through Bassai Dai kata

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“Ready when you are…”

Karate got Adam moving

“In those early days, we were always on the look out for things he could do – sport that doubled up as good physio for him,” said Adam’s mum, Jos. Karate seemed like a good idea and when Adam was 7, he joined Harpenden JKA. At that time the club was run by Simon Marchant-Jones, who treated Adam like any other student. Everyone simply worked round his disability. When he fell over, he was expected to get up and carry on. Which he did, and it’s this attitude that’s got him to where he is today – wondering when the pandemic will let him take his shodan!

As Jos points out: “Adam didn’t experience the usual rough and tumble at school. He was protected, for obvious reasons. But through karate, he experienced some much need ‘normal’ behaviour but in a controlled and…well… friendly way!”

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One word: determination

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Adam works on his full-body fitness training

Karate made me work on my strength, co-ordination and balance

Adam and his parents credit karate with having the most impact on his overall strength as well as his balance and co-ordination: “Although my left side is weaker, I have to use it – especially in kata. It means my posture has improved so I can control my body much better, and I can move pretty fast when I have to!”

Karate isn’t just good for the body, it’s good for the brain too. The regular katas, drills and kumite exercises train the brain to search for patterns as well as stay alert to the unexpected. Every karate student will admit to brain-befuddling moments on a regular basis thanks to seemingly simple combinations of techniques. For Adam, however, this kind of mental exercise is vital but doubly hard for him because his tumour affects how he processes information.

Harpenden JKA is now owned and run by Miranda Price: “I’m really proud of Adam and, because he’s so determined to succeed and overcome obstacles, he makes us all up our game. If only to get out of the way of his deadly right kazami-zuki!

“I truly believe that karate is for everyone and that it’s a personal journey. Of course, I expect everyone to train hard and meet our very high standards. But training at your own pace and within your own ability is hugely important – which is exactly how Adam approaches it.”

Karate student and table tennis champ

And so to table tennis which Adam started to play around the same time as he joined Harpenden JKA. Jos picks up the story: “We took him every week to the local table tennis club. He was very weak at first, but the coaches were great and helped him improve and eventually, he was beating junior able-bodied players – much to his delight!” Fast forward to 2019 when he was offered (and accepted) a place on Team GB’s Paralympian Future Squad. He’s 9th in the country, for his classification, so a place in the 2024 Paralympics is a distinct possibility.

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Adam will always have a karate family  

Adam has a place (from September 2021) at the world-renowned Grantham College Table Tennis Academy where he hopes to improve his chances of becoming a paralympian. Long term, he plans to study sports coaching, having already gained his Level 1 Table Tennis Session Coach award. Adam rides and plays football, tennis and cricket. His recent fitness session on Zoom left everyone gasping for air. In other words, he lives and breathes sport.

Adam isn’t going to let his disability get in the way of doing what he wants to do with his life, including karate. Good luck Adam – especially when you next grade. And remember, whatever you do in the future, your karate family will always be there with you.

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Adam’s fitness sessions are aptly named. (“Wait…that was just the warm up?!”) 

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