Thomas is one of HJKA’s growing band of young adult black belts. A very popular, committed student, Thomas has ASD (autism spectrum disorder) which he manages extremely well. Like many students, he’s discovered how to make karate and autism work for him.

Thomas joined HJKA when he was about 8 years old and Sensei Simon Marchant-Jones was running the club. He grew to love karate (a “slow burn” as he remembers). At one point, however, it was either karate or rugby for Thomas.

Luckily for us, karate won”, says Sensei Miranda, HJKA’s current owner and Chief Instructor. “Thomas is great to have around. He’s a very hard working student, and has a promising karate career ahead of him.”

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Getting used to the unpredictable in karate

Harpenden karate club’s teaching style suits Thomas very well: “Like a lot of autistic people, I struggle with change and unpredictability. But it helps that our karate training is structured, the aim of each class is clear and the behaviour expectations in the dojo are understood by everyone.”

It’s true that repetition and focus are aspects of karate that suit people with ASD. However, Sensei Miranda’s love of kumite (free style) means her students also get used to the unpredictability of karate and how to ‘read the signals’ that your opponent is giving out.

When it came to training for his black belt, Thomas was grateful to Sensei Miranda for the plan she put in place for him: “Helping me manage the process, and giving me time to get my head round what was expected of me, was massively important.”

As a youngster, Thomas also suffered from Severs (heel pain associated with a too-tight Achilles tendon during early growing years). “Over the years, my Senseis have helped me adapt so I can continue training – pacing myself and even wearing trainers to help support my heels. Luckily, it’s got a lot better since I’ve stopped growing.”

Coaching duties

Thomas is an important member of the Harpenden karate club coaching team. As a club, HJKA attends at least 3 JKA competitions a year, often coming away with a good haul of medals in both kumite and kata. Competitions can be challenging environments, particularly for people with autism. But Thomas has found his place as a coaching assistant working with Sensei Susie to help manage as many as 30 students competing in almost every age and belt category. The two of them can be seen signalling to each other across the large sports halls of Hatfield, Northampton and Surrey’s K2, as they run to support HJKA students stepping onto the mat.

Thomas also assists with our Little Ninjas and Beginners’ Classes. He’s tolerant and kind, and is well-known renowned for his very fast hopping round the dojo as part of his warm up routine.

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The importance of the HJKA club atmosphere

Thomas has a great sense of fun so he fits in very well with HJKA. “I love that laughter is encouraged in the dojo, but it’s balanced with respect and self control.”

He’s always felt safe in the dojo: “All the students – adults and children alike – are supportive and understanding, and I met my closest friend, Adam, at Harpenden Karate. I’ve never been mocked for my autistic traits. In fact they come in very handy sometimes…”

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