Support through Sport UK spoke to Sensei Mike Dunn about the Liverpool Karate-Jutsu Club and their sessions for the blind and visually-impaired ...
Hi Mike. To begin, can you tell us a bit more about the Liverpool Karate-Jutsu Club as a whole?
I, Sensei Mike Dunn, re-started in martial arts at the age of 43, having previously trained for three years, 25 years earlier. Although to some this may seem unusual, I knew it was a fun and exciting activity, but I had not anticipated that I would become totally hooked and would become a black belt, with my own club, teaching others ...
Liverpool Karate-Jutsu was established in December 2010. The freestyle karate club has always attracted great kids, teenagers and adults from our local community. I have always taught traditional and modern freestyle karate, introducing techniques from other martial arts too. The club has even taken students to participate in competitions, with amazing, unanticipated success. I have always adapted what I teach to suit the needs of any student - e.g. a child being bullied or a student that doesn't pick things up so quickly etc. Liverpool Karate-Jutsu is a community club and it being a freestyle club works really well for its students. I could not have done this without the support of my fiancée Christine, my own Sensei (Neco Bulut) and Andrew Morrell of the Cobra Martial Arts Association (CMAA).

In 2012, you set up karate sessions for the blind and visually-impaired. Tell us more ...
Stephen joined the karate club in June 2012. Stephen has Usher Syndrome and is deaf and blind. He immediately became one of the keenest and most enthusiastic students at the club and I started to develop specific, specialist training for him. Within a short period, Stephen's confidence and self-esteem had improved and he wanted to share his success with his blind and visually-impaired peers ...

In September 2012, Karate for the Blind and Visually Impaired was launched. Karate for the Blind and Visually Impaired was launched at Bradbury Fields, a specialist centre that is familiar to many with a visual impairment. Stephen thought that a lack of confidence could prevent potential students from venturing out in an evening to the karate club and that familiar surroundings would be a solution. There were only four of us at the first class, with Stephen being the only visually-impaired student. We trained in the garden because it was a lovely warm, sunny evening. We soon attracted Naomi, who was a service user and volunteer at Bradbury Fields and not long after a father (Adrian) brought along his visually-impaired child (Chris), followed later by Mark another service user. I had already started to adapt the syllabus for Stephen previously, ironically by adding techniques. I don't think most Instructors or coaches would have anticipated that. I personally had to learn new techniques to teach my new blind and visually-impaired students. I also started to develop some self-defence techniques using the White Cane, used by some of the students. I quickly noticed the changes in the blind and visually-impaired students: an improvement in balance and agility, moving amongst others without the need for assistance, becoming more aware of how to defend themselves and increased confidence. Listening to them, the changes were much deeper. They all had new friends too. Friends that cared and wanted them to experience more on a cold autumn evening. By December 2012 it was time introduce Naomi, Adrian, Chris and Mark to our original / primary club. We had the most amazing evening and enjoyed our Christmas Party too. We were now as one and they were part of something much, much bigger. Over 50 million people participate regularly in karate and that evening there was a new red belt: Naomi ...

If any sports leaders are reading this and are also interested in setting up sessions for the blind and visually-impaired within their clubs, how would you suggest that they go about doing this?
Communicating to the blind and visually-impaired that there is a karate club in Liverpool that they can join has been my biggest challenge to date. Teaching them has been by far much easier. Although Karate for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Liverpool is steadily growing, the speed of the growth is frustrating. It is frustrating because we know that there will be a blind and / or visually-impaired child, teenager or adult looking for an exciting activity like martial arts, but they don't know that a karate club exists that they can join. I am in regular contact with the various blind and visually-impaired support organisations and schools in Liverpool, but they appear to have established priorities and although this may seem like a negative comment, I am not convinced they are taking us seriously. So I would say to accept that the growth of your club or sessions for the blind and visually-impaired might not be as speedy as your own expectations, but keep going regardless and gradually that child, teenager or adult will discover you and will be excited to join in your sport or activity, with like-minded peers.
Although safety risks are not exclusive to the blind and visually-impaired, it is very important that risk assessments are carried out for all / each element of any sport or activity. Fortunately I had experience teaching the fully-sighted before I attracted my first visually-impaired student.

Looking forward, do you plan to open up the Liverpool Karate-Jutsu Club to people with other disabilities?
I would welcome anyone with any disability at Liverpool Karate-Jutsu, regardless of the challenge that it may be to teach and / or train them. Until someone has tried martial arts with a disability, they will not know if it something that they will enjoy. Like any other activity or sport, I can't guarantee that martial arts is for them, but I will give them my best. Fortunately as a freestyle karate club, a specific tailored syllabus can be prepared for students with particular disabilities.
Finally, why do you think it is important for sports clubs to be as inclusive as possible?
Equality and diversity are important ethics at Liverpool Karate-Jutsu. The martial arts classes include mixed sessions of disabled and non-disabled together. Although this may not be appropriate for other activities and sports, for martial arts I consider this an essential part of a disabled person's training. Most of the fully-sighted students do not even realise that they are helping to train/teach the blind and visually-impaired.
Although many students participate in karate for the sport aspects, it is primarily self-defence via a martial art. Whilst I do not anticipate or wish that the students will ever need to use their self-defence skills - if attacked, Liverpool Karate-Jutsu club's blind and / or visually impaired students are most likely to be attacked or mugged by a fully-sighted person, not another person with a visual-impairment. This would be the same for martial arts students with other disabilities. Hence their self-defence skills against the fully-sighted could one day be needed for real.
Thank you so much, Sensei Mike, for chatting to us about what you have done with Liverpool Karate-Jutsu Club. It is truly inspirational and a great example for other sports clubs that want to become more inclusive.
Club: Liverpool Karate-Jutsu
Contact: Sensei Mike Dunn;
Brief Description: Karate for the Blind and Visual Impaired, by Liverpool Karate-Justu is a karate club that is open to anyone with or without a visual impairment. We believe at Liverpool Karate-Jutsu that real change comes from within, and the most important weapon is confidence. With that, you can achieve anything. We at Liverpool Karate-Jutsu try to promote a culture of respect for all students and teachers alike. We will also show respect to our guests, as it is an essential part of martial arts. Liverpool Karate-Jutsu promotes a partnership between students and instructors so as to provide students with the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the study of karate-jutsu. Liverpool Karate-Jutsu has a strong passion to preserve the past traditions of martial arts, however it is important to keep an open mind, finding innovating and dynamic methods of teaching.