For the past two months Veterans of the Washington DC VA Medical Center have been meeting each Friday for Judo class. For Veteran Thomas Huff, Judo is not too different from the Tae Kwondo he used to study as a Marine.
“When you know martial arts, nobody messes with you,” Huff said. It’s hard to imagine anyone messing with Mr. Huff. He is young, strong and solid with the stoic presence of a Marine.
Fellow classmate, 88 year-old Veteran Julius Fleischman agrees that Judo gives him confidence.
“My neighborhood is a little rough, but now when I walk down the street, I don’t worry about a thing.” In WWII, Mr. Fleischman earned the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for bravery and two years ago he set a record for the most consecutive skydives in his age bracket. He too is not one to scare easily.
But going blind has a way of changing things. Fear is the body’s natural defense mechanism, warning us when danger is near. Without the ability to interpret visual cues, this defense mechanism often goes into overdrive.
Huff and Fleischman are both legally blind and Judo class is part of their rehabilitation treatment at the Washington DC VA Medical Center’s Vision Rehabilitation Clinic.
Their Judo instructor, Ronald Scott, says teaching the vision impaired is no different than teaching the sighted. Judo and Blind Judo both use the same throws and the same floor and standing techniques.
“With Judo, believe it or not, sight is not necessary,” Scott said. “The only difference is the very start of the match—the students begin by touching shoulders.”
The students keep track of each other by following their feet. “It’s pretty amazing-- watch their feet, it’s a bit like an elaborate dance.” Scott said.
The clinic works closely with Veterans who are vision-impaired to give them needed skills to function in society. Of course, flipping someone to the floor isn’t a normal everyday function. However, being able to walk down the street without fear is priceless.
According to Vjaya Dabir, DCVAMC Rehabilitation Specialist, helping Veterans find their confidence is a big part of her job.
“We mainly work on four different skill sets: adaptive equipment, daily living skills, computer skills and orientation and mobility. At the our clinic, Veterans learn everything from how to pour a cup a coffee to how to use a specially-adapted computer.”
Dabir explains that the approach is different for each Veteran. “We design a customized program for each Veteran, based on his or her needs. No two programs are alike.
For more information about the DCVAMC Vision Rehabilitation Clinic, please phone, 202-745-8000, ext. 6542.