Modifications for Handicapped Students at The Japanese Martial Arts Academy in the Satori-Ryu Iaido and Goju-Ryu Karate Classes By Renshi Jerry Cichon, Head Instructor

Introduction by Lancing C. England Ed.S., President, Satori-Ryu Budo Inc.:

As I have discussed in previous articles, Satori-Ryu Budo Inc. is a leading innovator in modifications to the Martial Arts to accommodate students with conditions and/or injuries negatively impacting their ability to perform the techniques. I had a recent conversation with Renshi Jerry Cichon, an educator with decades of experience in working with students requiring accommodations, and I asked him about his approach in providing those modifications:

Renshi Cichon:

As a Special Education Teacher in Oklahoma, I have a special place in my heart for students that have disabilities that hamper their activities yet want to join Martial arts classes. The first thing we have to do is get information on their disability, what they can and cannot do because of issues such as: being in a
wheelchair, Deaf or Mute, Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, Apraxia, or many other disabilities that we have encountered over the years.
Physical disabilities are dealt with based on the extent of the persons abilities to move, hear, pay attention or any other obstruction. From there we develop different alternatives to say standing, or if wheelchair bound, we have to replace the kicks, or knees in a kata with a turn of the body or have the student turn their chair in the direction needed to complete the task. With students that cannot hear we have to develop hand signals with numbers or signs if an Instructor knows the student. We take the kata groups and number them for each set, and of course use finger signals for 1,2,3,4, and so on. We also make sure that we are facing the student when talking to them because many can read lips. As far as students with mental disabilities, they have to be addressed with each student individually, Autistic students need a lot of repetition and re-directing when learning moves. Once they learn them, they are locked in and never forget them. ADHD students need constant reminders to pay attention, sometimes we give them exercise to expel some of the extra energy they have.

Although the Class structure is based on Martial Arts we also add fun martial arts games such as Sensei Says, Balance Race and many other fun games that take them away from the constant repetition. The main thing we do is make adjustments that allow the student to participate and test with the rest of the class without making them feel restricted. We accommodate their disabilities but push them to overcome them if possible or make alterations that still make them effective for the physically disabled.

As I have put this into play over the last three years, I have developed several students who are competing at Tournaments and winning. One of my top students, Axle Price who has underdeveloped mental capabilities yet constantly wins at Tournaments in the men’s division and has just recently received his Brown belt in Karate working towards his Black. I have an Iaido student Michael Gookin who just received his Black belt in Sword while he is confined to a wheelchair with Parkinson’s disease. We instill drive and hop into these students and encourage them to never give up and work hard to achieve.


  1. Tom Booker on April 21, 2024 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your approach and techniques for working with martial arts students with disabilities. This is especially helpful as you are trained and experienced in the area of Special Education more broadly. You provide us with useful guidance for working with our own students who face special physical, cognitive, and behavioral challenges. Many thanks!

    • Lance England on April 21, 2024 at 11:38 pm

      Thank you Sir for the kind words. Positive feedback from a Master Instructor such as yourself is very meaningful.

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