Blind Ambition: The Story of a Karate Champ

He’s a three-time karate tournament champion, only two ranks away from a black belt, the sport’s highest honor.

He has successfully completed junior high AND high school simultaneously.

And he’s been blind since the second grade.

“It required making a big adjustment from having sight to having none,” stated George Hall,23,. “There were many obstacles to overcome.”

As a result of his blindness, the Youngstown, Ohio native was moved from regular school to special visually- impaired classes and training in order to learn how to adjust. Eventually he started resuming normal classes; at Adams Junior High, he was completely “mainstreamed.” Any coursework requiring special needs was taken at Wilson High. Hall’s dedication and academic ability enabled him to graduate from both schools at once.

That same dedication led a path to karate.

“I was always interested in martial arts and the martial arts movies, even as a kid. It looked like fun; remember, it was the Bruce Lee days. But at that time, my family couldn’t afford it. So I decided that once I got older, I’d take karate. It took a while, but I finally made it,” Hall said.

“As an adult, since losing my sight, (he retains only light perception and shadows) I figured I needed to be able to defend myself, not only with my guidedog, Sally, but when I’m NOT with her. It’s no longer just a sport or fascination. But it is FUN.”

Hall attends Howard Brogan’s American College of Kenpo Karate. (Kenpo is the original karate from China.) Brogan’s the only local instructor who trains the visually-impaired. “I called around to a lot of karate studios,” said Hall. “Brogan’s the only one who returned my phone call.”

Hall’s currently the only blind student in the classes and the only blind one who’s attained rank status. “The key to this is simply devotion. You have to really want it. Some of the former blind students had different fears, like falling. I don’t really have a fear of anything.”

Hall has currently achieved purple belt status, which is the intermediate division. When starting out, one has no rank at all, there’s just wearing the gi (pronounced gee). It’s a loose and comfortable uniform, enabling the arms and legs to move. A white gi means junior status, while a black gi denotes senior level.

Rank is four major divisions: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert. A beginner starts out with a white belt and usually advances to yellow, than orange. No time limit is involved in this promotion. This group has studied karate from three to 18 months. Intermediate-Have practiced from one to three years. These students wear a green belt, blue, or purple belt. Known as the green belt division, these students take karate seriously. Upon attaining a green belt, the black gi is now worn. When this student steps on the mat, fellow students must address them as “Sir”, “Mister”, or the female equivalent. Only about one-fourth of karate students ever make it to this level. Advanced-This is the brown belt division, and there’s three sets of these techniques. The last brown belt set becomes the black belt. Expert- Black belt-Can take from four to seven years.

Belt rank is achieved ONLY after many weeks of practice of basic karate techniques and an extensive, comprehensive test consisting of the techniques, a kata, (A series of karate moves, which are performed as if you’re defending yourself from an imaginary attacker. These become more complex as you advance in ranks.) free-fighting match, and an oral review of karate’s history and philosophy.

“As you advance, you use weapons to learn to defend yourself against clubs, bats, knives, and even a gang of five or more,” Hall explained. “It sounds hard, but it’s not. For the sighted, Instructor Brogan also provides how-to videos. For me, an audio tape is used. I’m also blessed with a photographic memory!”

He believes blindness gives an advantage: “Because you HAVE to rely on nothing but your other senses. It gives the attacker a weak link; they think that if you’re blind, you’ll be more vulnerable. Instructor Brogan makes a few adjustments for me that sighted people do that I can’t. For example, sighted people can see the blow coming initially. I have to take the blow, roll with it, let it slide off my body, and THEN react to it. Another example: Some of the sighted, in some of their movements, step forward to block the blow; me, I have to step back and block it. If you’re sighted, you rely mostly on sight. If you’re blind, you utilize all your other senses.”

“Many blind people don’t depend on their hearing very much, unless they get cornered into a dark area, and they can’t hear; they try to use it,” he continued. “If you aren’t used to using it, then it can mislead you. A blind person has to use their hearing and smell senses, so if we get cornered up ANYWAY, we can pick them up by the hearing and know where and how far the predator is. A sighted person would actually have to try to look and find out where they are. Some say sighted people have an advantage. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think they’re both the same; it’s just using different abilities.”

There’s a certain code and creed one has to follow upon learning the art of karate: “We can NOT just physically attack anybody at random; it must be a matter of life or death or right or wrong or honor before we use it. It’s NOT to used for your own gain or to provoke a fight, because you’re a weapon, like a gun. If you use it randomly, you have no honor and you’re stripped of your belt and rank. You have to be able to use the art only when it is necessary to use it. That’s why ninjas have no honor, because they kill with their karate. They’re literally hired hit men. Therefore, you cannot step on a mat with the ninja outfit on.”

The karate creed is: I come to you with only empty hands. (That’s what karate means.) I have no weapon, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles, or my honor, should it be a matter of life and death, of right and wrong, my weapon’s karate, my “empty hands.”

Hall has entered three tournaments so far and has successfully placed in all of them. Among his awards is a trophy for first place in basic defense.

Before each tournament, the classes, adult and children, all work together practicing and perfecting their moves and katas. Karate techniques build upon each other and work in sequence. Training’s always done during the week of and the day before the event.

Hall stated that on one goes “easy” on him: “I’m treated just like a sighted person. And I prefer it that way.”

Future goals include going for some karate degrees and the coveted black belt.

“I want to get to a level where all of this becomes part of a normal routine, where you no longer have to think about ‘What should I do in this situation?’ It’ll just come naturally, become a part of you.”

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