I am Master Salvador Testa, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am 61 years old, PhD in Diachronic Linguistics and a Master’s degree in
Phonetics and Phonology.
I have been training Taekwon-do for 47 years. My first Instructor was the Korean pioneer Hang Chang Kim. In 1987, I was diagnosed with a severe degenerative condition in the spine that progressively affects the motion and the articulation of my legs with the hip, declaring me a person with a motor disability since 1996.
At the beginning of 1977, when I was only 16 years old and barely a blue belt, I began to work, during the weekends, as a volunteer in an institution that welcomes people with mental and physical disabilities.
That was my first contact with the world of people with Special Educational Needs. There, he had to do different tasks such as teaching reading and pronunciation. However, during recreation time, I performed for my studens the Patterns of Taekwon-Do (hyongs at that time) and I realized that they enjoyed it because they tried to follow my movements.
So, I did not hesitate and began to teach them Chon-Ji taking into account their various difficulties and adapting the technique to the
possibilities of each one of them, but respecting the Tul diagram.
That was my first experience in what many years later would become this passion for teaching Taekwon-Do for everyone. I consulted
medical specialists, special education teachers, educational psychologists, even architects for advice on how to spatially organize a dojang according to the specific needs of each pathology.
Years collecting information, designing multiple pedagogical strategies to be able to articulate them with the Taekwon-do Encyclopedia curriculum. Meanwhile, I was teaching Taekwon-do for free in institutions for people with severe visual impairment, people with Down syndrome and people with multiple sclerosis.
In 1999, during the World Championship in Argentina, I was able to show General Choi a file with my Taekwon-Do curriculum for people with disabilities, specifically for Down Syndrome, achondroplasia and the blind.
He looked at it, asked me to explain some details and said, “OK, put it into practice in your dojang and show me the results but… don’t forget the gist, don’t forget the Do”. That day my school was born… GIST, Taekwon-Do para la Integración.
Working with people with disabilities is not easy if you do not have the appropriate knowledge and training. It is not only about knowing the pathology in detail but much more.
First of all, it is essential to know the context in which we are. What is disability? Disability is a physical, mental, intellectual or sensory conditioning that a person suffers and that, in the short or long term, affects their interaction and full participation in society. Therefore, it is not only a clinical condition but also a social one.
We are almost eight billion people who inhabit this planet, 15% suffer from some permanent disability and another 9% temporary.
In other words, 24% of the world’s population is disabled.
The figures are overwhelming… about 1.2 billion people suffer from some type of disability. Knowing this reality, it is more likely that we can better understand the problem of disability. And, of course, there is much more. For example, you need to know that: Disability disproportionately affects vulnerable populations.
People with disabilities often do not receive the health care they need. Children with disabilities are less likely to be in school. People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed. People with disabilities are more vulnerable to poverty.
Throughout all these years, I have verified that the majority of Taekwon-Do Instructors, when a student with a disability arrives to the dojang, they enroll him even without knowing the characteristics of the pathology he suffers from.
Some Instructors, before taking that person as a student, consult and get advice on the matter. Very few reject them with the
genuine and honest reason that they are not qualified to teach that student. And almost none of them decide to learn in how to teach Taekwon-Do to people with disabilities.
The first and most important thing we have to understand is that no matter how much good intention we have, we need scientific
We are not working with furniture, we are working with people. If we don´t know how, we could damage them… more.
In order to properly approach Taekwon-Do for people with disabilities, we must take into account different points of view. Semantic and
Semiological, Clinical, Pedagogical, Legal, Architectural and, obviously,
Taekwondistic. We should know the correct terminology to refer to each pathology so as not to be offensive (people with a condition, people withdisa bilities, people with special educational needs, people with functional diversity).
We should know all the characteristics and the operation of each one of them. We should know and manage the appropriate didactical and pedagogical strategies. We should know what our legal responsibilities are that we face when working with with these students. We should know that our dojang has to be a friendly space and not a trap mined with dangerous obstacles. And, in addition, we should know the adapted curriculum of Taekwon-Do according to the pathologies of the student who seeks in our martial art a place where he can really feel included.
Following the teachings of General Choi, if we want to build a better world, more peaceful and with more justice, it is a very good idea to start with the micro world that our dojang represents. So, the purpose of everything we do is Inclusion.
Difficult task that does not suppose superficial changes but deep transformations. It is not based on principles of equality but of equity, cooperation and solidarity. It is not giving all people the same thing but what each one needs.
From Exclusion to Inclusion When we do not accept students with disabilities in our dojang, we are excluding.
When we have specific classes or sectors for people with disabilities, we are segregating. Segregation is much better than exclusion, but it does not help social interaction.
When in the same class we have a group of conventional students training their conventional curriculum and another group of students with disabilities training their adapted curriculum, we are integrating.
The ideal situation would undoubtedly be that all our students could train together, each one of them doing what he or she is able to, downplaying what they cannot do. Inclusion is not “if I could, I would”… on the contrary, inclusion is “this is what I can do and I’m proud of it”
The goal of Taekwon-Do is inclusion, it is to make people feel that this wonderful martial art is for everyone, that someone without an arm can teach Yul Gok, that someone with Tourette’s Syndrome can perform Moon Moo, that a person with Trisomy of the 21st pair can be Power Breaking World Champion, that a blind person can be IV, VII or IX Dan.
Regarding sports competitions we also have to be very careful. For a long time it was considered that the person with a disability should participate in the event only as an exhibition. Then he/she was faced against some prestigious champion, put on a ridiculous and fictitious fight, raise the handicapped person’s arm and award him a prize that he hadn’t really Won.
And the spirit of competition? Do you suppose that the disabled person does not understand if he really succeeds or not? Fortunately this has changed. Disabilities are divided into four categories that are contemplated and respected in a very studied, elaborated and tested competition regulation that, in addition to equitably evaluating qualities and taking care of the physical and emotional integrity of the competitor, offers three competition modalities that are attractive and interesting for both the participants and the spectators (Individual Pattern, Team Pattern and Integration Duet).
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, they are just some recommendations and a brief approach to the knowledge of the inherent context of Taekwon-Do for people with disabilities. There are as many adaptations of the Taekwon-Do curriculum as there is a diversity of disabling pathologies, therefore, knowing them in depth will allow us as Instructors to make our students proudly show what they can do (we already know what they cannot do).
For a better world… Taekwon-Do for everyone.