Who would've thought that a self-defense class could generate so much noise?
The thumping and thwacking of bodies being thrown to the floor. Booming yells, roars and proud exclamations. Rounds of laughing, cheering and applause from class participants and onlookers. These sounds and more erupted from the large boardroom all day, echoing off judo mats and the walls of the CNIB Halifax Centre.
Thankfully I had the foresight to email my colleagues beforehand, alerting them of the pilot program taking place at our office. Only a few were caught off guard from the quiet confines of their cubicles.
Over the last seven weeks, two rounds of eager students have graduated from CNIB's first-ever Living Safe program. The initiative teaches individuals who are blind or partially sighted basic self-defense maneuvers and ways to increase their confidence and sense of safety in the community.
The program is based on a research model co-designed and implemented in Australia by Dr. Tanya Packer, Director of Dalhousie University's School of Occupational Therapy. You can read the Australian program manual here: Living Safe – A Self-Management Program for People with Vision Impairment.
Since 2008, CNIB Halifax has worked in close partnership with Dalhousie University's Occupational Therapy program to provide work placements for first-year OT students. Our partnership with Dalhousie has been so successful – for CNIB, the students and individuals in our community who are living with vision loss – that we now have OT students here for six months of the year…doing everything from research to working directly with clients and even coordinating and leading instruction of our Living Safe group program.
Our latest Living Safe session in June was facilitated by OT students Adam Turetzek-Windsor and Jazmyn Perrins, along with Judo instructor Sensei Jason Scott.
For most participants, the program is their first introduction to anything within the realm of self-defense and martial arts. Yet over the course of two days, individuals learn an array of skills and techniques to better deal with safety threats and circumstances where they feel vulnerable.
Martial arts classes typically rely heavily on students' ability to see demonstrations and copy the instructor's movements. This presented a unique challenge for program facilitators, who had to adapt their teaching methods to make the sessions more accessible. They substituted visual demonstrations with verbal descriptions of the techniques and then hands-on demonstrations with each of the participants. Walking through each move carefully and precisely, and having students feel the positioning of the arms and legs of the instructor and assailant.
Some of the interactive instruction covered included using their white mobility cane or guide dog as a self-defense tool and how to safeguard their homes. But this unique class provides far more than just an introduction to martial arts and personal safety tips.
Stress management techniques, awareness of one's surroundings and walking with confidence were also discussed during the sessions. Additionally, participants shared their own personal experiences and past safety encounters – as well as their reasons for joining the pilot CNIB program.
I am so proud to have played a small role in the launch of this innovative program at CNIB. Given my own Judo background, I volunteered myself as a dummy for our students to practice their newly-learned defense moves. Turns out this required a lot of being thrown, flipped and pushed to the ground on my part.
No pain, no gain…right?
It's been such an incredible experience to witness first-hand the level of confidence this program provides to participants. Our graduates have varying degrees of vision loss and range from the ages of 21 to 82, but the consensus remains the same: learning what you are capable of and believing in your own abilities can make all the difference.
Our next Living Safe program in Halifax is being held in February 2015, call the CNIB Halifax Centre (902.453.1480) to reserve your spot today.
Photo: Peter Parsons taking a hit from Living Safe participant, Lynette Frison, while Sensei Jason guides her movements.