The Path to Black Belt

Seido Karate Where Difference doesn’t Mean Deficit

By Sei Shihan Roger Thyer-Jones, WSKO UK 6th Dan.

Ever heard of Bardet-Biedl Syndrome? I suspect that you haven’t.

Ever heard of Richard Parker? The answer is also likely to be negative unless you are part of our Seido Karate organisation or have read ‘Life of Pi’.

Now combine Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (BBS) and Richard Parker (not the tiger from ‘Life of Pi’) and this leads you to a remarkable event that took place on Wednesday 17th October at Tylers Green Village Hall. Richard Parker took the final part of his black belt promotion, and passed.

Richard Parker Black Belt Promotion
Richard receives his black belt

The syndrome that he has to cope with is a rare condition that affects many different parts of the body. From birth, Richard’s sight progressively deteriorated, and he was registered blind at the age of nine. His syndrome was diagnosed at the age of three and this motivated his parents to establish a charity which eventually led to the establishment of a multi-disciplinary clinic focusing on every aspect of the complex disorder. At this clinic, all the ‘ologists’ concerned with BBS bring to bear their expertise in one place to help manage the symptoms associated with BBS. This has revolutionised the approach to helping sufferers.

It is hard to imagine some of the cruelties inflicted on Richard by bullies as he was growing up. He was different and therefore a target of abuse.

But Richard is not a man who gives up easily and, with the help of his parents and two brothers, he stoically faced every challenge that life could throw at him.

On leaving college at Birmingham, he wanted his independence and moved from the family home in Little Chalfont to his own maisonette nearby.

Not surprisingly, Richard, who has suffered so many setbacks in life, lacked self-confidence and found it difficult to be assertive. This was reflected when he applied for a guide dog only to be told that he was not assertive enough!

This rejection prompted his parents to look for help and Richard was referred to me through one of my local instructors, Stuart Wilson 5th dan, who now runs our Tylers Green Karate club.

Richard Parker training with Roger Thyer-Jones
Richard training with me in my private studio

It was at this point, eight years ago, that I started to teach Richard karate in my private studio. Slowly but surely Richard progressively mastered the complexities of a martial art that is demanding and one which he had never experienced before.

Imagine that you have no sight and are asked to learn complex attack and defence movements that sometimes ask you to move through 180 degrees. Try standing on one leg with your eyes closed and kicking as hard as you can with your leg and you will understand the challenge of keeping your balance. As you progress, imagine putting on protective fighting equipment and exchanging techniques with your partner never really knowing where the next attack is coming from.

I refuse to treat Richard differently from our normal students. My job was to unlock his potential. His job was to want it to be unlocked.

Our partnership, and that is how I see it, has grown stronger each year and last year I told Richard that I wanted him to try for his black belt. It was a daunting prospect for him. He would need to increase his fitness and work on his technique. He would need to master complex moves of attack and defence known as kata as well as many self defences. He would have to upgrade his fighting skills.

Richard Parker black belt promotion fighting

His confidence and assertiveness grew: he now trained regularly in our group sessions and all our students have come to know him and to respect his efforts.

He would be taking his black belt together with a student who has had to cope with Downs Syndrome and she is just as remarkable in her own way.

Together, with determination, they faced the four weeks of tests. Last Wednesday evening they both spoke about the challenges they had faced in their lives and their accounts touched the hearts of us all. Finally, they fought for their black belts together showing an indomitable spirit.

We like to think of ourselves as the Seido family and our principles are rooted in love, obedience, and respect.

Love is the fundamental principle. It grows out of respect and encompasses understanding and shows compassion for the suffering of others. Love means seeking to take the right action both morally and ethically.

Obedience is a way of teaching humility and keeping our egos in check as well as trying to be a good citizen and keeping the laws of our country. The highest obedience is to the moral and spiritual principles of our conscience.

Respect. First you have to respect yourself before you can respect others and this means recognising your weaknesses and seeking to correct them. We call it polishing your character. Karate begins and ends with respect. Respect for our parents and the sacrifices that they have made for us is most important. The dojo should always be a place of developing profound respect which you then carry into your personal life.

In Seido karate we recognise that the black belt is just the beginning of the next journey. You never know where that journey will lead but Richard and his companion are both fine examples of how the dedication to their art has enriched both their lives and the lives of all those who know them.

The philosopher Lao Tsu said:

It is easy for a student to find a good Master but it is much harder for a Master to find a good student.

I was lucky to find Richard.

The Celebration with Proud Parents
The end of one journey and the beginning of another

Sei Shihan Roger Thyer-Jones
6th Dan WSKO UK
Chief Examiner UK WSKO
British Combat Association Instructor
Knife & Edged Weapons Senior Instructor (KEWAP)

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