Martin Ridley – My Story
My name is Martin and I was born with Cerebral Palsy (Spastic diplegia) which affects both of my legs and as I have aged I have noticed increased problems with my arms and hands. I have had a number of operations to get me to where I am today but have recently started to require a wheelchair for longer distances or particularly painful days.
I studied photography and completed my BSc in Media and Creative Arts in 2008, where I specialized in architectural photography. Since then I have done some ad-hoc work for property developers and companies like AirBNB to photograph properties for them. My main job is as a receptionist / event co-ordinator for Henley Business School at their University of Reading site.
Where it all began
As a child my sporting abilities were fairly limited due to my legs, and operations having to be delayed until I had finished growing. Once the operations were finished I was able to explore different sport options and when I was around 15 I began my martial arts training in Aiki-Jujitsu. This was originally suggested by my dad who had also started training in Aiki Ju-jitsu and was working with a senior martial art instructor. I was interested in doing more physical activity to strengthen my muscles and see how far I could push myself with my post surgery legs as well as working on balance and co-ordination. I was also being bullied by fellow students at school due to my disability and the additional support I needed so any form of self-defense was thought beneficial. When my dad spoke to his instructor about me and what I needed, the instructor was confident he could help me. I was very lucky in this respect that my dad had chosen to speak to such a helpful and supportive instructor as I know from experience, not everyone is keen to try and teach children with disabilities especially something as potentially hazardous as martial arts. I’m sure he would agree that I’m one of his more challenging students (in many ways) but he has never given up on me and always pushes me to achieve my best. If my dad had spoken to someone else, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.
The impact sport has had on my life
Martial art has had a huge impact on my life in so many ways. It started off as a hobby and something to help me defend myself if I needed to but has grown into a big part of my life. The physical side of it has obviously been a huge help to me with keeping me fit and healthy, improving my co-ordination and balance (even though they still need some work) and being confident I can defend myself if I needed to. This has also helped improve my general confidence through seeing what I can achieve and being encouraged to push myself further and social skills through working with groups of people, training partners and sharing learning with others as well as respecting other people and earning respect from others.
I now run my own club with my original instructor and teach a children’s class and an adult’s class once a week with his support. I also regularly teach a group of adults with learning and physical disabilities at their day service and was asked to teach a session at a social group for children with disabilities earlier this year.
Last year I was nominated for and won a national award (Warriors Assemble Fighting Spirit Awards) to recognise my achievement in martial arts and my contribution to the raising the profile of martial arts for people with disabilities and my dedication to inclusive training for everyone. I would strongly urge anyone interested in this subject to further research the awards and the work they are doing around the country. Receiving this award was truly an honour for me and meant so much to have been recognised in the martial arts community.
How I got into coaching
The natural progression in martial arts is to eventually take on some coaching responsibility and I was given this chance by the previous organisation I was part of. This started as a confidence building exercise and to be leading the class and to demonstrate some of my more unusual stretching methods that would work for other people as well and progressed on from there. For various reasons my original instructor and I decided to leave that group after many years with them and have struck out on our own. Forming our own club has meant a lot of work for both of us in developing our own syllabus and grading techniques as well as the practical paperwork side of running a club. I have enjoyed the challenge and definitely feel we made the right decision.
I have coached our usual classes of children and adults as well as teaching a special class for children with disabilities as part of their social group and regularly teaching a class of adults with disabilities at their day centre. At our club we focus on inclusion and having our classes accessible to everyone but we are also prepared to teach special classes for groups that want to learn together such as the ones mentioned.
In this way my disability has helped me be more adaptable and able to respond to different people’s needs as I am used to changing things around for myself to achieve the same result but within my abilities. I enjoy every aspect of the coaching I do but especially seeing the people I teach progressing and being able to demonstrate their own techniques and starting to teach others for themselves.
My first instructor and I opened the club in February 2016, this was after our decision to leave our previous organisation for various reasons. We all have our different skills and abilities as well as different interests in techniques or equipment to expand our training and our own club gives us the freedom to do these things. The key ethos of the club is to be inclusive and we have shown our ability to adapt what we are teaching to a variety of different people with different disabilities, health conditions or other issues requiring support. We are not a “disabled club” but a club able to teach martial arts to anyone who is prepared to learn. It’s not an easy task but something we are committed to continuing.
My advice for others who want to participate or coach
My advice for anyone wanting to participate in something is simply to give it a try, naturally be safe in doing so but also have fun with it. Everything can be adapted and with the right support there is no reason you can’t do whatever it is, don’t assume you can’t do something without even trying. It would have been very easy to give up on myself and accept I am disabled and I won’t be able to do things for myself but I didn’t and I have achieved so much and am proud of myself for that. Obviously I’d highly recommend martial arts, specifically Aiki Jujitsu, but the point remains the same regardless of what it is you want to do.
For people who want to coach others my advice would be the same. It’s not always easy but it is very worthwhile and rewarding. If you are passionate about what you do then that will come across to others. I would also advise people not to be worried about coaching people with disabilities, they might not be able to do everything you ask or it might take them longer to learn what you are teaching them but if you support them and encourage them they can achieve their goals.
For further information about the club visit: https://www.facebook.com/allabilitiesmartialart/