‘Disorders’ viewed as adaptations.

Robert Barton

There is a theory which, while it may perhaps never be able to be tested or proven, is nonetheless of great benefit to us as martial arts instructors and as people who must deal with and manage a wide variety of individuals. In this theory many of what are today considered to be ‘disorders’ are viewed as differences present in our species because individuals with these differences have proven to be of some special value in the survival of humanity.  It is a theory which I feel, better equips us for understanding our students and allows us to better present information to those students in ways which are more accessible to a wider variety of people. In being more accessible to a wider variety of folk we avoid a one size fits all mentality in which only a certain type of person may excel under our tutelage and other types of people fall by the wayside. By employing this theory in our approach to teaching we become better instructors and help to strengthen our martial arts family.

In this theory we posit that things such as ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia are actually the results of human adaptations which are or were at some time positive traits which were present in a certain percentage of the population. These traits were positive in that they give or gave a variety of approaches to daily life and that this variety proves of more benefit to humanity than a total homogeneity in thought and action. The benefits of the presence of these traits among the population made any given group of people more successful and so these traits survive. In short, many of the issues which are today viewed as disorders are actually intentional variety in the human race and so should not be seen as problems, weaknesses or disorders at all but viewed as positives which challenge us to work with these people accordingly rather than fix them or even worse forget them. There are no throw away people.

A further application of this theory leads us to address some very real disorders in a different light. As an example sickle cell anemia results from an unfortunate combination of traits, each of which has a benefit but which unfortunately can lead to problems when combined. In this view issues such as the autism spectrum disorders like aspergers,  PDD and autism may be viewed as an unfortunate concentration of traits. Severe forms of ADHD may be viewed in this way also, as may many other issues considered to be learning disabilities or problems by society.

From the standpoint of practical martial arts instruction the employment of this theory can help us become better instructors and help us to train better instructors. Through the employment of this theory our view of the issues and the students who present these issues changes and so our approach to dealing with these things changes. We enable ourselves to examine the issue and the student in a light that is not tinged with negatives and identify the positive aspects of these issues. We further enable ourselves to modify how we present information to those students and how we approach teaching in general and we learn to use the positive traits to benefit the student. We become more successful as teachers because we are then able to work with many different types of people and to make our arts more accessible and we have higher student retention. We also benefit our martial arts family because we welcome and include a wider variety of people with a resulting variety in skills and abilities giving us a stronger base resource in people.

 Imagine a child who has been told that he or she has something wrong; a disorder or disability in the brain. What are the results on self image, self confidence and long term goals and expectations for that child? What about when that person is an adult? The practical benefits to the student is that he or she suddenly encounters a teacher who does not see in that student a problem but instead sees a set of differences which lend abilities which may be applied as positives. The result in the self image of the student may be drastic. The self image becomes more positive. The approach of the student to dealing with the challenges of life starts to take on a different shape and the student starts to employ a set of strengths rather than feel held back by a set of challenges. Self concept improves, self respect grows, self esteem develops and the student has more success. Instead of the martial arts having become another thing that the person tried and failed at it has become a thing which feels good and an arena where the students has learned to succeed.

There are also social benefits to the employment of this theory. As students work in a more varied class with individuals who have vastly different inherent abilities and challenges they learn to accept human variation. The students become more accepting of one another and less prone to view other students as having something ‘wrong’ with them and more likely to take a view that has a wider scope of normality. As these more usual students see an instructor whom they respect and often emulate modeling inclusivity and an ability to adapt to others and work with others, these students learn those skills and are better equipped to deal with the people encountered throughout life. This strengthens the bonds of our martial arts family but it also sends people out into society equipped with these skills and so it strengthens our greater society.

We must, each of us, decide why we teach. Many have chosen the easier road and use a one size fits all approach to teaching which weeds out the ‘weak’ or less able and which is designed to zero in on the ‘perfect’ kind of student and create a star or champion.  This approach is easier and more direct and certainly has the ability to make an instructor feel satisfied. But there is another approach where any student that walks through the door is some kind of ‘perfect’ student and it is our job as instructors to learn from this person how to adapt what we do to suit the student. And it too has the ability to bring great satisfaction to a teacher. I myself employ this approach to teaching and find it very satisfying. I would also like to personally thank all of my teachers in the martial arts who were willing to work with a student who has a learning disability, physical birth defects and a life long heart issue.

I believe that this approach to teaching makes any instructor better. I also believe that it makes martial arts more accessible to people in general and presents our art to a wider variety of people. Learning this approach helps our students become better people who are more accepting of others. This approach builds a stronger martial arts family for us and helps society in general by building better citizens of the world. I believe that this is what my teachers taught me by expanding their own view to include me even with my own challenges. I trust that my teachers knew and know what they were and are doing. May we as Shorin Goju members employ this view toward better understanding our fellows. 

Make a Free Website with Yola.