Aikido and Blind students

Image: !st Dan award

Billy Burrel 1st Dan

My name is Billy Burrell, I am 55 years old and I live in South Shields, Tyne and Wear which is in the north east of England.

I train at the CUA Aikido club in South Shields and have done for almost seven years.

The head of our dojo is Jon Stokoe Sensei who has over 50 years experience in practising and teaching aikido.

I first met him when I worked at the local recycling facility when one of my colleagues wasn't watching where he was going and almost collided with him. I had noticed the registration plate on his car which read 'A1KDO' and I jokingly warned my colleague to watch his step or he might end up being thrown into one of the recycling skips. This exchange led to Sensei giving me his business card, which I looked at and put in the back of my wallet, where it stayed until I lost my job and sight due to an hereditary condition the following year. It was in fact about two or three years later that I remembered about the business card while trying to think of ways to fill in my time and I decided to give Sensei a call and look into taking up aikido..

When I contacted Sensei and ask how he felt about taking on a blind student. He was only too happy to give it a go and although it took a bit of effort to walk through the doors of the dojo that first time, I haven't looked back since, excuse the pun.

On that first night I sat in the dojo listening to the sound of ukes being thrown around the mat and I must admit that it was a bit daunting. However, about 30 minutes from the end of the class Sensei came over and led me onto the mat to show me a few basic techniques. His demonstration of nikyo, although not fully applied, had me on my knees in seconds and hooked on aikido immediately. I went out the following day with my wife and bought a gi and counted down the days until the following Friday for my first full class.

All of the other students, regardless of rank were willing to train with me, patiently and painstakingly going through the techniques with me until I had a good understanding of how the technique worked and how to apply it.

Initially some of the techniques were shown to me using grasps instead of striking attacks so that I could get  used to dealing with the attack in a form that I could cope with.

Sensei and my fellow students all treat me as an able bodied person as much as they can, although they all are conscious of what is going on around me at all times to ensure my safety while on the mat, whether applying techniques or taking ukemi. 

I have attended several training courses at other clubs in Durham and in Hull. This enabled me to train with other students and gainsome experience of learning from different Senseis at venues.I wouldn't otherwise get a chance to train at.

Although it hasn't been an uneventful journey without mishap so far, thanks to the guidance and support I have received from Sensei and all of my fellow students I was awarded my shodan in late 2016 and the  sense of achievement I felt at the time was almost overwhelming.

Billy Burrel


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