Best Martial Arts for Wheelchair Users

martial arts wheelchair lg

Martial arts is popularly used for self-defense. However, it can be quite challenging for wheelchair users interested in self-defense to find a suitable martial art to practice. So what are the best martial arts for wheelchair users?

The best martial art for wheelchair users is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). It can even be said that BJJ was explicitly designed for people with mobility issues and impairments, as Jiu-Jitsu focuses on ground fighting and submission holds for smaller or weaker practitioners.

This martial art is a cross between combat sports and martial arts.

In fact, most wheelchair users think that they can not learn any form of martial arts, which is not true. First of all, wheelchair users can learn martial arts.

Although, there can be some exemptions to the form of martial arts that a wheelchair user can learn and precautions that need to be followed when they’re being trained. Some martial arts are better suited to people with disabilities than others.

But either way, someone in a wheelchair doesn’t have to be an easy target.

Keep reading to find out more about the best martial arts for wheelchair users and how people with disabilities can learn self-defense and become martial artists.

Can people with disabilities do Karate?

Yes, people with disabilities can learn Karate.

First and foremost, it is important to know that Karate is for everyone, including those with special needs. ‘Everyone’ in this context includes people with physical and mental disabilities such as blindness, autism, and prosthetics.

Karate has developed over the years, and there is more to it than just throwing kicks and punches. Karate teaches discipline, and it aims to teach people important life skills such as perseverance, mental sharpness, focus, and self-control.

These are skills that anyone can apply in their daily activities, irrespective of their ability.

In fact, it could be said that people with certain disabilities require Karate’s life lessons, even more, to help them overcome the challenges that life throws at them at every turn.

And even traditional Japanese katas can be turned into wheelchair katas by a creative martial arts school and someone dedicated to physical limitations.

Though, it is important to note that the original Karate rules were designed for people who are not disabled. Kicks, stances, and strikes, for example, were created to be performed with two hands and legs.

Timing and focus also require good vision.

As a result, some adaptive rules were developed to accommodate people with disabilities in these physical areas.

Some of them are:  

  • Medical approval – Before competing, disabled artists must pass certain medical tests according to the rules.
  • Individual training – Rather than group training, personal training is the most commonly used adaptation for disabled Karate practitioners. The trainer assesses the learners’ physical and mental handicaps before designing a training program with two goals in mind. The first is to make use of the learner’s strong points, such as improving balance on one leg. And the 2nd is to improve correctable handicaps, such as verbal communication for autistic students.

Rules are usually adapted in competitive karate matches, which are still relatively new.

To facilitate this adaptation, the World Karate Federation established the Para-Karate Commission in 2006. The first batch of wheelchair artists had their competition rules reviewed.

The practical adaptation of Karate for people with disabilities does not revolve around rule changes but with training methods.

Karate, one of the best-known martial arts in the world, has many benefits, even for wheelchair users. But what are the advantages of Karate over other martial arts?

In a recent article, I pointed out the advantages of Karate. I get into all the pros and cons, including the 1 thing that makes it less appealing for many.

Click on the link to read the full article on this website.

How do you do martial arts in a wheelchair?

Martial arts in a wheelchair simply requires some modification to the techniques and possibly training with a different flooring option other than the normal squishy mats used in dojos.

It might also involve a greater focus on weapons training, given some techniques, such as a front kick, may not be possible.

With enough time and possibly seeking out specialty classes or one-on-one instruction, anyone can learn and eventually master martial arts.

Martial arts instruction for wheelchair students covers all of the fundamentals and more required to understand how martial arts can be applied to one’s life both mentally and physically.

You’ll be taught how to block, strike, and defend yourself in a wheelchair.

Michelle Colvard, Miss Wheelchair America 2009, is a wheelchair martial fighter born with spina bifida. She talked about how she learned martial arts despite having a spinal cord injury type of congenital disability.

She claimed that her instructor taught her how to use the wheelchair to her advantage if she was attacked and even what to do when she was dragged from the wheelchair.

Colvard further claims that in addition to the physical benefits and stress relief she received from the training, her lung power improved significantly.

Specifically, Colvard said:

“My message is no matter who you are, where you came from, you can change your path, you can change your destiny,” she said. “You may have come from difficult circumstances. But to me, life is an adventure. It is something for us to take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t let opportunities pass you by.”

The reasons for wheelchair users getting involved in martial arts are different. Some people enjoy the thrill of learning how to fight. Some people desire fitness and a good workout. Others want to learn techniques for defending themselves and staying safe.

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that includes Tai Chi and Wing Chun. 

Comparing it with Karate, which martial arts do you think is better? You can find out the answer in a recent article I published. I also explained which of them is better for MMA, as well as their key differences.

Click on the link to take you straight to the article.

Can you do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a wheelchair?

BJJ can be done by wheelchair users. However, when possible, it would be better to practice on training mats out of the wheelchair since the majority of the techniques are done on the ground and not done against standing opponents.

The popularity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, in general, has grown in recent years. As a result, many people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities have joined the community as athletes and competitors.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be done while in a wheelchair. BJJ makes no exceptions for anyone ready and willing to train. There are numerous reviews from people who have used a wheelchair to fight BJJ.

For example, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner in a wheelchair has claimed that BJJ helped him recover from an injury prior to his SCI and adjust to life afterward.

In his words:

“It taught me how to use what I had left and how to use my energy more effectively in my daily life,” he says. “I want to share the benefits of the art with as many people with limitations as I can.”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has gained popularity among wheelchair users in particular because, as a ground-fighting style, your legs do not always have to be involved.

BJJ’s mechanics offer a low risk of injury while also making it one of the few sports with a particular para version of competition that isn’t always necessary for level play.

All para Jiu-Jitsu players train and compete with nondisabled athletes on a regular basis.

Increased participation from fighters with disabilities, on the other hand, has given rise to para-only tournaments and divisions in which athletes are divided by disability type and belt level.

How do I find a dojo that accommodates wheelchairs?

The Adaptive Martial Arts Association is the perfect place to start when looking for martial arts classes or self-defense skills for those in a wheelchair.

Finding a dojo that accommodates wheelchairs is very easy.

All you need to do is prepare your mind for the new changes you’re about to encounter and do proper research on which martial art school accommodates wheelchair users.

You can do this by checking the website of the martial art school. Most dojos will indicate if they accommodate wheelchair students or not on their website.

Another trick you can use is to check for a dojo that makes its entrance accessible for wheelchairs. Those that do not don’t accommodate wheelchair users.

Kung Fu is usually seen as a brutal martial art, and most people believe that it is not safe to practice Kung Fu. Do you think this is true? 

Find out in a recent article I wrote on this website. When you click on the link, you will also find out the type of Kung Fu approved by Harvard Medical.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you defend yourself against a man in a wheelchair?

You can defend yourself against a man in a wheelchair by understanding how you and your center of balance move, and learning to take the other person’s balance using their balance points. A wheelchair can easily be tipped back.

To be able to do this, you need to have mastered and be familiar with your martial art skills.

Firstly, think of the wheelchair as an extension of your body. You can simply incorporate weight, physical boundaries, and effect into your movements.

While using a wheelchair, you already know how much space you take up and where the boundaries of that physical space are so you don’t bump into stuff, how to move without tipping over, etc.

Then, you’ll make use of your elbow in attacking your opponent to manipulate the aggressor’s balance points.

Actually, you will always have an advantage in this situation because you know exactly how your wheelchair works with you inside it. In contrast, the other person does not and can only make assumptions and probably only assume that you are limited in your movements as much as they are limited in imagination.

Learning Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Aikido, Judo, and Ninjutsu, which focus specifically on balance points, is a great way to find your center of balance.

When I was younger, my best friend was Gary Guthrie, who was a paraplegic.

Gary had polio as a child, so while he still had feeling in his legs, they stopped growing around age 7, so they were much smaller than his torso.

Gary (unfortunately since passed away) was a force of nature.

He could easily defend himself and was never afraid of anything or anyone. And when he would get mad, he would occasionally leap out of the wheelchair grabbing his legs with his arms to keep them from buckling and run towards whoever he was mad at.

I share his story to say that you can do anything you set your mind to.

Can you do Tai Chi in a wheelchair?

Tai Chi is, of course, a form of moving meditation. And many of the moves involve using the legs for various stances, shifting the weight from one leg to another, and standing on one leg occasionally too.

But believe it or not, wheelchair Tai Chi is possible!

Ultimately Tai Chi, if done properly, is less about the actual movements and more about feeling the internal energy in your body and accessing and utilizing the dantien, your body’s storage center for qi (chi) or life force.

The movements simply are ONE way of accessing the dantien. But not the only way. The official Wheelchair Tai Chi sequence utilizes 13 of the 24 movements from the Tai Chi short form.

Check out that entire sequence from the 2008 Beijing Olympics/Paralympics:

Dancing in the chair - Dr. Zibin Guo's Wheelchair Tai Chi Chuan


In this article, I’ve gone through the best martial arts for wheelchair users.

Also, I’ve explained how wheelchair users can practice martial arts. Don’t worry if you’re interested in learning martial arts and feel your disability might be an obstacle to you.

There are martial arts you can learn with your wheelchair and even practice up to a black belt.

Photo which requires attribution:

File:Wheelchair Karate – Kata2 – WKF Worlchampionship 2014.jpg by Fduboiss is licensed under CC4.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

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