When a car accident left Jean-Baptiste Berné’s wife wheelchair-bound for a full year, he says the experience opened his eyes to just how hard it can be for those with limited mobility to stay active. Excluding the lucky few who can afford expensive adapted equipment or live close to an adaptive fitness center, “Not many activities are available when you’re in a wheelchair,” he says.
On the hunt for a solution, his interest was piqued when he stumbled across the work of Dr. Zibin Guo, a medical anthropologist and master of Taiji who had set to work over the past decade adapting the traditional Chinese Martial Art form to accommodate those in wheelchairs.
Already a longtime practitioner of Chinese internal martial arts, Berné saw some potential here. Taiji’s graceful, flowing motions have widely reported health benefits, but even beyond that, Berné says that after seeing Dr. Guo’s work in action he came to believe that the form also has the potential to change the way people think about the wheelchair itself. “They perceive the wheelchair not just as a device to assist movement, but rather a tool of empowerment and artistic expression,” he says.
With all these possibilities in mind, this chance discovery set him on the path to founding his own training program, Wheelchi. When he did so in 2012, the Germany-based program became the first to carry Dr. Guo’s work into Europe.