Stories about those who have been empowered by martial arts are fairly common. But sometimes, such stories really can send shivers down the spine. Stories like that of David Black from Haggs, near the Scottish town of Falkirk, whose love of martial arts has not only helped him overcome a disability, but to have the confidence to live a normal life.

Martial Arts Made Him A Real-life DareDevil

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David lost his sight at the age of 13 as a result of a degenerative condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has also caused his mother to go blind too. David’s blindness came on gradually and knowing that his Mum was completely blind found the knowledge that his sight would go completely hard to deal with as a child.

As he explained to the Scottish Sun newspaper, “I felt lost going blind. I didn’t understand what was happening. It’s been a struggle — and if it wasn’t for the centre I don’t know where I would be now.”

The centre he refers to is the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Camelon, Stirlingshire. It was here that David was first introduced to martial arts.

“I had a martial arts teacher who would allow me to go up and touch him as he was doing a technique,” he explains. “That way I could feel how it works and get him to describe what he was doing. I would do what I thought it should look like and then the instructor would tell me what I needed to change or move my arms into position.”

David began by learning Taiji, and then over the years, has also trained in aikido and jiu-jitsu. His martial arts training has not only helped him come to terms with his blindness but also helped him cope with some of the abuse he has encountered in the real world.

Disability Hate Crime High in Scotland

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Being disabled in Scotland is not easy. Around half of disabled Scots report experiencing some kind of hate crime as a direct result of their disability. And a shocking 73% say they have been frightened, attacked, verbally abused or intimidated by people. Unfortunately, David is no exception.

“I’ve been attacked a few times over the years, punched and kicked,” he says. “One time someone tripped me up just to see how blind I was… I wanted to be able to defend myself and not be as scared.”

He recounts an occasion when he was walking by a canal when people nearby starting shouting things like “is that a fishing rod” at him. They then led him towards the canal and one of the group grabbed his white cane.

“I did a few moves and he ended up in the canal,” says David proudly. “[My] cane is not a weapon — it’s an extension of who I am. In aikido, they do use sticks to fight but it’s not like that. I use the cane as a barrier to add distance between me and the attacker.”

Huge Fan of Daredevil

That incident and others have seen David being dubbed a real-life Daredevil by family and friends, a reference to the Netflix TV series about a blind lawyer who fights crime by night.

He is a huge fan of the show, which he watches with audio-description and using it and his own experiences as inspiration, he has recently started giving personal safety classes at the same centre where he was first introduced to martial arts more than twenty years ago.

The Transformational Effect of Martial Arts

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David credits martial arts with completely transforming his outlook on life as he slowly came to terms with being blind.

“I used to walk with my head down and be terrified of everything,” he recalls. “But I hold my head up high now.” And now he is determined to help other blind people enjoy the same confidence that he does.

“I want other blind people to feel they can walk around with their heads up and feel safe [too]… We live in a world where attacks do happen. If I can teach visually- impaired or hearing-impaired people skills to make them less scared and so their disability doesn’t make them feel vulnerable, then my own journey was worth it. It would justify what I have experienced.”

Listening to David speak today, it is hard to reconcile this outgoing and confident character with the picture of a shy and traumatised young teenager coping with disability that he presents. It is clear that David believes this is all thanks to martial arts and you get the sense that he now feels there is nothing he couldn’t do.

David’s story should act as an inspiration to all martial artists, especially those just starting out in their training. Most of us will not have to cope with the challenges that he has, but if there is just one thing we learn from his story, it is that if David Black has been empowered by martial arts, we can be too.

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