BJJ Black Belt Helps People With Intellectual Disabilities Learn Brazil’s Soft Art

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Photo by Kristen Davidson. Used with permission.

Kristen Davidson is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and she is using her skills on the mat for a truly noble cause.

Professor Davidson is the head instructor of Unlimited Possibilities Martial Arts, a martial arts program in Buena Park, California, geared towards people with intellectual disabilities.

Davidson even has a 14-year-old autistic boy named Ryan help her.

We sat down with Professor Davidson over the weekend to talk about the Unlimited Possibilities program. The following conversation took place via Facebook instant messenger. It has been edited slightly for clarity.

The Jiu-Jitsu Times: So, tell us a little bit about the program. What exactly does it do and how does it differ from other BJJ programs?

Kristen Davidson: The program is geared toward people with intellectual disabilities. We start out with a combination of Kung Fu and BJJ. By teaching some stand up and traditional Katas, we are helping students to work on basic coordination, strength, and balance. Slowly integrating into BJJ has helped the students that are not comfortable with touch get used to it and be able to excel in something they probably would otherwise never try.

I have a tailored approach for every individual. The abilities that come through the door run the gamut. My goal is to make everyone the best version of themselves that they can be physically.

Grappler's Heart 2016

Posted by Unlimited Possibilities Martial Arts on Monday, May 9, 2016

JJT: Where did you get the idea for this program, and how long have you been doing it?

KD: I was a Special Olympics gymnastics coach for 10 years. The other coach was involved with United Cerebral Palsy and told me they were interested in starting a martial arts program and asked if it was something that I could do. I was there for about a year before I decided to go out on my own. I just had to look it up. It’s been 7 years!

JJT: Wow! It must be doing well, then. Ryan also helps you out, too, right? As an assistant coach? How’d he get involved in it?

KD: Yes, I teach three classes a week and have about 20 students consistently. Ryan is my assistant coach one of those days. He first heard about the program a couple of years ago when I was helping to organize the Grappler’s Heart Tournament. This is a tournament for people with disabilities, and it caught Ryan’s attention. His dad contacted me and he volunteered at the tournament, then started helping in my classes. He is amazing with the kids. On occasion, I have a student that just doesn’t want to listen to me. Ryan has this amazing way of getting through to them and getting them to follow directions.

JJT: What are some of the biggest challenges of your job?

KD: I guess my biggest challenge is trying to figure out what may be holding a student back. Many of my students don’t express themselves well. Some don’t even speak. It is my job to recognize when and why they are having a problem with a task or technique and then find a way to modify it for them. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of explaining it a different way. Other times, I may have to back off of making them do that particular technique for a period of time and revisit it later.

JJT: What’s the best part of your job? Have you ever said to yourself, “Wow! I really love my job?” If so, what made you say that?

KD: I say that all the time!!! The best part is the impact it has on me. I look at individuals who really have a lot to overcome and still have this amazing outlook on life. When I am feeling sorry for myself, nothing cheers me up more than teaching. I also get such a thrill from the little accomplishments. Watching a kid do a front roll, who was terrified to even try it, and seeing the sense of accomplishment on their faces. That is what has always kept me doing this.

Check out this awesome video of the kids from Unlimited Possibilities Martial Arts competing at the 2017 SJJIF World Championships. 

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