Every Tuesday in the Fitness Center at the Houston VA Medical Center, a group of visually impaired Veterans grab, twist and pull each other with one goal in mind: learn how to put a would-be attacker out of commission.
The Veterans are training in a technique called 1Touch self-defense. The idea is to help visually impaired and wheelchair-bound Veterans be – and feel – less vulnerable.
Tools for empowerment
“We found that people with vision impairments were hesitant to go out into the community,” says Amy Wheeler, Vision Impairment Services Team (VIST) coordinator at the Houston VAMC. “This class gives people tools for empowerment.”
Class members learn to move in a way that affects the other person’s body.
“Do it again,” says instructor Mark Melonson, who is blind. “The more you do it, the better you’ll get.”
Army Veteran Louie O’Neal, who has lost nearly all his sight to glaucoma, takes what he learns in class and repeats it at home.
“Do it over and over again”
“I practice these moves with my wife and daughter,” he says. “You’ve got to do it over and over again until you don’t have to think about it.”
Army Veteran Frank De Leon is in class for two reasons: protection and increased confidence.
“You’ve got to learn how to defend yourself,” he says. “Otherwise, you’re just a victim. I’m blind and my wife is a stroke victim, so I don’t have to just defend myself, I have to defend her too. I’ve got to be able to man up.”
“He just moves, and that is what I want”
Melonson began studying traditional jiu-jitsu in 2005, and has been teaching since 2010. As he moves around the room, working with each person individually, he smoothly transitions from one move to the next.
“There’s a method to the madness,” he says. “You give general instructions but must have that one-on-one connection. Everyone learns differently. Everyone moves differently due to injuries or range of motion. You have to work specifically with whatever they are capable of doing and keep practicing the moves until they become second nature.”
“When training with Mark, he just moves, and that is what I want,” says De Leon. “I’m not looking to hurt anybody, but I do want to defend myself. This is a godsend to us blind Veterans.”
For more information, Veterans and qualified active-duty service members should contact the VIST coordinator at their local VA medical center. To find the VA medical center closest to you, use the online VA facility locator.
Story and photos by Todd Goodman, public affairs specialist at the Houston VA Medical Center.