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Benjamin Evans: Integrating students with disabilities into maintream ITF Tae Kwon Do

Based in New Zeland, Mr. Evans is credited as the first to integrate “special needs” students into mainstream ITF Tae Kwon Do classes, all the while keeping a pretty successful ITF competitive record. Armed with his patience and proven Tae Kwon Do expertise, he strives to elevate the standard of living of those often forgotten by society.
Despite his success and relatively young age (early twenties), he remains humble about his realizations, always striving to better both himself and those he teaches.

When referring to "special needs" students, what "special needs" do they typically have?
My students have downsydrome, asperges, cerebral palsy, Autistic trates, wheel chair students, I have got some non verbal students, I have older "special needs" students, younger, I have worked with all kinds of students. Low spectrum of lets say dyspraxia and dyslexia, to the higher spectrum level of Autistic. They all have barriers, but with my teaching skills and knack of working with them, I can break through their barriers, encourage them and get them to achieve in Taekwon-Do.

Why did you decide to integrate "special needs" student into the ITK TKD classes?
Well originally, I began working with "special needs" as a p.e project within school, helping develop them with the True Taekwon-Do strengths and ITF Patterns. This turned out a great success. When I opened up my club, it was natural to be able to work with any ability regardless of age and ethnicity. 
I take great pride of being the first in the world to integrate Special Needs students of any or every disability into mainstream Taekwon-Do training, demonstrations or championships. 

What was the most severe case that you handled?
There is not really any severe cases as such, the most turbulent would be asperges, I believe, because they are very anxious - some, and you have to gain their trust and take it really slow with them, but once you win their trust, they will allow you to correct them and put their hand positions where they should be etc
My attitude is, I will teach anyone regardless of ability anywhere, any place, any time.
What is the current highest rank of your students with “special needs”?
The highest Ranked student who has "special needs" is a Blue Belt. He can quite easily without fail, remember all ITF Patterns up to Blue belt, he is going for Red stripe July 9th (2011). I have continuously pushed him to his limits. In the future, he will be the first Downsydrome student to gain his ITF Black Belt under Prof. Chang Ung. I am also aiming to send him to a future ITF World Champs when he reaches his Black Belt. He will be the first to Represent New Zealand for Special Needs at a World Championships competing in respective events. 
Do you hold separate training sessions exclusively for the "special needs" students?
I didn’t really agree with separating the students, if you were a parent of a student who had a disability, would you want them to be separated? No! You'd want to make them feel normal and be integrated into mainstream. 
It adds a whole new dimension to training as well, everybody totally loves their spirit, their perseverance, their passion for Taekwon-Do is most likely stronger than the average mainstream student. It has changes so many students lives. 
How do your mainstream students feel about training alongside "special needs" students?
In Hawke's Bay, I am most well known as being the first in the world for Special Needs Taekwon-Do, recognized by ITF President Prof. Chang Ung (successor to General Choi Hong Hi) so therefore, any students who have joined, right at the start, have been around this sort of structure. 
If anything, it is better to be surrounded by it, I feel that my teaching skills have really developed, better than the average teacher. Why? Because I have to figure out new methods of teaching to get students to their next level. 
My mainstream students love the spirit of the students and if anything respect them for their supreme mind power. I'd be quite happy to say that some of my mainstream have poor concentration skills and moan sometimes, while the "special needs" will focus and hold onto every word. 
So going back to the question, I fully believe that the mainstream are well supportive of my role as the Special Needs Taekwon-Do Director. They see a benefit to the club. It also gives the younger generation a great understanding of "special needs", this will then change the way people thinking on the future, a lot of people think that "special needs" cannot do such normal activities as well as mainstream, but it is the individual who is wrong to make such judgments. 

Are you having the "special needs" student compete in mainstream competitions?
Not only do I encourage my "special needs" students to compete in Championships Regionally and Nationally, I also encourage them to be in my Regional Demonstration Team. They also break boards and tiles, same as the rest. 

My students do very well against mainstream, sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but they are not given the sympathy vote. It is purely marked on the performance and attitude, not the image or look of being intellectually handicapped. I am very into giving all my students the best opportunity I can.
My aim with exposing the crowd and spectators at the next ITF World Champs in DPR-KOREA September (2011) with my "special needs" student, who will be doing a first in the world demonstration, representing all "special needs" on a global sphere, will be to show the whole world that Special Needs can do Taekwon-Do and the benefits are outgoing.

Are there no other schools that accept "special needs" students in their training sessions?
Of course, I think majority will accept, but they will look down on them and think they cannot do what mainstream kids can do. With my nature of teaching and working with my students, I will constantly encourage them and push them to their limits, there is no barriers in my training. I treat them all equally and give them all the same opportunity.
The other martial arts school don't teach their students how to do a pattern and let them stand alone, they simply have to do it along side. My students can confidently do it without anyone there doing it next to them, the ITF Patterns are most complex to learn, so for my students with all kinds of great intellectual barriers, to learn this on their own, I pull my hat of to them. 
I have no respect for those who segregate students with an intellectual disability in Taekwon-Do or other martial arts, if there is people out there who ONLY do that. 

What would you say are the main benefits of practicing TKD within your curriculum for the "special needs" students?
The main benefits would be gaining a greater memory, understanding of their right and left sides; so many struggle with knowing the differences, weight control for most. I'd also go as far as increased age in life, I fully believe that Taekwon-Do lets you live longer. Why? The 5 tenets of Taekwon-Do: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control, Indomitable Spirit, they all act like giving you a purpose in life to strive for, something which always keep the brain active and thinking. 
I can remember driving with my mum in her car one day, I saw a random homeless person walking the streets, he seemed like he had no direction in life, for me Taekwon-Do has given me total direction and has always kept me safe, it has definitely helped me in so many ways, without it, id feel the same as the homeless guy on the street who seemed like he had no idea about life. 
The fitness of classes as well as stretching, loosening up certain muscle groups for the students certainly gives a really good effect. The students also learn team work, something a lot of students with intellectual disabilities are not used to. 
Taekwon-Do creates a comradeship with them all, I promote team patterns where they all work together and complete this, there is one leader who controls and the rest follow, just like military. It works really well, the patterns also help the neurons of the brain make more paths to increasing memory and sharpness. The repetitive training helps the patterning of the brain which all schools systems are looking for with the students, it's routine. So really, (ITF) Taekwon-Do has a HUGE impact on the mental developments on anyone, so for intellectual disability students, this really helps them increase their well being and health.



To learn more about Mr. Benjamin Evans, please go to

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2011 21:53  

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