Deaf Students Train in the Martial Arts

At the age of thirteen, Bruce Lee started lessons in martial arts. His goal was self-defense, but in the years that followed, he conditioned his mind and body to become one of the most influential martial artists of all time. Credited for paving the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA), Bruce Lee is a pop culture icon praised for bridging the cultural divide between East and West.

When my deaf son Micah turned thirteen, I enrolled him in martial arts at Lion's Den Karate in St. Augustine. I was delighted to meet instructors who communicated in both English and American Sign Language, a rare find. Here was a place bridging the gaps not only between East and West, but between deaf, hearing, blind, and sighted. I observed both deaf and blind students practicing martial arts among their peers, and I was both impressed and inspired.

I had no illusions that Micah would become the next deaf Bruce Lee, but I knew martial arts had dramatically helped my husband Dave–who, in his early teens–suffered at the hands of cruel peers. Back in the early 1990s, bullies had pushed his head into toilets and shoved his body into lockers. Training in martial arts helped Dave learn to defend himself. But more than that, it taught him the life lessons of resilience, perseverance, self-restraint, anger management, and a healthy respect for others.

In the sixth grade, a hearing boy shoved Micah's back so hard that the impact of the fall broke Micah's wrist. There were no adult witnesses, but according to Micah, the boy stood over him and said, "Are you gay?" Micah couldn't hear the words, but he read the boy's lips and felt both the pain of his broken bone and the wound of being rejected. I knew the wrist would heal, but I worried about the psychological impact of raising a teen who often felt like a loner and an outcast due to communication barriers.

Soon after the bullying incident, we moved to St. Augustine for FSDB (Deaf Middle School), and I enrolled Micah at Lion's Den Karate for after-school lessons. I hoped that training in martial arts would have the same positive impact on my son as it had had on my husband.

Micah is discovering that karate is far more than kicking and punching. It's less about retaliation and more a way of being. He is also doing well at FSDB as an honor roll student and an active member of the track and basketball athletic teams.

Denise Huot and their three children (Kai and Tao are students in the Deaf Middle and Elementary Schools at FSDB) have incorporated karate into their weekly routine. They enjoy it so much that they've even set up a small home studio in their garage.

Learning martial arts at Lion's Den Karate not only provides structure for her family, but by taking the classes alongside her children, Denise has found martial arts to be an activity they can all enjoy together. The classes keep them fit and active. In addition to those benefits, Denise says the dojo "offers a sense of support and a place where her family can blossom and grow (the definition of "dojo" is a school for training in various arts of self-defense).

The discipline of martial arts builds self-confidence and respect. It increases focus, perseverance, and a sense of pride, both in and outside the studio. As a mother, Denise is delighted to watch the faces of her children light up when they've mastered a new form or task. "It's priceless," she says. Denise feels strongly that all children, but specifically deaf children, benefit from learning to protect themselves. The amazing staff at Lion's Den Karate are dedicated, and she feels forever grateful for their service and their willingness to communicate in ASL in their classes.

Marital arts and the instructors at Lion's Den Karate have also helped her children learn a sense of balance, not only individually, but also as a family. She says, as "a working, single mom, having two children at FSDB, and one in collegiate high school, life-balance is extremely important."

For families like the Huots, Lion's Den Karate is more than a dojo. It is a community that feels like family. Denise says that deciding to make karate a primary part of their lives, was one of the best decisions they've ever made.

At Lion's Den Karate, instructor Jose Leno designed an all-inclusive dojo where students of all ages and abilities are welcome to train in martial arts. There, students are encouraged to cultivate a healthy body, a focused mind, and a limitless spirit. The dojo is about community, life lessons, and mastery of challenges both on and off the mat.

By Elizabeth Engelman, FSDB Parent

About FSDB

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit

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