Part I - The Fast Push From Behind
By Ronald van de Sandt
Part one of this article discusses one common attack
against someone seated in a wheelchair: the push from
Two will discuss a frontal attack.
Looking at someone in a wheelchair is a world of
difference from actually being confined to one. This
seems like an obvious statement, but few realize how
true it is. It was my good fortune a while back to
test the truthfulness of this statement by actually
becoming a "wheeler" myself, even though
it was for a relatively short period. Yes, I said
"good fortune"; for what I learned from
the experience changed my martial arts life forever
by opening up a deeper understanding of the ancient
martial arts, as well as an appreciation for those
who are handicapped.
I realized early on that some "attacks"
are unique to those in wheelchairs, such as someone
sneaking up from behind, then suddenly pushing you
and your chair very fast.
Some "attacks" though, are common to both
the wheelchair bound as well as people who are sitting
in a chair, on a bench or on a train or subway or
on the floor. I also learned some of the principles
of movement I used also reflected those of aikido,
and that many of the movements came right out of many
of the karate kata I had practiced for so long.
Before describing various defenses we have to examine
the wheelchair and its parts, which serve as our rolling
parts of a wheelchair can be very effective martial
devices, especially when combined with normal grappling
and throwing techniques.
The back wheels are large, rubberized, and have a
slightly smaller wheel at the center, usually made
of steel. These big rear wheels also have lever type
brakes designed to stop the wheels in order to keep
the chair from rolling. The wheelers hands control
the smaller inner wheel to maneuver the chair. The
smaller wheels protect the hands from the rubberized
portion, which is in constant contact with the ground.
The wheelchair rolls easily and smoothly, can turn
in a tight circle, and move forward and backward.
If you push one wheel and pull on the other hard,
you can develop a very quick 360-degree spin in place.
The turning radius of a typical chair is about a five-foot
diameter circle, and the space should be considered
the same as a normal martial artist's Kazushi circle
A typical chair will have armrests on either side,
steel footrests that are at ankle height, and a pair
of handles in the back, normally used for mobility
(pushing) assistance. The front wheels or casters
are usually very small compared to the back wheels.
One of the disadvantages of a wheelchair that became
evident very quickly is that when you punch, the chair
seemed to roll in the opposite direction if the wheels
were not locked, unless you retrieved your punch very
quickly. Another disadvantage is that if the wheelchair
is tipped over, most of the chair's advantages disappear.
This article addresses wheelchair techniques, but
assumes for brevity that the wheelchair person has
fairly normal use of their body from the waist up,
and that the wheelchair is of standard hospital issue
type with foot rests.
Modifications to these two assumptions may require
the technique to be modified accordingly.
Attack Scenario 1: The fast push from behind
this attack comes from friends trying to be funny,
and sometimes it comes instead from someone who is
just plain mean, trying to intimidate the person in
the wheelchair. Either way, to come from behind someone
in a wheelchair and push him or her at a run unexpectedly
is not usually funny to those in confined to a wheelchair.
In fact, it usually gives them the feeling of helplessness,
unless they know what to do. This however, is one
of the most common "attacks" to the wheelchair
bound. Here are a couple of techniques that can be
used to stop it.
Defense Technique 1 - The Jab
Remember the wheel locks mentioned above? Use them!
Simply lock them down as quickly as you can. These
locks are usually designed so that if you are rolling,
they will slow you down. The chair will not just suddenly
stop, but will stop.
If your chair locks the wheels quickly but without
tipping the chair, many times the opponent will get
jabbed by the wheelchair's push handles and the opponents'
own forward momentum. The
brakes will make it very difficult for someone to
continue pushing for very long, and will usually embarrass
the friend who is trying to be funny.
Before doing this technique though, with a friend
or family member you trust, try the technique carefully
to see how your particular chair reacts, and adjust
the technique accordingly. Although unlikely, you
do not want to suddenly apply the brakes and find
out the chair locks the wheels so quickly that you
fall out of the chair from the forward momentum. Anti-tip
devises are also available for most wheelchairs.
Defense Technique 2- The Pivot
A second, more aggressive technique may also need
a little practice first, and possibly the brakes adjusted
for greater pressure to make it work.
As the perpetrator begins to push you fast, grab
and hold the inner wheel on one side very tight, or
apply the lock on only one of the wheels while simultaneously
pushing forward on the other wheel for extra momentum.
Hold on; because if done correctly, and with the right
chair, it is possible to very quickly spin 360 degrees
on the axis of the locked wheel.
This is a very aikido-like technique. You are pivoting
to the outside of the force directed at you from behind.
In the process you get to the outside of the attacker.
This will usually take the opponent off guard, often
causing them to lose balance, even if it does not
spin the full 360 degrees. If spun quick and far enough,
the footrests of the chair may also come around and
catch the opponent on the ankles. Either way, the
opponent will usually think twice before trying that
attack again, and it may also be very embarrassing
I was amazed at the stability of my chair when I
first performed this technique. But all chairs are
not the same, so again, experiment first with someone
Defense Technique 3 - Back Strike And Throw
A third, even more aggressive move that may
be used is to twist in your seat with a right
back-fist to the assailant's face. This defense
isn't limited to just wheelchair defense. It
can equally be used by someone sitting on a
chair or a bench to defend against a variety
of attacks from behind. The only difference
is that in a wheelchair you might be rolling
from the push.
After you execute a backfist immediately slip your
right arm underneath the attackers right armpit and
lever him forward and to the right, which should throw
him to the floor.
For those in a wheelchair this can work with or without
locking both of the wheels, depending on the stability
of your chair. Locking the wheels provides more stability,
but not locking them makes a quicker technique.
If he doesn't want to go (be thrown), getting the
push-handle in the crotch generally provides the needed
extra encouragement. If you are not in a wheelchair
a quick backwards elbow to the groin will have the
same effect. Follow up with a face punch or just roll
the chair over a convenient limb. It must be practiced
to work, and it must be done quickly. Experiment with
several variations. This technique is derived from
About The Author:
Ron van de Sandt has been in the martial arts since
1972 and has studied American Kempo, Shorin Kempo
and Sholin Karate - a blend of Shorinji Ryu and
Shorin Ryu Karate. Mr. van de Sandt currently holds
a Dan rank in Sholin Karate, and runs the Sholin
Karate Club, at the Fairborn YMCA, Fairborn, Ohio.
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