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A female martial arts trainer teaches Aikido free of charge to disabled children with hope of integrating them into society. Trung Hieu reports.

In a large martial arts training gym at the Sports Club on Ho Xuan Huong Street in HCM City’s District 3, an old woman wearing an Aikido gi (Aikido uniform) patiently guides each movement to her young handicapped and disabled students.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Loan, 65, established the Aikido World is Love Club for disabled children, including those with Down Syndrome and others with vision and hearing problems. The club currently has about 70 students.

“One of the guidelines of Aikido is to consider love and peace as ways to enter society,” she says.

At first, many of the children are afraid to step out onto the practice mat. Loan encourages them with smiles and a gentle demeanour, encouraging the children to make efforts to slowly imitate each of her movements.

As she looks at the disabled children who can now do somersaults, strike and wrestle like any other children, Loan says she is surprised to see their rapid progress.

“Initially my goal was to help my students improve their health and find joy in life. But now they can stand on their own feet and practice the Aikido movements perfectly, so I feel very happy!”

Loan was born to Nguyen Huu family in Long An Province and she began studying martial arts in early childhood. Her husband, three children and one son-in-law are also Aikido instructors.

At the age of 20, she became one of the first two Vietnamese women to earn the internationally recognised Shodan black belt.

After 44 years teaching martial arts to children, Loan says her greatest happiness is “to see the children in good health, mature and making contributions to their families and society.”

But her life really entered a new stage when she began to teach Aikido techniques to disabled children.

In 2005, the HCM City Martial Arts Association for Visually-Impaired Children was established. Loan was the first martial arts teacher invited by the organisation to teach Aikido to 20 children.

“When I started I was worried about fulfilling my task because it’s already so hard to teach Aikido to ordinary children.

“When the class was established, most of the children were hesitant to try but now four have earned their brown belts,” she says.

Loan says the children with Down Syndrome absorb knowledge slowly so she has to perform each movement many times to ensure they grasp the technique.

Loan reveals her know-how to teach difficult movements.

“I composed some songs to describe the difficult-to-remember techniques.

“For the blind children, I have to describe the movements in great detail, until they are able to imagine how the movement should flow.”

Along with martial arts skills, the elderly teacher also gives her students social lessons, such as politeness and how to treat others with respect to encourage living a life with good values.

“Many of the children with Down Syndrome were very stubborn when they first came here. I asked them everyday to salute the Aikido founder, salute their teacher, and greet their class mates. They have developed the habit, so now they are courteous to their parents and others.”

Le Hoai Yen Linh, one of her students with Down Syndrome, shows extreme passion for martial arts as the club provides an ideal environment for her to connect with others.

Her mother, Ton Thi Kim Dien, says that since Linh started studying at the club one year ago she has become much happier.

“Loan is a very perceptive teacher. In addition to martial arts she also teaches students how to sing and communicate. My daughter Linh has made progress. She has learned a lot and has the chance to meet up with others. Now she can dance very well. When she comes home, she salutes her parents very dutifully. She told me she was very happy at the club because she could talk with many friends. I am so pleased!”

Many generations of her students have had success studying in universities and vocational training schools or finding jobs.

Loan also collaborates with other charities which help pay the transportation fees for the children to get to the club.

“Luckily, everyone in my family teaches Aikido so they support me which allows me time to spend with my students.”

Though Loan tries her best, she is worried that some of her classes for deaf students in District 4’s Linh Quang Pagoda and Ky Quang Pagoda in Go Vap District, may have to close because the pagodas can no longer afford the transportation fees for the children.

“Many of them are learning a lot so it would be unfortunate if they had to quit learning with only half of the training. I am trying to collaborate with the monks to help them.”

The elderly teacher also co-operates with the Doi Rat Dep (Life is Beautiful) Centre which teaches living skills to street children.

“My aspiration is to open more martial arts classes which combine cultural knowledge and living skills training for street children to help them integrate into the community, gain knowledge and find jobs to stabilise their lives.

“I have spent my whole life with Aikido, a martial art of love which considers harmony as its spirit.

“In life, if everyone were to smile the world would have less sorrow. As I see my students happy, loving life and self confident enough to join society, I feel so happy!” — VNS