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    I had been reluctant to write this article, but upon consideration I feel that if it can benefit anyone, then it is worthwhile. For a number of years, I have been negligent in dealing with, and understanding a common ailment that exist within a lot of young Karateka, dyslexia. Most people are unaware of its existence, or refuse to acknowledge it, or get personally upset when it is brought up about their child. However, this does not alleviate the problem, nor does it help the athlete who is trying to learn karate, or any other sport. I would like to make it quite clear that I am not an expert in this field, but I have done some personal research into the problems that I have found, and how I approach them. If the knowledge that I write can open your eyes to this problem to help you better deal with this, then I have done my job.

   Too many people, dyslexia is merely construed as a reading or learning disorder which affects the brains ability to distinguish between left and right, or in a simpler context everything appears in a mirror form that the individual is unable to distinguish. There are various degrees of dyslexia, which can affect an athlete's learning ability within Karate. What I would like to make instructors aware of, is some of the symptoms and cures that I have researched through training and development that may be of use to you as an instructor in helping these athletes.

   We perceive everything as left & right, and assume that all our students see things the same way. Unfortunately this is not the case. A proven fact of Martial Arts teaching is that visualization or demonstration of a kata, or sequence of moves, is the most common method of teaching. But to a dyslexic person, if you are facing them, everything you do is like looking into a mirror and seeing it backward. In most cases they cannot distinguish what is left & what is right. A similar comparison is a color blind individual that cannot distinguish between green or blue, and so on. When teaching a class, if I know that a person has a degree of dyslexia, or I perceive through little indicators, that they may have this problem, I have learned that I must teach them a bit different in order for them to grasp what skills or katas that they are trying to learn. This involves turning myself around to be on the left side, or the right side of the individual and finding which side they can understand from. In other words it is too difficult for them to grasp when I am facing them, and must go beside or in front of them in order for them to learn.

   Upon having some discussions with adults, who knew they had some form of dyslexia, I learned that many of these people as children, were left-handed, and then their parents switched them to right-handed, and they have developed degrees of dyslexia. Although I do not possess the scientific research for this, the left/ right processing problem in the brain indicates that this is a reality. Sometimes a simple question to an adult who shows left/right problems is "which hand is your writing or dominant hand, and have you always been this way? In some cases people who write with one hand, shoot basketball with the other, are stronger on their left-hand, but write with their right-hand, catch and throw balls opposite to their writing hand, may show indicators of dyslexia. My point to all this is to try to show you as an instructor, some of the signs that may indicate this problem. These indicators do not apply to everyone, but can show the instructor which students may have a problem.

   Another symptom is that I have found that when teaching katas over & over, or a combination sequence of movements, some people are restricted to how many times in a row that they can do it. Many times I have had a student do a kata 3 times in a row correctly, and then it appears that they just lose it, which is associated with the processing problems that dyslexic people have to deal with. Similarly, when teaching students and a long pause takes place between the next action, you find that a student cannot seem to get restarted. Look for the indicator of the athlete who always looks at everyone else move first, then goes. This too is associated with this ailment. Vice-versa. When doing any spinning technique, or something as simple as a turning back kick, the dyslexic athlete cannot grasp which way to turn to do the kick properly. You have to find a word association that they can relate to such as short turn or long turn, and not use turn to the left or right.

   When you start to realize how dyslexia works, or you can associate specific problems that your athlete may be showing, consider changing your teaching patterns to help them to learn better without frustrating them. For too many years, I have seen many instructors think that their student was slow, or stupid, which is completely the wrong attitude, when in fact they have a minor processing problem that can be overcome very easily, if it is identified and then taught with the right approach. Awareness of this can be our biggest asset.


  • Dyslexia is a left/right processing problem within the brain that athletes see as a mirror image. It is not a disease or disability.
  • Athletes may have various degrees of dyslexia, from very mild to extreme.
  • Identifying athletes with this problem is the key.
  • Look for the Indicators:
  • Athletes turning the wrong way with spinning punches/strikes or kicks.(Especially turning back-kicks)
  • Athletes waiting for everyone else to move before they do. (Especially in kata)
  • Asking adults about left/right hand dominance questions.

Position yourself when teaching, in the same direction of the athletes, as shown in the diagram.

   The arrows indicate the direction everyone should be facing. Whereas the Instructor Positions are those best suited for a person with dyslexia to learn from. The two front positions are the most beneficial, whereas the two back positions are also required for some athletes to learn katas. The Instructor should ideally place themselves approximately 30 degree angles slightly ahead or behind, and to the left or right of your athlete. Additionally it may require you to shift several times to one of these positions.

   As stated in my opening paragraphs, I am not, and do not purport to be an expert in this, but I have through understanding , patience, and trial & error with teaching methods learned to be of a significant help with those people who have this problem. If you will take this letter into consideration, and compare some of the symptom problems that I have encountered, it may help you to understand and teach all your students with the same care and consideration.

Oliver Sensei

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