A fighter shows that a disability is not a handicapYou shouldn’t feel sorry for Choi Jae-shik, 26, who has only the vestige of a limb hanging from his right shoulder, which he proudly calls his “arm.”
You shouldn’t feel sorry for him, although he can hardly walk down the street without being noticed.
And, while Choi was once rejected from the martial arts department of a college for being disabled, he does not require your sympathy.
The reason? Choi is no ordinary person. He fights regularly in a no-holds-barred contest at Gimme 5, a fight club in Seoul. His record to date: 13-1-2.
“He is no different than the others. The moment you even think about his disability you lose,” says Kim Do-yeon, an avid fan of no-holds-barred fighting contests.
Mr. Kim should know what he is talking about. He has seen Choi in action, knocking eight people out cold in the ring. And they all had two arms and two legs.
It has been a journey for Choi, who did not appear to have a future. Certainly no dreams or hopes. Choi had tried everything from delivering milk to grooming cows.
“I tried to get a job in factories but without a real arm it was just not possible,” he says.
Then, when Choi was 20, lightning struck. Kang Hwan-gwon took him on as his student. “There was something about his eyes. I thought to myself this guy can do anything,” says Kang, who operates a kickboxing gym.
For Choi, who lost his arm in an accident when he was six years old, it was the beginning of a new life. “Even with all the failures I suffered I had always hypnotized myself. ‘Everything is possible,’ that’s what I told myself over and over,” Choi says.
Fighting with only one arm is very different. It not only means that an attack route has been taken away, but there are also tremendous drawbacks in terms of body balance and power projection when Choi launches attacks with his legs or other arm.
“You need to have certain ‘pre-motions’ before you launch a leg kick or punch. In any sort of martial art to deliver power there is always a body motion that precedes another,” says Kang.
Try as we might, we are not free from how we “see” people as we are educated by the system that our society has bestowed upon us.
We all think people fit into a certain mold, be they gay, disabled or of a different race. We then treat them as we see fit without ever thinking twice about it.
Embedded into our own thoughts is this mechanism that brands “different” as “bad,” or something along those lines.
“His record speaks for itself. He is very strong,” says Lee Ha-yong, another fighter.
“If you enter that ring and let yourself be fooled by what you only see, you are dead meat. He is better than many others,” Lee adds.
Recently, a college student who also had lost an arm came to see Choi. He wanted to learn kickboxing.
The visibility that Choi brings is a delight to others. To some he gives hope. To others he bring the realization that life could be tougher.
Choi does not need to win. Just standing in the ring is greatness in itself.
by Brian Lee