Meet Amaris

Meet Amaris

Amaris first walked through the doors of UPMA nearly four years ago. I immediately noticed how shy she was, that she lost her balance easily and was afraid to try new things. Amaris suffers from regular and sometimes severe seizures. As a result, she can be shaky, often lose her balance, and has a developmental delay.
I remember the first time I asked her to punch a focus mit. She said to me, “But my hand is shaking”. I assured her that it was alright and encouraged her to punch it anyway. She was also very concerned about doing rolls because she sometimes becomes dizzy. Again, I assured her that we all get dizzy occasionally, but the trick is to just wait until you aren’t anymore. I offered the same guidance when she would frequently lose her balance. What do you do when you lose your balance? You stop and you catch it of course. Then, you continue with what you were doing. You see, these were all obstacles that she never knew she could overcome. When she was provided with the opportunities to prove to herself just how much she was capable of, the flood gates blew wide open and it was absolutely amazing to witness.
Today, you would almost not recognize Amaris. Her self-confidence has grown tremendously. She wants to try everything! Aggressive takedowns, bring it on! Spar with the boys, let’s do it!! compete in her first ever Jiu Jitsu competition, can’t wait!!!. Just this past April, Amaris competed in the Grappler’s Heart Tournament. She fought a very tough opponent and despite giving a valiant effort, she lost. However, that didn’t stop her from having the time of her life. After her first match, she jumped up with a smile on her face, ready to go again. And she did. After each match, she ran off the mats with a big smile on her face and with arms wide open ready to hug her coaches. She even stuck around for an amazing seminar after the tournament. I am confident that when the next opportunity rolls around, she will be the first to sign up.

Amaris after her first fight

Amaris after her first fight

In addition to her gains in confidence, Amaris has achieved enormous growth physically and mentally as well. Her balance has improved by leaps and bounds. She can perform back to back multi directional kicks without falling over. Those limbs that she was so afraid to use because they were shaking, have since increased in stability and coordination. Her mother tells me that before participating in martial arts, she had trouble with depth perception, something that has also improved. Even her memorization skills have increased, surpassing all expectations. In addition to all of that, she has also gotten much stronger physically (nothing brings a smile to her face like seeing her coaches wince when she hits those pads).
Students like Amaris are the reason that UPMA exists. She has not only gained skills that should benefit her the rest of her life, she has also had the chance to experience things she never dreamed to be possible. The smile on her face coupled with that exuberant giggle of hers, are things that I will cherish forever.

Grappler’s Heart Tournament

The 2016 Grappler’s Heart Tournament has come and gone. What an amazing experience it was. Jiu Jitsu fighters from all over the US and even one from the UK came to compete. For more than half the athletes, it was their first time competing.
What made Grappler’s Heart so special? It wasn’t because there were big names like Galvao or Cornelius. There were no flying armbars or flashy finishes. It was the heart and determination shown by each athlete. It was the thought that went into every movement to adapt it to the athlete’s abilities. It was the fact that these warriors put it all on the line for the chance at a gold medal. There were no excuses, only hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Well, maybe not tears. Every single person left the gym feeling exhilerated and accomplished. All of them ready to compete again.
UPMA brought two athletes to compete. Both Nolan and Amaris fought their hearts out and both took home a silver medal. It wasn’t the medals that made the day. It was the look on their faces and the feeling of accomplishment that they left with that day. After losing her first fight via armbar, Amaris jumped up with a big smile one her face, ready to go again. When asked what he liked about competing, Nolan said “Getting to test yourself against other people at your level”. Wow. Most adults I know don’t have an outlook that positive.
Hopefully, this is the first of many events for Team UPMA. We are in the process of helping the fine people at Dream Jiu Jitsu form a category for people with special needs at an upcoming tournament. We hope to add to our list of competitors, with the ultimate goal of finding a suitable opponent for each and every one of our students. Everyone should have the chance to test themselves against someone else at their level.
Thanks, Nolan!

We’ll miss you, Ian.

The UPMA family was saddened to learn that yesterday Ian Matuszak lost his battle with cancer. Ian was an inspiration to all of us both on and off the mat. He didn’t let anything stand in the way of pursuing his dream of training Jiu Jitsu. He directly had a hand in leading several of our students to sign up for their first tournament. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Matuszak family in this difficult time. An announcement regarding a tribute to Ian will be forthcoming.

Prevention of Bullying for People with Special Needs

There is a lot of talk these days about the problem of bullying. Many of us had to deal with bullies as kids. Sometimes, even as adults, we still find ourselves dealing with a bully. Unfortunately, this is often times an even bigger problem for our friends with special needs. Individuals with special needs are often seen as different and that alone can be enough to draw unwanted attention from a bully. Involvement in a martial art can not only help kids in dealing with bullies, but it can stop the situation from arising in the first place.

Training in the martial arts builds confidence. Kids that have the confidence in their ability to defend themselves will find it much easier to stand up to a bully from the get go. Usually, this takes care of the situation before it escalates to a physical altercation. The training itself helps children to overcome fears they may have about what may happen in a physical altercation. Bullying is very often an attempt to hide the insecurities of the bully. An insecure person won’t spend much time on someone with self confidence.

At the same time, being involved in a martial art can help prevent potential bullies from taking out their insecurities on others. For one, it helps to alleviate those insecurities. As stated above, it helps to build self confidence. It also teaches a respect for individual differences. On the mat, we are exposed to all different types of people. Everyone has to find a way to overcome their particular set of challenges. For example, a 5’4″ woman is going to train a lot differently than a 6’0″ man that is extremely over weight. However, both can be successful martial artists. Just imagine if you shared the mat with a disabled individual. You would gain so much respect for the way this person had to adapt in order to succeed.

Training can also help to alleviate stress. Whether it is the stress of feeling different or dealing with pressure within the home, a good workout is a healthy way to release pent up frustrations. It will also teach an individual to deal with feeling uncomfortable. Whether is is getting out of breath from a round of hitting the bags or dealing with the pressure of someone on top of you, one can learn a lot about themselves through martial arts training.

A good martial arts class also teaches it’s students discipline. Students learn to respect their instructor and other students in the class. All of this serves to support the good work that parents are doing at home. The biggest part of raising a child to be a happy, successful, kind adult lies with the parents. All the aspects of a martial arts class can serve to support what parents are doing at home.

Finally, a martial arts class helps to foster friendships. Very often individuals with special needs find themselves isolated. That bond of training together week after week helps to form friendships that can last a lifetime. It also helps students to feel like they are part of a group, which in turn, can help them to form friendships outside of the academy.

Training in a martial art has many wonderful benefits. Usually we think of the physical benefits, like increased strength and balance. It also has so much to offer an individual mentally. It helps people learn to deal with a bevvy of issues. Bullying is just one of them.

Pray for Our Friend Ian

You may remember that a few months ago we mentioned our friend Ian Matuszak. Ian is a jiu jitsu fighter with cerebral palsy and an all around good guy. He is also battling cancer. Ian needs our prayers right now. Please take some time to pray for his recovery and for his family. He has been in and out of the hospital battling infections and most recently fluid around his heart. He has been through so much and is due for a streak of good luck.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Ian!