Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Conductive Education and Taekwondo

Guest article from newly graduated conductor

Conductive Education and Taekwondo
The possibilities of adapting the movements of Taekwondo for children with cerebral palsy

Presentation to the 19th International Congress on
Sport Sciences for Students
Semmelweis University
Budapest, April 2009

Tünde Szarka

We probably all know what Conductive Education is – or at least have heard of it. At the Pető Institute. and all conductive centers around the world. conductors use the Pető method to improve motor-disordered children and adults, including people with cerebral paralyses whose dysfunction is due to damages of the central nervous system. It can be damaged before, during and after birth, or by an accident or disease. Within cerebral paralysis there are many diagnoses, including hemiplegia, tetraplegia, diplegia, athetosis, ataxia, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Parkinson's, myopathy and so on. Cerebral paralysis is always a disorder of posture, coordination, and the tone of the muscles. Compared with children in the same age without disabilities, such children are less skilful, they have less stamina, their muscles are weaker.

Their own picture of their bodies is disoriented as well.

Later it will be important that they also have the symptom of synergism, which means that, if one hand or leg moves, the other one pathologically moves as well, and the somato-motoric neglect that usually hemiplegic (but actually all) children have on the involved side. This means that they ignore their involved side and do not want to do anything with it. Because of their motor disorder almost every one of them has secondary symptoms, like a disorder of speech, learning, social relationships, behaviour and cognitive skills.

They have fewer possibilities because they live in an institution, so we try to provide them everything that we can, everything that non-disabled children do, including doing sports. At the Pető Institution we offer them the chance to do boccia, Wii, rowing, swimming, and Taekwondo.


Taekwondo (TKD) is a Korean self-defence martial art. The meaning of this word is the art of fighting with the hands and legs. It’s not only a martial art but for Koreans it also means a way of protecting their health. Nowadays the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) also does a lot for people with disabilities, including supporting them in many ways and organising disabled competitions and demonstrations. In Hungary there is Taekwondo for hearing-impaired children and in many other countries there are TKD and other martial arts for all sort of disabilities.

That’s also an effort from the WTF to get officially into the Paralympics and not only the Olympic Games. In these demonstrations people with disabilities can show the world that they are not worthless but capable of doing so many things. I find this way of expressing oneself another chance of being integrated to the non-disabled society.

This was one of the many reasons that I started to teach Taekwondo to children with cerebral palsy, in February 2009.

I am a 23-year -0od conductor-teacher and also a Taekwondo coach. I’ve been doing this martial art for ten years. In my group all the children can move on their own. This was important in the beginning because it is such a new kind of experiment that I needed children with the least disabilities, because it was simpler to find the way to adapt these movements with them first. Then later I could differentiate them to more disabled children.

We started to learn the possibilities of adapting TKD once a week, for 45 minutes. In my group I n the beginning there were five boys and five girls, with different diagnoses: tetraplege, hemiplege, diplege, and now I have a boy with spina bifida in the training too. Their diagnoses are at different levels too and, moreover, their ages and their mental levels are not the same at all..

Of course I need to differentiate. On the involved side it is a lot more different for them to straighten their elbows and knees. Also it is a problem to correct their posture, to put their feet side by side and to keep their hips in the middle. They are also quite uncoordinated. During their everyday Conductive Education we teach them a lot of things. including these. in the TKD training. I used what we learnt through Conductive Education.

The problems that I mentioned, including synergism and somato-motoric neglect, made our project very difficult, because in TKD there are some techniques in which the two hands do the very same, but not a lot. Otherwise it was very difficult for them to coordinate alternate movements because of the synergism and the dysfunction of coordination. So we needed a lot of inductive techniques and alternative solutions to adapt the movements of TKD. For example, we practised the hits by holding a rope. which helped them making a fist. If the rope in their hands was stretched this meant that they straightened their elbows and held the other hand back. Otherwise, they would not necessarily feel what they think they do. I mean not only handicapped people, as we all do things differently (objective picture) from how think we do (subjective picture), without a mirror anyway.

At the beginning we learnt the techniques with the legs from a lying position, and then from legs on all fours, and then from in standing position, holding something in one or two hands or without any help. just like learning how to walk during Conductive Education. We usually kick targets like balls, a mattress or something else. Stretching the hips and holding the foot in the right position was especially difficult. We tried to make it easier by holding a box between the legs.

Alongside, I taught them self-defence techniques from other martial arts, like Hapkido and Aikido. We started with the basics and then they had the chance to practice what we learnt on each other. I find it very important to prepare disabled people with some simple techniques that makes them braver and ready to try to defend themselves if they go out the streets alone (because our final goal is to integrate them to the non-disabled society where they can live on their own, including walking the streets alone) without getting attacked.

To make these movements, and especially the series of movements, not just muscles, dynamism and stamina are needed, but also attention, discipline, concentration and coordination as well. We have to practice a lot to operate these in the right amount and in the right time.

Aspects of TKD

There are five main parts of Taekwondo: the basic techniques, the poomses, which are the collection of all the techniques, the combat martial art techniques, the free fight, the self-defense part and the breaking techniques. From the basic techniques the children learnt a lot of hand and some leg techniques. On the basis of the experiences of this year, according to the diagnose, the diagnostic level and the mental state, all the hand techniques can be performed by a child with cerebral palsy.

As for the leg techniques, these can be adapted too but seem less spectacular and cannot be used to attack or kick a higher target, not by a spastic child anyway. But my final goal is to have all sort of diagnoses in my group, because I believe that it has a good effect in helping athetoid and ataxic children learn how to reach a fixed position by directing their movements, or those with hyper-extension during punching and kicking.

I am also interested in adults with cerebral paralysis from an accident or a trauma that happened during their adulthood. Some of them had done Taekwondo before their accident and I find it very interesting to redevelop their forgotten knowledge, or just simply to teach them martial arts, as well who had not had any experience before having cerebral paralysis.

From the poomses the advanced group is learning the first gibbon which is a collection of hand techniques and some of the children already know it. With the help of this they can save the techniques of Taekwondo for the future. It also improves their coordination, memory and attention. We put huge effort into the self-defense part, with a lot of improvements.

We also try to relax through meditation, and we do a lot of strengthening as well. Of course we are talking about children, so we also play a lot of games during the training, including a lot of a kind of hare and hounds and so on. We do this to improve and refresh the circulation, learning to keep the rules and take care of each other. Preventing accidents is a very important thing for us.

We also talk a lot about the philosophical background of Taekwondo. and we speak in Korean during the training to improve their foreign language communication skills as well.

To conclude...

All of this was performed by the advanced group in front of an official examiner.

We have found the possibilities of adapting the movements of Taekwondo for children with cerebral palsy very successful, so we shall try to train the children at least twice a week, both for the beginners and for the advanced group. We are also planning to go to official demonstrations and participate in the competition and exam system.

A brief commentary on article will appear as a separate posting.


  1. Ivan Su writes –

    Since 2005, SAHK has been working in close collaboration with the Eastern Dragon Taekwondo Federation HK to develop and promote a brand new mode of practicing Taekwondo - the Special Taekwondo (特能跆拳道)- which is customised for people with disabilities (PWD), in particular the intellectual challenged.

    The Special Taekwondo involves systematic training on discipline, willpower and skills as developed by a multi-disciplinary team including social workers, allied health professionals and Taekwondo instructors. It provides an upward mobility with its own 8 colour-belt accreditation system from yellow to black.

    Fun and sense of achievement are strong forces in sustaining participation among PWD. The Special Taekwondo creates level playing field allowing equal participation between PWD and their normal counterparts. It widens their social circles and paves a road to social inclusion.

  2. Thanks for that, Ivan. I see that the Eastern Dragon Taekwando Federation is on Facebook.