Wednesday, August 8, 2012
After completing her kata, Katie Whipple stood before the judges at the 2012 USA Karate Nationals and took a final bow before exiting the ring. What most onlookers at the tournament, including the judges, didn’t realize was that Whipple couldn’t see them. In fact, she couldn’t see much of her surroundings at all.
Whipple is legally blind. This didn’t stop her, however, from taking the silver medal in the non-handicap division of beginner women’s kata that day, making karate history as the first blind female to do so.
“Katie has that ‘eye of the tiger,’” said Sensei Corey Green of Green’s Karate in Hixson where she trains. “[What she’s doing] makes all the nonbelievers believe; it makes all the people that say they can’t do it do it.”
Though legally blind, Whipple can see some colors and shapes. Under Green’s instruction, she qualified for the national tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after only five months of preparation.
“Doing karate is hard, and being blind is a hard circumstance. Put them together and you can see how it would be really difficult,” Green said. “It’s all about your attitude towards whatever you are doing.”
He said he wanted to hide Whipple’s blindness from the judges at the national tournament so that her special need wouldn’t affect the way they judged her in the competition.
“The whole point … is to make sure people don’t know that she’s blind,” Green said. “I am trying to trick the judges; I am trying to make sure they don’t know because … I want them to treat her equally.”
At the tournament, Whipple got the chance to map out the floor when she competed in the handicap division the day before she competed in the non-handicap division. With a fresh set of judges on the second day, she was able to succeed in her attempts to be judged on equal footing with the other contenders.
“We went through to basically build a mental picture of my surroundings [before competing],” Whipple said. “Once I do that I’m pretty good at navigating around.”
She is not only able to perform the intricate kata, she can also do combinations, counter-attacking techniques, stretches and kick sets, and she is working on sparring. She also assists in teaching other students in the dojo.
“I’d like to get as far as I can, I’m hoping a black belt is in my future,” said Whipple.
She is only one of several special needs students who study under Green. He also instructs non-special needs students, but others face issues that include ADD, ADHD, Down syndrome, Costello syndrome, blindness, deafness, mild to severe autism, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
“I find it now easier to teach special needs kids than it is typical kids,” Green said. “People with special needs see this as a therapy. … People with non-special needs see it as a hobby and treat it as such, like a video game they can just toss away when they’re done.”
Green said he treats his program like a kind of therapy for the students, and he has plans to patent his methods once the appropriate research has been completed.
After spending seven months in the dojo at Green’s Karate, Whipple has words of encouragement for those that would like to follow in her footsteps despite a disability.
“Don’t give up, even if one person tells you no, because they don’t understand,” she said. “Keep trying.”