Murray Ridge Oberlin Opportunity/Vocational Center attendee earns red belt

John Hall, an Adult Program participant at the Murray Ridge Oberlin Opportunity/Vocational Center, has been interested in karate for years, but could never find a studio that had classes for people with developmental disabilities. When his sister, Joyce Cooper, and her husband, James, bought Harbourtown Martial Arts Academy in Vermilion two years ago, they decided that their studio would be one where anyone could take classes, regardless of his or her ability. Joyce and James immediately enrolled John in karate, and on February 10th, John earned his red belt and secured his spot as one of the top performers at Harbourtown.

John’s involvement in karate is on the same level as others in the class. “He has to do everything that everyone else does,” Joyce said. “That includes all the exercises and stretching, following instructions, and focusing on the drills and forms.” Joyce partners with John for the class and James is the instructor, and they have found that other class participants are quick to help John if needed. “Everyone knows John and helps him out!” said James. “And he loves being part of what everyone is doing.”

John’s red belt is a huge accomplishment, and is known in the industry as an “honorary” belt, which James explained. “Due to his disability, John is not capable of memorizing the techniques, so he can’t recall them on demand like the other students are required to do. But, he can do them when shown an example, and that satisfies the criteria for an honorary belt. He’s learned the skill, knows the skill, but just needs a reminder of the movement.”

John is looking forward to continuing his karate training, and the Coopers are interested in continuing to provide classes for those with any level of ability. Through John, they’ve seen that anyone is capable of success when they put their mind to it. “He’s very teachable,” Joyce said of her brother. “He’s very involved. He’s willing to help others. He has the right heart.”


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