How Earning a Black Belt in Karate Changed My Life With a Disability

My name is Paul Brailer. I am 43 years old and was born with spina bifida. I am a 2nd Dan (degree) black belt from the Art of Karate in Barberton, Ohio and founder of Criptaedo, a non-profit organization working towards tax exempt status.

Self-confidence didn’t come easy for me. Growing up I was told what I should, couldn’t and can’t do by people who were trying to “protect” me from being hurt physically or emotionally. This led to low self-esteem and low self-image which followed me into adulthood.  As an adult, I would look for the approval of others whom I perceived as better and/or smarter than me.

Paul Brailer with his martial arts instructor.
Paul Brailer with his martial arts instructor.

It wasn’t until I started martial arts that my self-confidence grew because I wasn’t being “protected.” I had to earn my rank, and it was harder for me because I had to modify techniques. An example of my modifications is shown on the video. To go from 1st to 2nd degree black belt, the board break is 5 boards in 8 seconds or less — 3 with feet and 2 with hands. I had to come up with a way to break 5 boards in 8 seconds or less with just my arms. My belt wasn’t given to me just because I was disabled, like some other things in my life.

After earning my black belt, I realized the need for self-defense for the disabled. That is how Criptaedo got started. Martial arts has helped me with my self-esteem and has given me a platform to reach the disabled community. I have been a part of Abilities Expo and numerous other local events. My goal for Criptaedo is to partner with existing martial arts schools and teach them how to teach disabled people. I want to show the disability community that you don’t have to be a victim of violence — you can learn to defend yourself. Just because people tell you that you can’t do something, that doesn’t mean it’s true. You’ll never know until you try.

Learn more at Criptaedo’s Facebook page.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Spina Bifida

What I Wish I Told the Stranger Who Pitied My Daughter for Using a Walker

We were at the airport, coming back from a wonderful, week-long beach vacation with extended family. Having arrived early with our two young children in tow, we took it upon ourselves to try to keep them occupied and in a good mood for the flight back home. The airport was pretty empty, so it was [...]
Pamela's daughter at a wedding

What I Wish I Would Have Known After My Daughter’s Spina Bifida Diagnosis

It’s going to be better, and worse than you expect. But mostly, it’s going to be better. Amelia. I thought my purpose that day was to determine if my child was a boy or a girl. Boy, was I wrong! My daughter Amelia was my third child, and when I headed into my ultrasound at [...]
red shoes in a wheelchair

When My Child Seems to Be Struggling and I Seem Indifferent, Please Remember This

It’s painful isn’t it? I feel your gaze, and from the corner of my eye I see your facial expression matches what I feel inside every single time. I see the fear as you watch, and I cannot reassure you he won’t fall or that there won’t be tears. I see you look at me, and [...]

I Didn’t Realize I Had a Disability Until I Was 16

Before we get into our topic of the day, I need to offer a caveat: This post is based solely on my experience and doesn’t reflect the entire disabled population as a whole. I offer these insights in hopes of helping others who are going through a challenging time that can be jarring and confusing. I didn’t realize I [...]