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.


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