Fighting Autism to Earn a Black Belt!

Sensei Post in Profiles

Hendersonville, N.C., USA
Michael Joyce Jr., recently earned his Black Belt in Karate at the age of 27. Now this may not seem like a big deal but Michael Joyce Jr., is autistic. Over the past six years he worked his way to his Black Belt one baby step at a time. If you ask Joyce what brought him from beginner to the ultimate-success status of holding a black belt in karate, he sums it up in one word: “Perseverance.” The principle of progress through ‘baby steps’ is well known but most people are not wise enough or strong enough of will to have the perseverence to follow this simple advice. No so with Mr. Joyce.

Joyce’s journey started six years ago when his parents brought him to observe a class at Karakido Karate on Four Seasons Boulevard. “He didn’t have much interest in anything before karate,” says his mother, April Joyce. After that first class, Joyce begged his parents to join the other students on a regular basis. A transformation took place whenever he was on the mat during the two weekly classes — he became a focused and motivated practitioner of martial arts. Master Roger Yarborough of Karakido Karate, notes that success in Karate emphasizes the individual journey and takes personal hurdles into account when evaluating one’s progress. Martial arts is open to beginners from all walks of life, from the very young to the elderly and the physically handicapped.Michael Joyce, Jr.

Karate was originally recommended for Joyce because studies have shown it benefits people with autism as well as those struggling with attention deficit disorder. Martial arts may trigger a balance in left-brain and right-brain activity, enhancing focus in its participants. Joyce is especially skilled at Kata. Master Yarborough’s program of Karakido, which loosely translates as “open yourself to the way of inner power,” blends the most effective techniques of martial arts. It stresses flexibility of styles to meet specific needs. For Joyce and most of Yarborough’s students, this flexibility is essential to drawing out personal strengths. “Martial arts has increased the quality of Michael’s life,” says Yarborough. “He feels empowered and confident, and can more easily branch out and become accomplished in other aspects of life.” There is little doubt Joyce will continue to progress. In class most nights, he is showing other students the techniques he knows. His black belt in karate, his teacher and parents think, is only the beginning of what Joyce will achieve.

Since Joyce began honing his karate skills, his “ability to speak publicly has increased dramatically,” Master Yarborough says. With Yarborough’s help, Joyce’s speech impediments, such as a stutter, and uncontrolled hand wringing have decreased. “Michael was once shy with people who were new to him, and since studying martial arts it is no longer an issue,” Yarborough says. “He has a real love for life, and sets an example we can all learn from.”

Joyce’s transformation began more than 10 years ago, when his parents consulted with a California pediatrician. The doctor recommended that Joyce change his diet, eliminating problem foods such as sugar, wheat and dairy. “The strict diet is difficult to follow but makes a huge difference,” says Joyce’s mother, April. Previously absorbed in “his own world,” for the first time he started showing interest in outside things. April Joyce, already trained in Lovaas Therapy, a behavior modification program for treatment of people with autism, started applying the therapy to her son, encouraging him to learn to adapt to his environment. She attributes his achievements to a combination of three factors — diet, behavior therapy and appropriate doses of medication. “Unfortunately parents tend to believe professionals when they give limitations on what those with autism can achieve,” his mother says. “I was told he would never read for pleasure, and he certainly reads well now.” To improve Joyce’s fine motor skills, his parents enrolled him in piano lessons. “We discovered that Michael has perfect pitch when he started playing ‘tricks’ on his piano teacher by changing the key, unannounced, of the pieces he would perform,” says his father, Michael Joyce Sr. To everyone’s amazement, he naturally played in different keys without any instruction from his teacher. Now he is learning to play the guitar.

Our complements to both Michael Joyce, Jr. for his achievement and Master Yarborough for his dedication and commitment to his students success. Masters like Master Yarborough give the Martial Arts its good reputation!

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