Martial Arts for the Developmentally Disabled

By Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
September 16, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2020

The martial arts can teach important self-defense skills, and can instill important values such as discipline, patience, and work ethic. For those with developmental disabilities, the martial arts can give this vulnerable population the ability to defend themselves and the chance to make long-lasting relationships.

Sensei Mark Nothdurft is 66 years old, and resides in Lakewood, Colorado. Nothdurft has been practicing the martial arts for the past 43 years, and has blackbelts in aikido, yawara, karate, and jiu jitsu. He also teaches Chen’s style Tai Chi.

Nothdurft was a special student under his karate teacher, and his teacher’s son is a friend who works with mentally challenged adults. In one instance, there was an adult his friend worked with who was having behavioral problems.

A class
A Mountain Tiger Society class in action. (Courtesy of Mountain Tiger Society)

In one instance, he thought a woman in front of him was driving too slowly in an effort to deliberately make him angry. He got out of the car, and did about $3,000 worth of damage to the woman’s car.

Nothdurft’s friend thought that the martial arts might help address some of these behavioral issues. After working with the man for about three months, his attitude and behavior had improved dramatically.

“All of those behaviors changed. He got a lot better. He stopped acting out like that,” Nothdurft told The Epoch Times.

Martial Arts

That’s when the friend asked if he could teach martial arts to more of the adults Nothdurft worked with. The idea for Mountain Tiger Society was born in 2003.

Nothdurft works with teenagers and adults with a variety of conditions including ADHD, ADD, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome. This population of students is particularly vulnerable to attack, as their condition may make them look like a target.

Nothdurft’s curriculum is based on teaching his students how to defend from an attack from any direction. He also teaches safety skills, awareness, balance, coordination, and breathing techniques. The martial arts also instill confidence and awareness in his students.

A class
Mountain Tiger Society teaches teenagers and adults how to defend themselves. (Courtesy of Mountain Tiger Society)

When Nothdurft was teaching his first class of about a dozen, he had one student who had been jumped, beat up, and robbed three weeks into the class. Nothdurft asked the class how many of them had been in a fight or attacked as adults. Everyone raised their hand.

“It just blew me away because in a normal population of people getting in a fight is rare,” Nothdurft explained.

Nothdurft’s curriculum has helped numerous students with developmental disabilities defend themselves, and avoid fights all together. For example, he teaches students to use their voice as a weapon. “Leave me alone,” is the go-to phrase. Students are instructed to say the words first in a normal tone, then in a much louder voice, and then finally to yell as loudly as possible.

Sensei Mark Nothdurft (L) with a class. (Courtesy of Mountain Tiger Society)

In one instance, one of his students was at a bus stop and someone came by and started to harass him. The student skipped the first two steps and yelled “Leave me alone!”

A business owner nearby heard him, and the police subsequently arrested the man who was bothering the student.

On another occasion, one of his students who was autistic and had ADHD had been sexually attacked. As a result of her training, she was able to fight the man off and used her voice to call someone who came and helped her.

Helping children and adults with developmental disabilities has also been valuable for Nothdruft. His students have taught him the value of patience and focus, and he hopes to expand the program.

“I learn a lot from these guys too,” Nothdurft said.

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas