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Monday, June 29, 2009

Blind Karate student earns Black Belt after 4 years

From: Courant

MERIDEN, Conn. - Some call it a big obstacle to overcome; he just calls it a nuisance. All agree it took a lot of hard work to accomplish what he has.

George Sanchez is blind, and after passing his test this month, he is also something that defines his character much more: a karate black belt.

Sanchez, 47, stood next to his 10-year-old son, Timothy, and the rest of his class as both were awarded black belts by Villari's martial arts studio, in Southington, after four years of work.

"It feels great," Sanchez, a former Southington resident who recently moved to Middletown, said after passing the test in Windsor. "It was a lot of hard work to get here."

He tried to get involved in a karate program a few times in the past, but no one would train a blind man. Then, four years ago, Timothy signed his father and himself up for a demonstration without George knowing about it while both were attending Trails Day at Panthorn Park.

When he found out, "I said, 'Oh boy.' I was kind of shy, because I didn't know what to expect," Sanchez recalls.

Carrie Waskowicz, one of the instructors at Villari's, said that when Sanchez called up to ask if they would train a blind man, she thought he was joking, but told him to come on in anyway.

"It doesn't matter who you train. Just because you are blind doesn't mean you can't defend yourself," Waskowicz said.

Sanchez, who lost his sight at 3, said the path to the black belt was difficult, but he has had help along the way from instructors, classmates and his family. Classmate Brian Bradshaw was one of the helpers to whom Sanchez was thankful.

"We've had some good times and some good hits," Bradshaw said jokingly after the ceremony. "We're the two oldest guys in the class, so we practiced a lot to look good."

Sanchez said some of the most difficult aspects to master were correct angles, forms and precise combinations. Along with Bradshaw, he would go in early to get a quick overview from the instructors of what the class would be working on that day.

"You're exceptional, but there were no exceptions for you," Waskowicz said to him at the ceremony on June 14. "No special treatment when performing. It was a challenge to teach. We learned multiple teaching styles."

Sanchez kidded that Waskowicz got fairly nervous the first time he asked if he could spar. She said he ended up being great at it. She would often play music when he was sparring to take away his sense of hearing, which would be eliminated through the screaming during tournaments.

Many other classmates and instructors came over to congratulate him as he posed for pictures after the ceremony. Master David Shirley said he would have said something more about Sanchez during the ceremony, but was afraid he would get choked up talking about it.

"We're very proud of you, you know that," Shirley said to his pupil. "It's been a long, hard road and you did well." Shirley said Sanchez is the school's first-ever blind black belt.

That road was navigated a little more easily due to the friendly competition with Timothy. Sanchez's wife, Susan, said the adult classes were usually a day or two before the youth classes, so dad would tease Timothy about getting his colored belts first. She was very proud of them both.

"Don't ever tell George he can't do it, because he will go out of his way to prove that he can," Susan Sanchez said. "I think it's awesome. It's nice to see them both reach that goal. I hope they go on."

George Sanchez laughed while thinking about some of the classes to which his wife came. She would get dirty looks from bystanders, who didn't realize who she was as she yelled teasing comments to her husband to "pick up the pace."

Besides learning martial arts, Sanchez also plays golf. He used to wrestle, has been president of the Southington Lions Club, and has run a silkscreen and sewing company. He now has a cafe, called 20-200 Cafe, in the state Department of Labor building in Wethersfield, after many of his sewing jobs went overseas.

"I figured no one is going to go to China for lunch," Sanchez said of his new venture.

As for continuing in martial-arts, he said he wants to let it sink in and enjoy the fact that he is actually a black belt, while encouraging his youngest son, Nick, 6, to keep working on one of his own.

If Timothy decides to move on, however, [anchez said, he will probably have to get back into it in order to keep their friendly competition alive.

~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first

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