One of the South Korean martial arts, known as Hapkido, has aided two autistic brothers in managing their thoughts and their focus so well they recently earned their first-degree black belts.
Hapkido is a very vigorous and demanding martial art that emphasizes non-resistance. It is a form of self-defense that makes use of joint locks, other martial arts techniques, as well as kicks, punches, and other striking attacks. It is an active and diverse Korean martial art.
“We were told by several people that it is a good discipline for kids on the (autism) spectrum,” said Allison Kozolanka, mother of Zack, and Evan.
Zack, 13, and Evan, 11, both began their martial arts training in 2008.
That kind of outlook has helped the boys’ organizational skills, memory and discipline, their mom said to the Windsor Star, and it’s improved their ability to focus.
The boys are also subject to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which includes symptoms of being easily distracted, missing details, forgetting things, and frequently switching from one activity to another. Allison told the Windsor Star that their memories are like a filing system, where they are constantly pulling open drawers and chaotically removing files of information that may not relate to the previous thought.
Allison said her Zack and Evan have been trained on how to slow down and articulate their thoughts plainly. She credits Hapkido, and the boys’ instructor Kevin Miller, with helping to systematize their thoughts and focus their energy.
“It helped us learn how to pay attention,” Zack agreed. “Speaking right and treating (other people) how we’d like to be treated.”
Zack, was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, and has constantly struggled in social situations. His mom said being involved in Hapkido has forced her sons into an environment where group work is essential which has greatly improved his social skills.
“Before, he never made eye contact,” Allison said. “Now he does.”
Evan said he and his brother have learned to respect themselves and others, as well as how to hold themselves accountable for their dealings with others.
The boys training schedule consists a variety of moves, some of which include martial arts tools such as a staff or cane. They train at least twice a week for nearly an hour or more.
“You have to practice, practice and practice again,” Evan said. “You’ve got to know all your patterns. It’s like piano; you’ve got to know where all the notes are."