Mark Brown is not your average Martial Artist. He trains hard and he loves the sport, just like most do and he's achieved his 1st Dan Shodan black belt, which is no easy feat. But all of that is made more impressive by the fact that Mark is completely blind.
Not what you expect from someone who engages in combat sports, is it?
In 2004 - at just the age of 22 - Mark was left blind after there were complications during a surgical procedure relating to his diabetes. Mark remains a type 1 insulin dependant diabetic to this day.
However he has not let this hold him back. Some blind martial artists at least have light perception or can pick up shadows, however Mark does not have this luxury. He can see nothing.
After Mark was left blind, he initially struggled to cope with it.
“I used to have an active social life, but once I lost my sight I quickly found most of my old friends had abandoned me and I became very much alone. There were times when I considered taking my own life, it got that bad. I was in a very dark place."
But things took a turn for the better, all thanks to a knock on his front door.
“After about a year, there was a knock at the door from a karate 'salesmen' asking if there was anybody in the house interested in learning karate. My mother said, 'yes my son, but he's blind so I doubt you will train him'.
To our surprise they said this wouldn't be an issue. So I signed up. 8 years later I earned my first black belt."
Dedication and Drive
With the exception of a few judo classes as a young boy, Mark had never done martial arts, but after signing up he began to train regularly. Since then, he's dedicated years of his life to training in the sport. He trains twice a week at his local club, but has also designed a private Dojo in his back yard, which he trains in every day for 3-4 hours with his personal assistant, Sensei Robert Polecat. He studies a range of martial arts, from Boxing to Tai Chi to Brazilian Ju Jitsu.
“I don't know what drives me or inspires me to train martial arts, it's just who I am, it's just what I do. Despite my physical issues I see myself as very lucky".
Mark uses his training as an opportunity to make instructional martial arts videos which he puts on YouTube and his website. His YouTube channel now has nearly 85,000 views and over 200 subscribers.
“I have a great PA who I train with day to day and make videos with. He's a former black belt in Shotokan Karate from his teens and he used to be an amateur wrestler.
He is my rock and helps me learn and discover other martial arts, and he does the video editing and website building on my behalf."
As well as these videos, Mark also runs a martial arts class once a week, and offers free private training to anyone who is willing to come and learn.
He instructs a class of 10 students every Saturday at his local club, teaching them a more traditional style of Karate.
“The club that got me interested in martial arts was called GKR. For me, they provided a light for me in the dark, they were willing to train and work with me when others weren't. I will always respect them for this."
Mark's training was further complicated last year. After suffering from kidney disease for six years, Mark suffered from total kidney failure and had to go under the knife and have a renal kidney transplant. For long periods, Mark's kidneys had only been working at 10%, and this affected his training.
“The kidney disease and diabetes did have a knock on effect with my training. It meant I tired quite easily and was susceptible to injuries and poor healing rates. It was a struggle at times but I never once grumbled and just knuckled down to my training."
That attitude paid off when in 2013, Mark achieved his 1st Dan Shodan Black Belt.
“Achieving 1st Dan with failed kidneys, diabetes and blindness was one of my proudest moments. Apart from my first and only daughter being born just a few months after."
Mark has no intention of stopping there, his aspirations in Martial Arts are greater. Since his operation, he is now training once again and in the near future hopes to achieve his nidan 2nd Dan.
“Martial Arts is my life"
Martial Arts has had a big impact of Mark's life.
“It's been my life for the last decade. Martial arts has not just given me a focus point, but has also changed nearly every aspect of my life, how I conduct myself, my confidence and my goals.
Now I couldn't imagine life without martial arts. It's a fully fledged lifestyle for me, I live for it. I also have a strong interest in natural healing, organic botanical herbs, ancient cultures and medicines.
I would encourage anybody regardless of their disability to take up martial arts, for confidence, education and as a great social aspect too. I have made many friends since my training began."
Finding a Martial Arts Class
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And if you're like Mark and suffer from a disability, don't think that you can't get involved too! Martial Arts is for everyone and there are plenty of opportunities for the disabled martial artist too. The best thing to do is find a class that you're interested in and speak to the Instructor. They love teaching Martial Arts and if you're willing to learn they'd love to have you!