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At a large martial arts club in the Sports Club on Hồ Xuân Hương Street in HCM City's District 3, an elderly woman wearing an Aikido uniform patiently guides her young disabled students through each movement.
Nguyễn Thanh Loan, 65, is the founder of the “Aikido – World is Love” club” for handicapped children, including those with Downs Syndrome and others who are vision or hearing impaired. The club currently has about 70 students.
Some children are afraid to step out to the practise mat at first, but Loan keeps encouraging them with her smile and gentle attitude, so they begin to imitate her movements.
Loan says she is very delighted to see the rapid progress of the disabled children who can now somersault and wrestle like ordinary children.
"Initially, I only wanted to help my learners improve their health and find joy in life. But now they can stand on their own two feet and perform the Aikido movements perfectly, which makes me happy!"
Born into a family of Aikido teachers in Long An province, Loan learned martial arts at an early age. Her husband, three children and one son-in-law are also Aikido instructors.
Loan became one of the first two Vietnamese women to earn the internationally recognised Shodan black belt in Aikido when she was only 20 years old.
But her life entered a completely new phase when she began teaching Aikido techniques to disabled children.
The HCM City Martial Arts Association for Visually-Impaired Children was established in 2005 and Loan was the first martial arts teacher invited by the organisation to teach Aikido to 20 children.
“At first, I was very worried about my ability to do the job well because it's already difficult to teach Aikido even to ordinary children. In my class, most of the children were shy and slow at learning the techniques, so I had to perform each movement many times”, she says.
“I composed some songs to describe the techniques that are difficult to remember. For the blind children, I had to describe the movements in details to help them imagine how to do the same."
Along with martial arts skills, the elderly teacher also gives her students lessons in behaviour such as greeting and treating others with politeness and respect and having a love of life.
One of her students, Yến Linh, is very passionate about martial arts and the club has provided an ideal environment for her interaction with others.
Linh’s mother, Tôn Kim Diên, says that since Linh started studying at the club a year ago she has become much happier.
"Loan is a very kind teacher. In addition to teaching martial arts she also teaches students how to sing and communicate. My daughter has made much progress. She has learned a lot and has the chance to meet with others. Now she can dance very well and when she comes home, she greets her parents politely. She told me she was very happy at the club because she could talk with many friends. I am so pleased!"
Some of Loan’s students have been able to attend vocational training schools, even colleges or universities.
Loan has collaborated with other charity organisations to help pay transport fees for the off children who wish to go to the club.
"Luckily, everyone in my family teaches Aikido so they give more time with my students.” she says.
The martial arts teacher has also co-operates with the Đời Rất Đẹp (Life is Beautiful) Centre which teaches life skills to street children.
"My aspiration is to open more martial arts classes that combine cultural knowledge and life skills training for street children to help them integrate into the community, gain essential knowledge and find jobs to stabilise their lives.
"I’ve spent my whole life with Aikido, a martial art based on love and the spirit of harmony,” says Loan.
“In life, if everyone were to smile, the world would have less sorrow. So I always wish my students live a happy life and integrate well into society.
Hoang Gia Bao
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