Martial art classes teach a 9-year-old Vietnamese boy to crawl

By Phan Than   November 29, 2018 | 12:03 am PT
After seven years of being immobile, a young boy was enrolled in an Aikido class. A miracle unfolded.

The parents cried all the way home.

Eighteen months after their darling, sweet-natured baby was born, they’d been told that he suffered from cerebral palsy and had two deficient legs.

They’d consulted the doctors because at 18 months, he was not crawling, sitting or making noise like normal children.

The diagnosis devastated them.

Cerebral palsy is described by the U.S. based Mayo Clinic as a "disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth." Most of the disorders are irreversible.

Tien’s mother, Chau My Tuyen, decided that to focus on his care, she would temporarily postpone her university studies to be a teacher. The boy`s father, Tung, worked at an ice making facility, and their income was humble.

They sold all their furniture, knocked on every door they found, from city hospitals to traditional medicine men, to registering him for physical therapy, acupuncture, and special education classes for the disabled, all to no avail.

At seven, Tien was still like an infant and did not move around. He screamed in fear and cried whenever he saw a stranger.

On top of that, Tien got sick very often, and had to be hospitalized for weeks sometimes. His father Tung had to use his ID card many times to borrow VND500,000 ($21.4) to pay hospital fees.

Then, one day...

This was the situation when, early in 2016, Tuyen took Tien one day to a Children's House for him to have fun and for her to check if it was an appropriate place for him.

That day, Le Hoang Mai was teaching Aikido, a martial art. He saw the sad mother piggybacking her boy up the stairs. He walked over to them and learned about the family’s situation and offered to teach Tien for free.

It was a day that changed the lives of both the student and the teacher, and that of many other children with disabilities arising out of various disorders.

"My sister is also handicapped like Tien, and it was very hard on my mother to take care of her. When I saw Tuyen carry her child on her back like that, it reminded me of my mother and the hard work and how the experience drained her emotionally," Mai said

Then and there, he decided to open a free martial arts class for people with disabilities.

Today, the free Aikido classes are offered in HCMC`s Children`s House, in Phu Nhuan District.

The miracle

Tien, 9 years old now, slowly crawls upstairs and leans on the balcony handrail to enter the class. Right next to him, his mother Tuyen skips a heartbeat every time he loses balance, but she restrains herself from touching him, giving him the power of independence.

"He has only managed to move by himself in the last few months. Earlier, he just lay in bed and required a helper for everything," said the 28-year-old mother.

On November 2, Tien asked to go out for fried chicken and pasta and his mother took a picture of the occasion. Photo courtesy of Chau My Tuyen.

On November 2, Tien asked to go out for fried chicken and pasta and his mother took a selfie on the occasion. Photo courtesy of Chau My Tuyen.

Four times a week, Tien is taught to crawl, practice with sticks and rope to train his arms and legs. Tien also receives lessons to keep calm and feel the silence. He gets free massages, acupuncture and muscle tightening exercises.

The first few months of training with the master, Tien mainly learns how to move on his four. Photo by VnExpress/ Phan Than.

After the first few months of training with is Aikido teacher, Tien learnt to move on his fours. Photo by VnExpress/ Phan Than.

The distance between the class and their home is 10 kilometers and because Tien cannot sit straight on his own, Tuyen had to buy a baby carrier to drive him to the class on her bike.

"He cried like crazy in the first week of classes, insisting that I take him home. In the second week, he stopped crying and agreed to come and observe others practice. It took him a month to listen to other instructors showing him physical activities, how to crawl, and so on. But every slight movement made him fall, his face slamming on the ground," recalled Tuyen.

At home, Tien’s parents practiced on all fours with their son around the house. A month later, Tien was able to crawl. At first, he could only crawl one round around the house. This gradually increased to two, to three, and then to two hours straight.

Mai explained that moving on all fours helps people release energy and exercise the whole body, important especially for children with disabilities like Tien.

"Every student of mine has to move with both arms and legs on the floor, Mai said.

After two years, Tien has been able to stand up without any help.

"The first time he stood up on his own was about two months ago. He was on his fours again that day when his pants dropped. So he stood up and pulled it up himself. Both the teacher and I were so thrilled to see it," said an emotional Tuyen.

For the past two months days, Tien has managed to stand up, go to the bathroom and change his clothes all on his own. Master Mai (standing behind) is filled with euphoria to see his student progressing every day. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Than.

For the past two months, Tien has managed to stand up, go to the bathroom and change his clothes all on his own. Mai (standing behind) is euphoric at seeing his student progress every day. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Than.

Now, instructors are helping Tien walk, leaning on grab bars, walls or on a person to support him. Tuyen hopes that Tien will be able to walk in the future.

Student motivates teacher

Mai told VnExpress that he was extremely proud of Tien who he said motivated him to offer free martial arts class for the disabled since June 2016.

His class now teaches 14 children with Down syndrome, autism, and other disabilities.

"Tien is able to stand up now because of the large amount of exercises he has been doing, which activates his muscles and stimulates the brain. It will take time and perseverance, but I believe Tien will be able to walk on his own two feet."

Mai has also successfully trained another young learner whose all four limbs are paralyzed and has slow brain developmental. He is also now much sturdier and can crawl.

Along with learning to walk, Tien is also homeschooled by his mother to identify colors, numbers, alphabets and names of everyone in the family.

"He forgets a lot. I only teach him a little bit every day when his mood is good and he is attentive," she said.

Tung, supported by his relatives, has opened a cold ice production facility in 2016. Tuyet has also graduated from university and is now a history teacher.

But the joy of flourishing careers is incomparable to seeing their son make progress day by day.

"He can read the three letters a, b, c, count from one to three, understand what I say, and knows names of his parents and grandparents. I am very happy. To me, that is a huge accomplishment," Tuyen said.

"When he and I go out, I jokingly ask if I can piggyback him because I will not be able to do it when I am older. But he won’t let me and insists on being self-reliant and doing things on his own."

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