The Adaptive Martial Arts Association is the nations leading 501c3 non-profit organization promoting disabled inculcation in martial arts through education and support. 

Interview with Lisa J. Markland


My name is Lisa J. Markland

I began as a non-disabled martial artist and instructor, studying and training since I was 15 years old, and only moved to attempting Tae Kwon Do from a wheelchair when I heard of it being offered as an exhibition event at the 2004 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. This was where I choreographed and performed a first-ever board-breaking demo involving otherwise all “able-bodied” martial artists (breaking 15 boards in 60 seconds during a ‘fight’ scene). I have this on video if that would help you in any way also. If nothing else, you might find it interesting. I have it on DVD and can see if I can send it electronically somehow.

I’ll attach a link to one place my martial arts background was published in case it might help. I’ll also attach a photo in case that might help as well (this was in 2005 at the national demo). I tested for my 3rd Dan black belt after being disabled by an Air Force spinal injury in addition to a rare medical condition and several autoimmune diseases. I have other photos I have the rights to share if you’d like them. Here’s the link: http:// markland.html


How old are you? 51
Home Town? Born in Silver Spring, MD and grew up in Golden Valley, MN
What is your rank/style? 3rd Dan Black Belt/Tae Kwon Do

School affiliation? None currently; had trained and taught mostly at Kim Studio in Rockville, MD and then at BMI Karate in Germantown, MD. I completed my 3rd Dan through the Auvenshine School of Tae Kwon Do in Illinois. I plan on trainingin the fall of 2015 through the Tompkins Karate Association in Germantown, MD.

How long have you been practicing martial arts? Since I was 15. Started over as a white belt twice in different styles of Tae Kwon Do and/or different schools. Tested into my 2nd Dan twice because I wanted it to be traditional and my first time was too much of a “gimme” in my opinion. I worked hard and long the second time around. My 3rd Dan was done from a wheelchair although in many ways it was more exacting and more difficult than being an “able-bodied” martial artist, as the expectation were not reduced but I had less control of landing on my marks and properly executing moves. I loved that nothing less than perfection was expected. I like to push my self beyond 100%, always.

Were you born with a physical disadvantage?  I was born with Ehlers-Danlos, a rare, genetic condition with defect of collagen. I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was 29. I was also nearly killed when struck, as a pedestrian, by a drunk driver at age 15 while doing volunteer work. This left me with a lifetime of challenges, both cognitively and physically. I was nearly killed again in a head-on crash ten years later in 1989. I started developing autoimmune diseases when I was around 20 years old, which just complicated things. I also had a spinal cord injury while serving in the Air Force (1988), which left me an incomplete quadriplegic. I walk, but also get paralysis. To date, I’ve had hundreds of surgeries and carry dozens of diagnoses, many of which are serious and challenging (kidney failure, adrenal insufficiency and many others). I’ve lived with chronic pain since I was a toddler and continue to face challenges every day, but I do all I can to never let it stop me. This is really the “simple” version of my medical history, but there’s much more than what I was born with, so it’s not a simple answer.

What attracted you to martial arts? I was working as a law enforcement Explorer, through the Boy Scouts program. I was the only female, leading a group of boys who were in my Explorer Post. I was first introduced through an event we had for the Police Explorers. A young kid literally kicked my shins in… and it lit a fire in me to learn more. I trained from then on… but it wasn’t until I moved back to Maryland in 1987 (to return to college and earn additional degrees) that I found a very traditional dojang and fell in love with martial arts. I trained under Grand Master Ki Whang Kim ( founder), who’s in the history books as bringing what became Tae Kwon Do to America from Korea (via Japan). So I trained in both straight forms (Japanese) and TKD under him until he passed away, but continued at that studio for many years, through my 1st Dan black belt. I tested privately for my 2nd Dan under the tenants of Ki Whang Kim and then was awarded my 3rd Dan through the Auvenshine School of Tae Kwon Do in Illinois (the folks I did the wheelchair demo I wrote about with).

Can you kick? I “can” kick but tested for my 3rd Dan from
a wheelchair, where kicking is done by doing a wheelie. What’s challenging is doing a kick and spin or kick and punch from a wheelchair. And the school I tested at required all forms to be just as exact whether on foot or four wheels. So, since I can walk, I “can” kick– but I wouldn’t have enough left in my joints or from my spinal injury strength-wise to be able to kick defensively/offensively or through boards anymore. The same would mostly hold true for punching at this point.

How long have you been teaching? I taught from around 1989-2004, in different ways. I taught young children regularly at BMI and helped to teach some classes at Kim Studio (all “able- bodied,” and then instructed through the time of the 2004 demo, mostly then to folks with physical challenges.

What’s your advice to any person with a disability who might be interested in stating martial arts? There is nothing that’s impossible; just go after what you want. You may do it differently, but you CAN still do it. That applies to everything in life. Find a studio and style that fits your interests and talk to the instructor. Put your energy into a school that will work with you.

What is your advice to someone thinking about starting martial arts? The same as what I’d suggest to someone without a disability. Find a style that suits you and never give up! Don’t attend a school that ‘sells’ belts. The belt color is not the “goal.” You shouldn’t be charged based on what belt they will get you to; you should earn that over time. Traditionally we didn’t have all these belt colors; belts changed color from blood and sweat and years of work and studying. Martial arts should be about hard work, focus, training, patience, and increasing your character and knowledge. It’s as much about the mental as physical benefits– for anyone.

Give an example of a technique that you would personalize/ modify to befit your disadvantage? Breathing (nothing to do with kicking and punching, yet everything to do with that). And breathing is part of the self-control you gain through martial arts. I’d encourage everyone to work on breath control– which leads to more power, mentally and physically.

Do you believe martial arts is a great helping tool for someone with a similar disability such as yourself? I believe it’s an amazing asset for anyone: disabled or not. It’s saved my life in many ways (and not from fighting, but from everything else it taught me).


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