Hi Reddit! My name is Johnny Tai. I lost my vision and hearing in one ear to Stevens–Johnson syndrome when I was three years old. I have been training in various martial arts since I was 8, including: taekwondo, judo, BJJ, MMA, Krav maga, Muay Thai, Karate, Mantis Kung fu, Southern Snake style Kung Fu, Counterattack, Fencing, and basic military hand to hand combat. I have faced bullies, abductors and abusive parents, now I want to teach other blind and partially sighted people self-defence to help protect and empower them.

This is my self-defence series I am trying to get off the ground: http://www.storyhive.com/project/show/id/229

I just finished the first half of my Krav Maga Level 2 exam yesterday, so (400-squats-burpees-situps-leg-lifts-push-ups-and-more-later) I am exhausted but ready to answer your questions! Feel free to ask my anything at all!

This is my proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgOdRnrfLKc&feature=youtu.be

Edit 1: Thanks all for your questions so far. It's about 5 pm my time now and I have to step away from a bit. Loving all the questions, so please feel free to ask away and I'll be back to answer in about an hour.

If you think the idea of blind self-defence is at all interesting, please show your support for my project by voting at the above storyhive link. Who knows, in a couple months I might be able to post the first episode!

Edit 2: I'm back. I've got another hour, so feel free to ask me anything more!

Edit 3: Thank you everyone for your questions! It's been a great experience and I hope to be back again when I get my series off the ground. I'm packing it in for the evening but feel free to add any questions you might have and I will check in periodically. If you want to see more from my life check out my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/johnnytigermovies

Comments: 65 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

Kwizi20 karma

You remind me of Toph, a small blind girl that ends up being the toughest character of the show, using a technique called earthbending, which is based on Kung fu. She senses opponents through the vibrations made by their steps on the ground. I know earthbending obviously doesn't exist, but how realistic is to sense someone's location by feeling vibrations on the floor? (you can make fun of me and say it's totally unrealistic if that's the case!)

johnnytai12 karma

I actually do know a guy who's even a more achieved Martial Artist than my self here in Canada. He is totally deaf, and blind, and that's exactly how he performs in competitive judo. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Morten

Kwizi7 karma


I have many blind friends, and I know some that are able to sense a wall, or tree, or whatnot according to how it reflects their voice. And some of the others are unable to do so.

So my follow-up question would be: is sensing people through their vibrations an (at least partially) inate sense? How come some people are able to -such as Pier Morten-, and others not (maybe you?). Is it something you can achieve through a lot of training?

johnnytai10 karma

Not everyone's wired the same way, or have the background or envirnment to develop the same way. It's like why some abused people grow stronger, some become abusers, some just break. You kinda have to look at disabled people the same way...we're like superheroes in comic books, some can fly, some can heal fast, but we don't all have the same superpower :)

flyliceplick9 karma

I think I understand how you manage when you're in more or less constant physical contact with your opponent (e.g. BJJ, but even that blows my mind); how do you cope when you can't see your opponent and you're not in contact with them?

johnnytai11 karma

By listening to the movements they make, feet scraping on ground, clothes moving on their body, the words they speak, and the echo of these sounds. Also quite often I can sense the movement of air on my skin when someone moves around me- that's how I can tell when my cat's came near me before he brushes up against me too :)

AceyJuan1 karma

I'm starting to suspect you're less deaf than you let on. Clever.

johnnytai5 karma

I have 0 hearing in right ear and about 98% in my left. This means no directional hear at all. So no matter if a person's on my right, or left, they sound almost the same.

AceyJuan1 karma

I have no idea how you can fight like that.

johnnytai6 karma

Go with instinct, experience, with a healthy load of desperation and insanity...it's easy!

dabisnit1 karma

Lots of 360 degree kicks

johnnytai1 karma

Nah, all that does is make me dizzy :)y

SouthrenJudo5 karma

Hey Johnny Tai. I run a martial arts website where I interview practitioners and try to share their story. I was wondering if you would be intrested in doing an interview for my website! I got into martial arts after getting beat up repeatedly for being gay. I have around 2k followers and would love to share your story!

As for the AMA. What do you feel is the most crucial aspect of self defense once avoidance is no longer an option? Do you have a go to/ favorite move?

johnnytai3 karma

I would be honored to be shared and interviewed. To set it up feel free to contact me via email: johnnytiger(at)shaw.ca

As to the answer to your question: Since running away is never going to work for blind people, my phelosophy is to respond hard and fast and disable the threats before walking away/calling the police. What this means is, I do not agree that my students should just push the attacker/s aside and turn and walk away. If the attacker/s is/are attacking a person with disability, then they deserve a much harsher outcome than just being mildly annoyed. As to favorite move...I don't really have a "favorite," since it's all depending on the situation. I guess one can say the favorite move for any self defense is always the groinkick :) When si resisted a kidnapper when I was little, that was the move I used without thinking.

SouthrenJudo2 karma

Awesome I sent you an email from southernjudo gmal I look forward to spreading the word about you and your new series!

johnnytai3 karma

Email received and replied to :)

Harflax3 karma

What, in your opinion is the most effective martial art? Or do you find using a combination of techniques to be the most effective. As a follow up, do you find it difficult when training in a specific martial art to limit yourself to that art's specific skill set in a sparring situation, or is it easy to compartmentalize each art into a given situation?

johnnytai7 karma

Since my goal is self defense, I am a firm believer that the more you know, the more prepared you'll be. That is not to say that you should learn 100 styles and be good at none, but I think by being fanatic about only one art, you are limiting your self- shortchanging your self to alot other good options. I think of Martial Arts as tools in a toolbox...yes you should be able to use a hammer well, but there are times when you'd also need a screwdriver as well.

factorybutte3 karma

Can you tell us about a time when you were in a situation where you had to defend yourself as an adult? Is it common for blind people to be victimized?

johnnytai3 karma

I think it is mroe common for blind people, or any disabled person, to be victimized yes. Not only they're automatically viewed as "easy targets," but quite often, the person with the disability becomes convinced that they are meant to be victimized which, does not help the situation. I have to this date, met with 6 robbery attempts. Five times with the threats of violence which I managed to convince them to walk away. The one time that it actually got violent was when I was coming home from work one late evening, almost midnight. I was waiting for the bus and this guy started demanding for my money. I gave him the usual speech, trying to talk him out of going down this path, but he decided to push me and started to take taunt punches at me. I ended up walking away fine and he was left in the hands of the authority.

JacquesItch2 karma

When you say that the would be attacker "left in the hands of the authority", do you mean the police got him? I don't know what it says about our society that you've almost been robbed/assaulted 6 times while walking about! Kudos for being able to diffuse the situation non-violently, sometimes that's as important a skill to master than brute force.

johnnytai2 karma

For me it's very important to try to diffuse the situation first because, 1: The best way to survive a fight is not to get into one in the first place. and 2: I think for a person who knows Martial Art, it is our responsibility to make sure there is no other option before we unleash our "inner demons" on them poor misguided souls :)

As to that attacker...I had him on the ground, the bus got there, I told the driver to deal with it. I assume he called the police, but it was no longer my problem by that point lol

factorybutte2 karma

Ok wow, 6 times? What part of town do you live in? But seriously, it is surprising to me that a blind person would be targeted. I don't know why, but I guess I was more optimistic about people. It's great that you are able to stand up for yourself and follow through when needed. How did you manage to get the police and subdue this person?

johnnytai3 karma

Happy to report only 1 out of the six times was actually in Richmond, my home town :) I think for alot of people/muggers who need a quick buck or two, a disabled person looks like prime rib just because how easy they're supposed to be. As to my "violent" mugger. By the time my bus arrived I had him on the ground and so I just told the driver what happened and let him deal with it.

I_want_to_paint_you3 karma

Do you have a service animal?

johnnytai3 karma

Nope...tried for a guide dog once... Got into tons of argument with the head trainer so he...canned me...one day before graduation... Then years down the road I realized I don't need a guide dog, I can go everywhere I need/want to go as it is. I travel the world on my own, with a white cane, I don't need a dog and probably do not need the extra burdens on my travels. That is not to say I don't like dogs, I still would want one as a pet when living situation permits, but I no longer feel I need to enslave one to take me places.

RobChromatik2 karma

Favorite BJJ position? Offensive and defensive pls!

And, do you think there are any advantages to fighting blind?

johnnytai1 karma

I think my favorite BJJ/ground is the Anaconda with gator roll. If I get to grappling during sparring or even a real fight, my first attempt would almost always be the standing version of that since it's a takedown and choke all in one and, in a RL fight of course there'd be no tap out from the choke :) My favorite defensive BJJ move is the half-guard simply because I am very strong in half guard. The only advantage fighting blind really is the fast reaction. Since I have no idea to dodge/block an attack, I have to train myself to be able to counter/deflect upon impact, thus my reaction is alot faster than alot of my sighted attackers. But I can't say if the faster reaction is worth the trade off of sight :)

RobChromatik1 karma

The gator roll choke is hella aggressive, rad choice lol.

Do you "visualize" yourself and your opponent based on feeling? And, do you prefer gi to no gi bc of the amount of grip opportunities?

johnnytai1 karma

I visuallize them yes, largely by feeling but there's alot of instinct/guesswork/hunches played into it too at times. I actually prefer no-gi since I think that's the better way to prepare a person for self defense scenios. The gi makes it too easy, too predictable.

RobChromatik2 karma

:0 But that's what makes gi so fun! It's like physical chess, it focuses on the mind game as much as the actual moves.

Thanks for answering my questions!

johnnytai1 karma

Oh I definitely agree with gi it's fun. But being fun to me doesn't make it my favorite. I favor no gi mostly for the value in how much more it is teaching a person. Sorta like I would say fencing is a heck of alot of fun, but it's not my favorite because it's not practical.

RobChromatik1 karma

True, true. Good analogy.

Do you play chess? I'm probably an average chess player but I'm always looking for people to play!

johnnytai1 karma

Haven't played for years most because no one in my circle plays. Used to do it all the time in high school and got a few trophies too :)

Kestralisk2 karma

Which sword do you enjoy the most in fencing? the least?

johnnytai4 karma

Do to my built and strength I prefer the bastard sword/buckler combination the most. The least would have to be rapier since that's mostly dodging and parrying and thrusting which is quite difficult for a blind person to pinpoint. oops pun

B5B0N352 karma

Most embarrassing thing that's happened you so far?

johnnytai2 karma

During the World's Martial Arts tournament, I had the honor to speak the athletes oath for Canada. When my guide led me on stage, he didn't lead me to the podium/mic before running off. Not knowing what was what, I started speaking the oath without the mic...it wasn't till half way through the speech that me and the refs realized we messed up and they quickly came to me with the mic... How's that for embarrassment...world class! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8Zn2YmlPNo

factorybutte2 karma

This is not really a martial arts question but I saw some of the videos on your youtube channel and I was wondering why you make videos when you can't see them? I hope that doesn't seem offensive, I just mean why not just record audio?

johnnytai2 karma

If it's audio, then only I my self can appreciate the moments, the special moments of my life. If it's video, that means I, and anyone else, can enjoy them, and share those special moments with me. It gives me a more complete sense of being a part of the larger society, of leaving a trail of footsteps in my journey.

Cymru232 karma

How did you get started doing all those amazing things?

johnnytai8 karma

At first, my parents forced me into Martial Arts cause I was small, sickly, blind, half deaf, and ...weak... My father didn't want me to constantly disgrace the family by being easy target. I hated every minute of it until maybe when I was 14, then I realized that I had in me something strong that I could treasure and get better at. That's when I signed up with the Taiwanese Military's Junior bootcamp program- the first ever blind person allowed in the program in Taiwan. No, I did not past the training with flying colors cause I couldn't shoot worth jack, but I past, and from there I went into other Martial Arts, bodybuilding, and other sports full speed. About when i started college, I realized that since I needed to put my self through school, I needed work, so what's better than doing what I enjoy, what I'm good at, and make money? So I started promoting my self as a trainer... About ten years ago, I realized that I have been selfish in just making money with what I can do, I wanted to pass on what I know to blind people, disabled people, low-income people who can't afford training. Thus started the long road of trying to bring Martial Arts/self defense into the disabled community.

Cymru233 karma

Thats amazing. Good for you, always good to give back right?

johnnytai3 karma

Yes indeed, and to tell the truth, though I am proud of what I do, I really hate to be the exception. I hear people say how amazing I am, how good I am, and all I think about when they say those things is...other blind people/disabled people, they can be too, I can teach them, show them, and many of them would probably even put me to shame in a few years.

lookatthisusername1 karma

You wrote that you lost your sight at age 3. Do you remember what it was like to see?

johnnytai2 karma

Somewhere deep within I must remember, because I always am sighted when I dream, and I can grasp the concept of movements, colors, and directions alot better than many blind people who go blind at birth.

lookatthisusername2 karma

Wow! I have such a hard time imagining how you would dream having sight. So you've never had a dream where you are blind? Can you describe your dreams more?

johnnytai1 karma

Often I dream, and then wake up remember how nice the sky looked in my dream, how blue and vast was the ocean, how beautiful was the woman beside me... How vividly green and red and yellow were the flowers in the garden... And if I have dreams involving physical violence, I go through the whole thing of staring down my opponents, glaring, check around me with my eyes to see if there are additional threats...things I have no way of doing in my reality.

lookatthisusername1 karma

Have you ever hit or attacked someone innocent by mistake?

johnnytai4 karma

Lol, yes I have, when I was little, I remember a bully picking on me and there were people around us and when I reacted he ducked behind someone else and that person got the worst of it... But then that person of course went after the bully for me, so it...all worked out.

JacquesItch1 karma

No offence but how would a blind person benefit from watching a self-defence video? Wouldn't they need to see the actual instruction that's taking place?

johnnytai3 karma

Our goal is to have descriptive voice over track that will describe what's on screen at any given moment. Since I am blind my self, I will know what blind audience need and can adjust the spoken texts and my instructions accordingly. For a sample of descriptive video, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT5AsjzgIC4

Also, the series won't just be for the blind and disabled, it is really for everyone. In addition to being a self defense series, it is also the story of my life. It's a biography of sort, with examples reacted- drawn from my past.

JacquesItch2 karma

Cool, make sense. Do you ever feel that self-defence videos are a poor substitute for real world experience? Don’t people need to have some physical practice/sparring, hitting and getting hit, to have the confidence to handle themselves in a scary situation?

johnnytai2 karma

Videos are not meant ot replace real training. Nothing can replae real training. The videos are there to re-inforce your training, give you something to watch and think on- and also they help you make up your mind when you're at the stage where you're trying to decide what to take, where to go, who to call.

juicejug1 karma

Hi! Thanks for doing this AMA. I guess this is an obvious question but how exactly does one defend him/herself from a bully without the use of sight?

johnnytai3 karma

Very good question :) and yes, I do get this one alot. For a bully to succeed, there has to be a degree of control- which usually means they have to get close and personal to lay on the intimidation. Stick and stone and word and all that... So when they get in close enough to shove, to pinch, to push, to hit, they're also opening them selves up for anything I have to give to him. Rather than giving them the fear they hoped for, I give them stern and immediate reprisal that insures them to stay clear next time.

rickwinston0 karma

What is your favorite city in Michigan?

johnnytai2 karma

No preference :)

JacquesItch1 karma

My money's on Escanaba

johnnytai2 karma

To me...one city's pretty similar to the next :)