Can the legally blind train in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and overcome blindness? William Vandry says absolutely!!

BJJ in my eyes June 2013

Visual impairment is a subject few in the martial arts discuss.  When people develop visual handicaps, it is truly a very challenging setback in life.  What many do not know is how people develop blindness.  I am going to dig into this article on a subject I would like more in our community to be better educated on.  Let’s begin with a few statistics.

The World health organization statistics on legally blind and visually impaired show:

  • 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are      blind and 246 have low vision.
  • About 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing      countries.
  • Globally, uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of      visual impairment; cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in      middle- and low-income countries.
  • The number of people visually impaired from infectious diseases has      greatly reduced in the last 20 years.
  • 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured


Other causes

  • Corneal opacities: eye      diseases that scar the cornea
  • Diabetic retinopathy:      associated with diabetes
  • Blinding trachoma:      bacterial condition causing painful scarring in the cornea
  • Eye conditions in children      such as cataract, retinopathy of prematurity, and vitamin      A deficiency
  • Onchocerciasis (river      blindness): a parasitic disease caused by filarial worms and transmitted      through the bites of infected blackflies

Refractive Errors

A refractive error is a common eye disorder that can sometimes be so severe that it causes visual impairment. It occurs when the eye cannot clearly focus on images resulting in blurred vision.

The three most common refractive errors are:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness):      difficulty seeing distant objects clearly
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness):      difficulty seeing close objects clearly
  • Astigmatism: distorted      vision due to an irregularly curved cornea (the clear covering of the eye)

A fourth condition, presbyopia, leads to difficulty reading or seeing at arm’s length. Presbyopia is due to age-related changes inside the eye and is universal among people over the age of 40. This condition is linked to aging.

Refractive errors cannot be prevented but they can be diagnosed by an eye exam and treated with corrective glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery.
VISION 2020: The Right to Sight Blindness and Vision Impairment Global Facts,
When the statistics show 80% of visual loss can be prevented, this gives a cause and wakeup to our society.

Professor William Vandry congratulating blind students for accomplishing Level 1 self defense clinic

Being legally blind and visually impaired is in my opinion one of the most challenging of all setbacks.  A blind person has problems reading computers, books, emails or even watching movies, transportation and needs to adapt in a different way to overcome these among many other challenges.  Many people who are legally blind are at times treated as second class citizens, and at times are perceived as liabilities in life.  I personally take those types and just get a laugh and tell people to not even give it another minute.  Those types ironically are more handicapped than anyone truly can be.

I have spoke to many blind citizens since 1998 on the goals to overcome those barriers.

I learned to overcome blindness in a way that many people should learn to overcome challenges and setbacks in life.  How?  By dealing with your circumstances and overcoming them, not by dwelling on your woes in life.

I first met a group of blind people in 1998 which was a social group.  Although I myself was one of their members, many had unfortunate positions in life and were to say the least, in a low self esteem.  Some women who were middle aged were treated like five year old children by their own family.

I never forgot that.  And I never let anyone treat me like that.  I let blind students always remember that as well.  In 1999 when I moved to Austin, I met a friend who asked if I could teach a Jiu-jitsu clinic at The Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC). CC is a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation training facility working in partnership with blind consumers to help them achieve their employment and independent living goals.  I met Jody Royder, who is one of the counselors at Criss Cole.  I would usually go on Sundays once a month and meet a group of blind students. Some were in their 50s some in their teens.  I noticed one thing when I spoke to them.  All of them were enduring a very tough time in life with independence.  I worked a program with Criss Cole to sponsor blind students to train at my Jiu-jitsu academy.  I taught each of them to walk and learn my school, the changing room, bathrooms, etc..  My goal was to teach them that without any help.  To practice independence.  They began to learn Jiu-jitsu, and over the years of blind students here and there, they all came out of their shells.  They just needed to be reminded that they have the abilities to overcome.  And this power is within, not from someone else.  I remember one blind student in 2002 who was 18.  She trained with me for about 6 months.  When she moved back to her hometown, she invited me to a party at Criss Cole to see her off.  I remember the counselor telling me she was the most introverted student and never opened up until she started Jiu-jitsu.


I was very happy to hear that, and I know whatever time I spent mentoring her, she is off to a better start.

Last year the Texas School of the Blind had a summer camp they named CampChallenge.  You can read the article from last year.  The top pic is Kristine doing a flying armbar on me. ( )

It is a camp designed for activities, participation and stimulation to blind students that attend there.  It is headed by P.E. CounselorKristine Seljenes.  Kristine is a real champ when it comes to working with blind students.  She desired to have a type of physical activity, namely a martial art for her blind students.  When she found out about me, and my visual handicap, she asked if I could teach a class at her camp to reach out to blind students to overcome in life.  I told her about Criss Cole and my past experience and that I would be happy to.  When I work with blind students, my goal is to communicate with them, open up and let them know I know what they are going through, and to learn its ok to reach out and talk to others.  From there, I show a few moves in Jiu-jitsu.  In fourteen years, each clinic I teach with blind students ends the same way–they don’t want to stop wrestling!  Awesome.  Some points I lecture when teaching blind students:

  • Each clinic I teach is probably going to be the only time I will meet those students, as I do it annually, and they usually have moved back to their town the next year.  When      teaching, I remind them how they have goals, and to keep focusing on them, and never let anyone deter you, or put you down because of your condition.
  • Goal setting is another suggestion.
  • The third is to study nutrition.
  • Above the WHO stats state 80% of all visual impairment can be      avoided or cured.

I will get back to nutrition and some fantastic research I did on blindness.  But lets get to the main point on my article.  Lets talk about these very precious blind students who are fantastic students in BJJ.


Camp Challenge Self Defense Workshop

I usually ask a group of my students to assist with the camp.  The reason has nothing to do with needing help, I have taught clinics by myself many times.  My goal is to show my students as martial artists the value of being a martial artist.  To counsel, nurture, coach and care for blind students gives them reflection on their responsibilities as martial artists.  Its great to have tough students, good fighters, students, competitors, senior students, etc., sit down and volunteer a few hours with me to these blind students.  It means a lot to them.  I give each blind student their own coach, and each of my assistants has to work with each blind student without attempting to coddle them or ‘baby’ them.  They learn each coach’s name, and if they can’t see them, I have them learn to find the coach by vocal guidance, instead of grabbing an arm.  By the end, my students learned something too.  They learned about being a better Jiu-jitsu student, and how to humble yourself for those that are less fortunate, and to let them know you can be with them to overcome setbacks.

I met some very inspiring young men and women.  We trained with them, and each of my students was assigned to coach one or two blind students.  I was so proud of everyone there, and I am glad we made an impact on them.



Avoiding Visual Degeneration

Disclaimer: The information presented on this site is not intended for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your own physician for medical advice or services. The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered a replacement for the expert advice of a qualified health practitioner. and makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current ness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis

This is a goal of mine of medical and nutritional information.  This tidbit I added to this article hoping maybe more people out there can find one piece of information in this article that may help them with their vision, or visual problems.


1. Spinach vs. Age related Macular degeneration

An article in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) November 2, 1994, sings the praises of spinach. People who ate Popeye’s favorite daily suffered only one-tenth as much age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as those who seldom ate spinach. And for patients with the condition, eating spinach prevented worsening.1Research has now confirmed that three to four portions of spinach weekly can reverse at least early AMD. “Dr. Richer, chief of the optometry section at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs inNorth Chicago, recently tested 14 patients who were showing the first signs of AMD. After just 12 weeks of eating three to four portions of spinach a week, those in the study showed 60% to 80% improvement in their AMD tests. Among the eight who had either a hole or a distortion in their vision, for seven the problem either improved or disappeared completely.”2The macula is a light-sensitive part of the central retinal area near the optic nerve; it provides sharp central visual acuity. AMD is the leading cause of blindness among American, Canadian and English elderly, and it afflicts nearly 40 percent of the more than 10 million Americans with diabetes.[i] AMD is a cousin of coronary heart disease, and shares with it a common ancestor: atherosclerosis.  Free radicals promote and speed macular degeneration as well as aging, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.The benefits result largely from spinach’s thousands of carotenoids, which are phytonutrients (plant nutrients) related to and including carotenes. “High concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin, both of them carotenoids, are found in [and so, presumably, required by] the retina of the eye, explaining why consuming them in diet protects against macular degeneration.” 5, 6 New research finds that eggs may be an especially good source of lutein and zeaxanthin because substances in the yolk make it easier for the body to absorb these compounds.7 It is already known that eating eggs does not elevate risk of heart attack; in fact, published research found that those who ate more eggs had fewer heart attacks.8 So such findings strengthen our recommendation to eat whole, natural foods including all the eggs we want.


[1] Seddon JM, Ajani UA et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group. JAMA 1994; 272:1413- 1420.

2 Williams DG. Everyday habits to improve your life… and your life span. Alternatives for the Health Conscious Individual 1999;7;22:169-176.

5 Martin S. Is this the most powerful antioxidant yet found? Int J Alt & Comp Med     1996;14(5):11-12.

6 Seddon JM, Ajani UA et al. Op. cit.

7 Blumberg J et al. Amer Jour Clin Nutr 1999;Aug.

8Hattersley JG. Eggs are great food! Townsend Ltr Doctors and Patients 1996;Jan:46-49.

8Hattersley JG. The sunny side of eggs. What Doctors Don’t Tell You. 1999;10;2:12.


2. Melatonin vs. Glaucoma eye pressure

Also, a published clinical test showed melatonin lowers eyeball pressure in glaucoma patients. The insomnia age group — for whom its use is safe and appropriate at 1 to 5 milligrams before bedtime — is the same as the glaucoma age group.38

Those who eat more sensibly and supplement antioxidants such as vitamins C and E develop cataracts much more slowly, if at all, even from lengthy sun exposure. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women who supplemented vitamin C for 10 years or longer had 77% lower prevalence of early opacities and 83% lower prevalence of moderate opacities, compared with those who consumed little of the vitamin.55


38Wright JV. Interview on Bland JS. Funct Med Update 1997;Apr

55 Beebe DC. Nuclear cataracts and nutrition: Hope for intervention early and late in life. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1998(Aug);39;9:1531-1534


3. Macular degeneration and diet

 In rats, excitotoxins rapidly damage the macula, offering a new slant on burgeoning AMD. They wreak many other ill effects on people consuming processed foods. Monosodium glutamate (MSG),[1] aspartame (Nutra-Sweet®) and nearly all processed foods contain dangerous quantities of glutamate, aspartate, cysteine and related compounds. These excitotoxic drugs, added to foods, discharge nerve cells in the mouth to augment the sensation of flavor. Addictive57.  Aspartame breaks down into carcinogenic, eye-destroying formaldehyde and deadly methyl alcohol.58,59,60


57 Roberts HJ. Aspartame (NutraSweet®) addiction. Townsend Ltr Doc/-Patients 2000;Jan:52-57.

58Schwartz G. In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome. Albuquerque,NM: Health Press, 1988.

59Blaylock Russell L, MD. Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. Albuquerque,NM: Health Press, 1995.

60Lee, Lita, PhD. Radiation Protection Manual, 3rd edition 1990.PO Box 516,Lowell,OR97452 (541) 937-1123.


4. Dr. Jonathan V. Wright’s treatment. Dr. Wright said to take selenium, taurine, vitamin E and zinc. And put DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide, a solvent obtainable at health food stores and paint stores) on any part of the skin. The DMSO, which itself offers powerful healing features,69 is a necessary part of the procedure: it strongly increases absorption of these nutrients.70,71 Some patients of his recovered from macular degeneration using this therapy and have stayed clear of it for as long as four years. The method works better in some cases than others.


69 Williams, David G, DC. Miracle Healer: DMSO. Sixth Ed, 1997.Ingram,TX: Mountain Home Publ, 1997.

70 Wright JV. Lecture inPasadenaFebruary 21, 1993.

71Wright JV.March 4, 1993, phone conference with Dennis and with Terry, physician’s assistant at Dr. Wright’s Tahoma Clinic dispensary.


5. Vitamin D and calcium. Arthur A. Knapp, MD, used 50,000 units of vitamin D and one gram of calcium on intermittent days. These helped against eye conditions including myopia, keratoconus, cataract, optic nerve atrophy and retinitis pigmentosa.

6. A related problem affects people with asthma. Inhaled steroids, intended to block or reduce inflammation, were long claimed not to circulate throughout the body. Yet for many older patients they promote glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the population. The risk appeared to be elevated by 44 percent compared to matched patients not using inhaled steroids. Lea Davies of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, adds that inhaled steroids may cause about one-third of the 3,000 glaucoma cases developing each year among Americans over 65.77 Inhaled steroids reduce bone density in the spines of women with asthma. The greater the cumulative dose of inhaled steroids, the greater the reduction in bone mineral density of the spine in women.78

“The drugs commonly used in the treatment of allergic conditions, including asthma, have many potentially harmful and dangerous side effects. These antihistamines, steroid hormones, or xanthine derivatives have side effects that may be merely annoying to a child but in many instances are dangerous. For example, steroid treatment of asthmatic children has been demonstrated to retard lung maturation and physical growth79 and to cause a higher incidence of cataracts in children receiving long-term steroid therapy.80


77 Sternberg S. Breathing freely threatens seeing clearly. Sci News 1997 (Mar 8);151:143; see also JAMA  March 5, 1997.

78Inhaled steroids cause spinal osteoporosis. What Doctors Don’t Tell You 1998;8;12:11. And JAMA 1998;279:255.

79Taylor DR, Sears MR, Herbison GP, et al. Regular inhaled beta agonists in asthma: Effects on exacerbations and lung function. Thorax 1993;48:134-138.

80Mendelsohn, Rpbert S, MD. How to Raise a Healthy Child… In Spite of Your Doctor. NY: Ballantine Books, 1984.



You may know a family member, or friend that has a visual impairment.  I would like to see in a future of health, that we can reduce blindness through nutrition, and prevention.  For blind people, I assure them that you can overcome blindness by simply doing what we do in Jiu-jitsu..develop counters and adapt to new strategies.  I will never forget those kids hugging me and my assistants.  They have a tough goal to overcome, but I know personally they can.  I said in my speech, I hope to form my own tournaments of BJJ, and I added that the one goal I intend is to develop a BJJ Blind division for tournaments.

 In closing, I cannot give enough thanks to my wife Chandra, Joe, Noah, Mike, Robert, Jen, CJ, Slade, Ryan and Josh for their selfless volunteering, and to Kristine and the School of the Blind for inviting me to teach.  Support a blind person in your area!


Absorb and think,

Prof. William Vandry

1 thought on “Can the legally blind train in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and overcome blindness? William Vandry says absolutely!!”

  1. William Vandry

    Great working with those good blind kids at TCOB. I wish them well, and I hope they make it in the world. Go get your success guys!

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