Lifestyle – Independent living

Lydia la Riviere Zijdel speaking at the four-day self defence workshop for women/girls with disabilities
Lydia la Riviere Zijdel speaking at the
four-day self defence workshop for women/girls with disabilities

by Jeswan Kaur

Disability, without a doubt, puts people in a vulnerable position, especially women as they are more prone to danger, including mental and emotional attacks.

While women are very good at defending their children, ironically, they have a hard time protecting themselves.
“It’s a cultural thing, which I see prevalent all over the world.  Women always think girls must
be well behaved, while the boys are allowed to be rough and tough. I always say girls must be allowed to say ‘no’ and assert themselves,” said Lydia la Riviere Zijdel, a martial arts expert, who for the past 20 years has taught self defence, martial arts, empowerment and mobility to more than 7,000 disabled girls and women.

Lydia has a third degree black belt in karate and a black belt in
Aikido. She became  a wheelchair-user after a car accident in 1982 and from then on has also trained hundreds of martial arts and self defence teachers throughout the European Union and United States.

 

She was invited by the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation Malaysia (WSFFM)  to conduct a four-day self defence workshop for women/girls with disabilities at the Commonwealth Hall in Bukit Jalil  from May 20-23.
Lydia discussed with the participants issues ranging from what it meant living as a woman/girl with disabilities to how women with disabilities
faced double discrimination. The participants were  taught simple techniques of self defence using their wheelchair as a ‘weapon’.
“If you’re disabled, it is not the end of the world. You can be parents and you can also learn martial arts, it is just that it is a little difficult. It is about convincing disabled people that they can do it,” she told  CHALLENGES.

Participants get active in learning self defence techniques at workshop
Participants get active in learning self defence techniques at workshop

To Saripah Abdul Hamid, 50, a government staff, she found the workshop extremely beneficial.
“We need to equip ourselves with self defence techniques to protect ourselves when we are out on the streets. Unfortunately, before this, we were never exposed to such efforts. Since we are disabled, the fear of facing danger is greater. But now with the techniques learnt, I am less fearful. I have learned how to use my wheelchair to defend myself,” she told CHALLENGES.

 

For Munusamy Veloo, 49, of Kajang, the workshop was a laudable effort.
“We were taught how to defend ourselves from snatch thefts and ward off unwanted dangers all with the help of our wheelchair. This is something I never knew before. I would like to participate in more such workshops,” he said.

WSFFM executive director Dr Shamala Subramaniam said as disability & self-defence is a specialised area and due to the lack of trained people in the foundation who understood the needs of people with disabilities, the expertise of individuals like Lydia was much needed.
“Through the workshop we aimed at empowering our women with disabilities. We had about 30 participants who represented various organisations participating in the workshop each day. We will have another session in November and will integrate trainers from martial arts,” she added.
She said the long term goal was to empower and train Malaysians, both able and disabled, so that such workshops run by local trainers could be held more frequently for the benefit of the disabled community.

Malaysian women with disabilities empowered by the workshop
Malaysian women with disabilities empowered by the workshop
Lydia la Riviere Zijdel, a martial arts expert demonstrates that disability is no barrier to being safe
Lydia la Riviere Zijdel, a martial arts expert demonstrates that disability is no barrier to being safe

WSFFM will be organising another Self-Defense workshop  in November. For details, email: admin.wsffm@gmail.com.

Challenges Magazine Vol1 Issue4, 2008  (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)