People with disabilities get martial arts training

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ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) - George Kattouf said his colleague, Bob Jeffco, isn’t the type to enjoy the spotlight.

Kattouf, the director of the Academy of Martial Arts in Altoona, said it’s just part and parcel of Jeffco’s humble attitude.

“He doesn’t want any special recognition,” Kattouf said. “I just want people to see what can be done with volunteerism.”

Jeffco, a retired Altoona special education teacher, is at the academy each Monday night during the school year, teaching martial arts to students with disabilities. He said his students can range from the autistic to the visually impaired to individuals with Down syndrome.

Jeffco said people tend to underestimate the range of skills that disabled people have.

“Anyone that sees our cast or sees people there, they think, ‘Oh my God, look at what they can do,’” he said. “They’ll shock you.”

The class, in its 25th year, has survived three moves, Kattouf said. The academy has switched buildings multiple times in its history, but the class has never been at risk, he said.

Jeffco said a typical class includes about 20 students. The students warm up, do some stretching and learn basic martial arts moves, he said.

And they always excel, he said.

“They make achievements like you wouldn’t believe,” Jeffco said. “And a lot of them have become black belts.”

The class is free for the students as long as they have the requisite individual education plan in place while they were in school, Jeffco said.

Kattouf said Jeffco is “well aware of the individual needs of students” in the class.

He said Jeffco, who is a certified black belt and also ranked in Brazilian jiujitsu, works to both challenge and support the students.

“When they graduate, there’s not a lot of opportunities for them to do things that are physical,” Kattouf said, “and what he does is he treats the students with the utmost respect and makes sure he gives them a curriculum that’s challenging to them.”

Kattouf said Jeffco also tests the students at the end of each school year, allowing them to show off the skills and techniques they’ve developed. The students may even get a few slices of pizza, too, as a reward, he said.

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