One Touch: New Self-Defense Program Trains Blind Instructors

by Jim Pilkington

In late summer of 2011, a group of blind teachers, athletes, students and otherwise ordinary individuals attended a training program known as 1Touch – self-defense for the blind and visually impaired -- at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass. This group of nearly a dozen hailed from as near as Boston and as far away as Uruguay.  The objective of the program: to train as instructors in this unique course in self-defense specifically designed for those lacking sight.

1Touch was developed by Professor Stephen Nicholls, a martial arts instructor based in London, England.  Nicholls recognized, after working with blind and visually impaired students, that traditional martial arts, which rely heavily on the student's ability to see, could be modified to make it accessible for the blind.  With 1Touch, Nicholls created a set of techniques which make use of leverage and joint locks that do not require either sight or unusual strength to be effective.  All moves and techniques are described verbally and are demonstrated hands-on.  Neither age nor gender need be a barrier.   

From the very first lesson, three elements – balance, coordination, and dexterity, along with situational awareness -- are emphasized and cultivated, with simple exercises and drills at the outset progressing to more complex techniques over time.  "Beginning with stance and stepping movements, the student learns how to recognize and react to various types of physical situations," says Jim Pilkington, an assistive technology teacher from Colorado.  "From something as simple as someone grabbing your arm to an attacker attempting a choke hold, 1Touch offers an appropriate and effective set of techniques to counteract the attack and gain the advantage."

Awareness and appreciation of the benefits of 1Touch, on both a personal and a collective level, are immediate.  "This is great," said Scott Land, a gymnastics instructor from Colorado.   "The 1Touch system is unlike any other training I am aware of.   1Touch raises and addresses topics for the blind and vision impaired hitherto ignored."

Liz Myska, a visually impaired attorney from Massachusetts, said, "Learning the 1Touch techniques gives a great boost to one's self-confidence. My initial reaction was doubt and skepticism which has now, after training, been replaced by belief and empowerment."

Another trainee noted, "The human right of self-protection is as basic as it comes, and sadly, this has largely been overlooked in the blind community.  There is a huge need for training like this."

Additionally, the rehabilitative aspects of the 1Touch program are wide-ranging, from balance and coordination to improved mental attitude and self-image.  1Touch has submitted a paper to the European Congress of Adapted Physical Activity (EUCAPA) for its 2012 annual meeting.  As one student said recently, "It is physically, emotionally, and intellectually restorative to know that you can take effective action if you find yourself in a bad situation. As I continue to practice the 1Touch techniques, all these facets of my life are improving."

One of the students in the 2.5-day intensive course held in Newton was Bob Hachey, president of the Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB).  "The main reason I wanted to take the 1Touch course was to be able to conduct introductory workshops on self-defense at BSCB events," he said. "We had repeated requests for such a course, but we had difficulty finding an appropriate instructor."  Bob ran two introductory 1Touch hands-on seminars as part of the 2011 BSCB fall conference held at Perkins School for the Blind.  "It was my first time teaching this topic so I was a bit nervous. It was wonderful to have the assistance of a few of the students from the training course. The demand was such that we had more students than I'd planned for, but all went well. I anticipate that we will be doing more of these introductory courses. The 1Touch method is a good opportunity to help blind and visually impaired people develop increased self-confidence and a greater sense of independence."

Nicholls' goal is to establish a network of instructors here in the United States so that 1Touch can be self-perpetuating.  1Touch instructors already exist in the United Kingdom and Europe; they have been trained in various regions of the United States, with more to follow.  For information about 1Touch or to inquire about coaches in your area, please contact Stephen Nicholls,