Kickboxer’s battle for black belt

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Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease include everything from problems with communication, thinking and judgement to uncontrollable body movements and the inability to swallow.

The condition’s effects make the performance of everyday mundane tasks most people take for granted a major challenge.

And so, of all the activities you could imagine a sufferer taking part in, kickboxing would not be high on your list.

But Matt Ward, a forty-two year-old former technical architect who was diagnosed with the condition in 2002 has just achieved his black belt in the sport.

Matt, along with many other sufferers, received his diagnosis long before the symptoms began to take effect.

He had been training at Ilkeston’s Midlands PKA Kickboxing for a couple of years and had attained his purple belt before he realised he may never see his dream of reaching blackbelt realised.

But with help from the gym the Giltbrook man graded last month.

Matt’s wife, Marie, said: “This is just something that Huntington’s has not been able to take away from him.

“It has taken so many other things - like the ability to work and often even to speak.

“But the sport has helped him in so many ways - with co-ordination and balance, concentration and memory, as well as being a social activity where he can have positive interactions.”

Lee and Jo Jones, both instructors at Midlands PKA, helped Matt attain his epic goal by breaking it down into manageable chunks.

The gym tweaked and tailored his training, making it attainable for him, and split his black belt grading into shorter sections during the last six months.

Jo said: “Regular students would normally undergo an intensive five to six-hour black belt test which was just not physically possible for him - so this was a way of making it possible.”

But the 42 year-old faced huge challenges, both mental and physical, along the way.

“He really suffered mentally,” said Marie. “He didn’t think he was fast enough and really had to battle with himself emotionally and psychologically.

“For Matt it was like kickboxing on ice while drunk but determination and a lot of practice paid-off.

“And he is ecstatic now he has the belt - he’s talking about going for his second dan.”

Trainer Jo said, especially in Matt’s case, that a black belt was so much more than just being able to fight or demonstrate techniques.

She added: “Matt sometimes walks in though our doors using walking sticks but leaves at the end of the classes without them - and we could have given him his belt purely on the strength of that

“But his spirit, strength and determination to keep on fighting HD make him a true warrior and a true inspiration for anyone fighting a illness to never give up.”

And now, as far as the future goes, the Wards are taking one day at a time.

“Huntington’s can progress quite quickly but we have to be positive,” said Marie. “I am just so proud of everything Matt has achieved while facing what he faces.”

You can find out more about Huntington’s Disease at https://www.hda.org.uk The charity supports sufferers and their families and promotes research.