We asked ... Ludger Steffens

"Judo is ideal for persons with or without disabilities"

A change of gait pattern and paralysis on the right side of the body and particularly of the arm – at first glance, these consequences of a stroke don’t appear to be the best prerequisites to partake in the sport of Judo. Yet Ludger Steffens likes to prove the opposite is true. REHACARE.com spoke with the 63-year-old about successes and inclusion in martial arts.


Photo: Ludger Steffens; Copyright: private

Ludger Steffens; © private

Mr. Steffens, what attracted you to Judo?

Ludger Steffens: In 1967, when I was very young, I already started practicing Judo and during the 80s passed the Judo yellow belt test and later the green belt. After my second stroke in 1999, I happened to see a report on the Internet about Judo for persons with disabilities. I contacted the club and soon after started practicing my first falling techniques, throws and various holds again at the TSV Bayer Leverkusen.

It was great for me to slowly reenter this sport and find out what I truly can or cannot do based on my impairment. Today I know that there is hardly anything in Judo that I am essentially not able to do – just a few throws, for instance, Utsuri Goshi (changing hip throw), Ushiro Goshi (back hip throw) and also a few ground techniques on the mat. I also discovered that I need to acquire almost all techniques on my own. There is hardly anything that I can directly adopt from the trainer who explains a technique to the class.

Are you still training with this group that is specially geared towards persons with disabilities?

Steffens: No, after I trained with this club for a while, I joined a regular Judo class at some point. The team leader told me that I am most welcome but that he is unable to provide me with any special training. I subsequently figured out on my own what I can and cannot do. I then stayed several years at the TSV Bayer Dormagen Club. I once again received a Judo certificate and was able to take a test. This time for 2nd Kyu. I was so ecstatic! The blue belt! And the one that all judokas take and not a special accommodation for disabled persons. At this point, I am even a 1st Dan!
Photo: Ludger Steffens with other judo practioners; Copyright: private

Ludger Steffens (front, middle) is now in a mixed Judo group where people with and without disabilities practice together; © private

What would you tell people with similar physical impairments if they are interested in Judo?

Steffens: You need to find out what you are still able to do on your own. Can you still fight? Or do you prefer to practice randori (free practice) or focus more on katas (sequences)? Once you have figured this out, you should look for a respective class or local club. Everybody needs to individually decide whether he or she should join a specific disability sports group or a regular Judo group. Both have their own distinct pros and cons that you need to consider on an individual basis.

If you find a regular class or club where you are able to participate as a judoka with physical impairments, you need to prepare yourself for being on your own to a large extent. When a trainer explains a specific ground technique, for example, I always immediately ponder how I can apply and implement the technique for my abilities.

Yet what’s most important is to participate in all of the exercises. If you are not able to perform an exercise, you need to find a substitute for it. I also think it is important to still practice randori (free practice) with the other judokas. Even though you usually are the one that falls, you at least practice falling. By the way, it’s a wonderful feeling if you are able to throw someone else once in a while.

What does inclusion mean to you?

Steffens: For me, inclusion means to train at a club or class just like everybody else without a disability does. Today, I still actively practice inclusion just not in a separate inclusion group but rather in several "regular" judo classes. But that goes without saying for me.
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)