Guest Post: DL Wheelchair Self Defence Course by Colm Whooley

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(Colm Whooley, a paraplegic from Ireland and the founder of Spinal Injuries Ireland, is also a disability advocate and wheelchair self-defense expert)

I am excited to share my passion and news about the New Wheelchair Self Defence Course I just launched in collaboration with Defence Lab. To give a little background on myself first: In 1980 while traveling home from work, I was involved in a motorcycle accident and broke my back and sustained a spinal injury.

I spent 9 months in a rehabilitation hospital. All my focus was on becoming as independent as I could be and coming to terms with my injury. Returning to training in martial arts was way down my list of priorities. After my rehabilitation I returned to college and studied Architectural and Engineering. In 1993. After a couple of years working, I set up the national organization, Spinal Injuries Ireland, a support and lobbying organization, where I worked as CEO for 21 years.

I had thought martial arts was no longer an option for me after my accident. However, an article in a martial arts magazine reintroduced me to Bruce Lee, and the possibilities that self-defense as a wheelchair-user could be an option. Bruce Lee’s quote “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it. Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own,” touched a chord with me.

Honesty was critical for me; I didn’t want to learn techniques that just looked good. I wanted to learn self-defense techniques that would really work for me as a wheelchair-user in a serious street confrontation. I read about Jeet Kune Do instructor Martin O’Neill and was really impressed with what he was teaching and contacted him, explaining that I was looking to explore the possibilities of effective self-defense for wheelchair-users.

And if it was practical, I wanted to make it available as CEO of Spinal Injuries Ireland to patients during their rehabilitation. This was the start of a friendship and journey of nearly 3 decades.
It is fair to say that this was a real learning process for myself and Martin, but after a lot of trial and error, changing and adapting various Jeet Kune Do techniques, we knew what would work under the pressure of a street situation.

While my initial goal was very personal and about me learning self-defense techniques that would work for me as a wheelchair-user. Once I realized that real self-defense was realistic for me as a wheelchair-user, my goal very much changed. I had seen how it had empowered me and given me new-found confidence. I wanted to introduce the program to other wheelchair-users. That was the start of me realizing that it was no longer just about me; it was about sharing the skills and techniques that would empower other wheelchair-users.

I wanted to look at other styles and systems and incorporate them into what we already knew. This set me on a journey of exploration that has taken me to various countries in Europe and Britain meeting and training with different instructors, teaching everything from Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Krav Maga, Combatives, Kali, Silat and Defence Lab.

While I wasn’t always able to incorporate what they were teaching into our program, I was getting a real insight into what was possible. And over the years I was able to get some special techniques that really worked well for us as wheelchair-users. However, it was a message online from a mom in Yosemite National Park in California that got me looking at how I could make the course available to people with a disability in different countries and also to instructors, so they could teach it to wheelchair-users in their schools.

The mom contacted me and asked if I ran workshops or training in the USA that her son could attend. I explained unfortunately it wasn’t practical for me. That’s when I started to look at the option of creating an online course for wheelchair-users and instructors.

I traveled to Valencia, Spain to work with my friends Andy Norman and Grek Fenollosa, founders of the martial art Defence Lab, to develop an effective online self-defense course for wheelchair-users and instructors globally. This took 4 years to develop. Andy is not only an amazing martial artist but is also a Hollywood movie fight choreographer, known for training “Batman” and Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and the Jack Reacher movies.

Some of the topics we cover in the course include:
• Empty Hand Techniques
• Positioning yourself during a charging attack
• Getting power into our strikes as a wheelchair-user
• Fighting within our zone

My martial art qualifications:
• Defense lab instructor and head of Defence Lab Wheelchair Self Defence Course
• Senior associate instructor in Jeet Kune Do
• Full instructor in O’Neill Martial Arts System
• Founder and head instructor of Wheelchair Jeet Kune Do

If you have any questions. Please feel free to email me at And if you would like more details about the course and some free videos, please follow this link.

Follow Colm on Instagram


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Spinal Cord Injury
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