Wheelchair-bound vet rolls with the punches
Stars and Stripes June 17, 2007
Mideast edition, Saturday, June 17, 2007
WASHINGTON — Joe Beimfohr can twist your arm out of its socket and put you on the ground before you notice someone swept out your legs.
From his wheelchair.
“The big fear you have when you first get in that wheelchair is that you can’t defend yourself, you can’t run away,” the Army veteran said. “But now I know I can.”
Beimfohr, who lost both legs in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq, has been mastering martial arts as part of his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the last two years.
Recently, he has begun sharing his self-defense techniques with other patients there, teaching the amputees ways to not only protect themselves but also build up their self-confidence.
“It’s not jujitsu or any formal training,” the former cavalry sergeant said. “These are simple-to-understand moves; ways I can stop you, even if I’m in a wheelchair. And knowing that makes you feel more confident whenever you go outside.”
On Friday, Beimfohr and his teacher, Vietnam veteran Bob Kunkle, held a demonstration in the medical campus gym to show off his skills to a handful of new patients. From his chair, he showed how basic waist grips and arm locks can slow down an attacker, and how using the chair’s leverage can help him break a man’s arm or flip him onto his back.
Kunkle, a 20-plus-year martial arts master who wears a brace and foot prosthetic, has been volunteering at the hospital for several years. He said before he met Beimfohr most of his lessons dealt with variations of traditional defense techniques, all from the standing position.
Now he works out of the wheelchair during much of their sessions, developing new holds and strikes that work better with the lower position.
“All of the angles are different, so you need to approach it differently,” he said. “These guys are really my teachers. They’re showing me different ways to do this and understand the anatomy.”
Beimfohr retired from the military because of his injuries several months ago and has a job working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said he still tries to regularly visit the hospital, to share his experiences and convince others they still have a bright future.
“When they see someone in a wheelchair put another guy on the ground, it gives me instant credit with them,” he said. “In just one session we can show these guys a lot of different ideas, and that can make a huge difference to them.”