ActivePaper Archive Karate kid - Chattanooga, 4/7/2008

Karate kid

Autistic 12-year-old qualifies for third national championship

Staff Photo by D. Patrick Harding

Brandon Earnshaw, 12, practices his blocks at Green Karate Dojo on North Access Road. Brandon, who is autistic, has qualified for the third time to compete in the USA National Karate Federation finals nonhandicapped division.

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Corey Green talk about why Brandon Earnshaw’s accomplishment is significant. Watch Brandon lead his class in karate warmups. Comment on this story.

When he first started studying karate four years ago, 12-year-old Brandon Earnshaw couldn’t stand on one foot without losing his balance and falling. In July, he’ll compete in his third consecutive USA National Karate-Do Federation national championship.

His achievement is all the more exceptional because Brandon, who is autistic, struggles to accomplish some things normally developing students do without thinking, said Corey Green, Brandon’s sensei (teacher).

“When he became the first autistic person in history to qualify, that was not anyone’s goal,” Mr. Green said of Brandon’s participation in his first tournament in 2006. “That he’s done it three years in a row says something about him, his training and shows the world that children with autism can do whatever they put their minds to, just like any other kid.”

This year’s tournament will be held July 18-20, 18-20 in Houston.

Brandon began studying karate at the recommendation of his occupational therapist.

Alina Earnshaw, Brandon’s mother, said before he trained one-on-one with Mr. Green, Brandon was frustrated easily and had difficulty socializing. She said she was initially skeptical of seeing any results, but changes to Brandon’s behavior were immediate.

“After a couple of weeks of karate, his second-grade teacher asked if we had started him on a new kind of medication,” she said. “I thought something negative was going on ... but she said that he was much more focused, calmer and less easily frustrated.”

“That he’s done it three years in a row ... shows the world that children with autism can do whatever they put their minds to, just like any other kid.

— Corey Green, Brandon’s teacher

Brandon reached his first national finals by placing at a qualifying tournament in Memphis.

Deciding to send Brandon, who had difficulty dealing with large crowds, to an event that attracts tens of thousands was difficult, but the opportunity was too good to pass up, Ms. Earnshaw said.

“I wasn’t thinking along the lines of, ‘Oh, my autistic child gets to go to the nationals,’” she said. “I was thinking, ‘My child is getting to go to the nationals, period,’ because that’s a big event for any child.”

At the first tournament, Brandon competed in the regular division since the family didn’t know about a division for challenged competitors. When he returned last year, he competed in both, Ms. Earnshaw said.

Although Brandon hasn’t received a medal in the regular division, he took home the gold in the handicapped division at last year’s tournament.

From his first awkward moments on the mat, Brandon has made significant progress, according to Mr. Green, owner of Green’s Karate Dojo where Brandon trains.

He now assists Mr. Green by leading warm ups and accomplishes tasks requiring skills that used to be beyond his ability, his mother said.

“He was shooting basketball recently, and he made the shot. I was amazed,” she said. “I have two other children who shoot basketball, and when they make it, I’m not jumping for joy, but with Brandon, that was handeye coordination.”

Just like other youths, there are days when Brandon asks if he can quit karate, but his personality drives him to keep pushing ahead, Mr. Green said.

“This tournament is another chance for him to win that medal,” he said.

But for Brandon, medals and competition are secondary to finding something he can excel in, Ms. Earnshaw said.

“(Medals) are a fringe benefit, but they’re valuable for Brandon because, in the classroom, he’s always at the bottom of the ladder in just about everything he does,” she said. “And with karate, he gets to stand at the top of the ladder.

“That, to me, is the biggest benefit of us doing martial arts because it gives him ... a sense of self-esteem and self-worth,” she said.

E-mail Casey Phillips at


A fund has been set up to help Brandon’s family pay for the plane ticket to the USA National Karate-do Federation championship in Houston. Deposit a donation at a SunTrust Bank in account No. 74212894 under the name “Chattanooga Karate Kid.”