Karateka Lachlan Hayward - breaking through barriers

Written by Lachlan Hayward

For some people, it only takes a house move that takes them a little too far from the dojo or a relatively minor injury to make them stop training. For others, like legally blind karateka Lachlan Hayward, seemingly nothing will stop them hitting the mat and making the most out of it, and life. Here, the Ishinryu 2nd Dan Blackbelt reveals what it’s like to be without sight and stay committed to karate.

Lachlan Hayward with instructor Bruce Hyland
Hayward with his sensei, Ishinryu Australia chief instructor Bruce Hyland

I started martial arts in hapkido when I was about seven years old, and at the time I had good enough sight to be able to do the classes without having to worry about it. The training included contact sparring, cat rolls, back rolls and arm-lock drills, but I stopped training in hapkido when I was 10. 

I was 14 when I started karate in July 2008, and my eyesight was okay; I wore glasses. Then, 15 months after I started, I was diagnosed as legally blind. I have a genetic condition that essentially gets worse over time and as I went through puberty, and those natural changes in the body, the decline in my sight was just part of that, unfortunately. My sight has slightly gotten worse over the years, as I have an incurable retinal disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which means that the pigments in my retina — the rods and the cones — have dissolved over time and it’s hard for the light to reflect through my retina into the brain and back out. I currently have 20 per cent of my vision in the left eye and five per cent in my right.

It made things a little more difficult, but I’m the type of person where not much fazes me, unless it’s something quite dramatic. With study and throughout high school it was difficult. It was year nine when I found out about the condition I have, but the school I went to was great — they made sure I had everything I needed to be able to get through school. Getting work has probably been the most difficult thing out of everything, though.

It was annoying at times in karate classes, where I’d have to sit out because I wasn’t able to do things. But over time we’ve learnt how to adapt — not just myself, but everyone in the class over time has learnt to adapt so I’m able to do things in the class. For example, we’d do a drill and I’d go through it quite slowly so that I was able to pick up what the drill was. Then during the course of the night, if we were adding to the drill, we’d start slowly and then get quicker. Also, when I spar now with someone else, they will let me know when they are punching or kicking to help me out there.

Over the years, Sensei Bruce [Hyland, 6th Dan] has also gone from showing what was needed to verbalising it. I’m a quick learner, but for me a verbal cue does help a lot, compared to a visual cue. When I first started, Sensei would give out a lot of visual cues and a lot of the time I’d do something and I could look at the person next to me and realise I’d done the wrong thing. His verbal cues are great now and I am able to pick things up a lot quicker. For example, if we were doing a combination with kicks and punches, if Sensei said something and I wasn’t 100 per cent clear on it, or I did it once and I didn’t think it was right, I’d either ask Sensei if what I was doing was right, or the person next to me — or Sensei would come over and correct me.

My 2nd Dan grading was completely different to my 1st Dan grading. For my 1st Dan grading pretty much from the moment it started it was all go, go, go — 45 minutes, flat out. But for the 2nd Dan grading, because everyone that was going for it either teaches or helps out on the mat, Sensei got everyone up — aside from myself, because I don’t teach — to go through a kata and go through certain things they think are important and note any differences in the teachings. The 1st Dan grading went for 45 minutes and the 2nd Dan went for two hours, so it was mentally draining.

If I’d started karate with the sight I have now, it would have been a lot more difficult, I think. I would have progressed, because I am a quick learner, but I think it’s more about getting used to everybody who trains there and everybody getting used to training with someone that has poor vision.

Lachlan Hayward is a 2nd Dan Black-belt in Ishinryu karate under Ishinryu Australia’s chief instructor, Sensei Bruce Hyland, 6th Dan. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it