Wheelchair workout

Martial artist teaches a different kind of self-defense

by Courtney Price

Matt Sredzinski, right, has been training Corey Royal to defend himself from his wheelchair.

Life is full of challenges, often unexpected. But not all challenges are bad for us.

That’s the way Matt Sredzinski, owner of The Rock MMA & Fitness Center, looks at his most recent challenge: teaching self-defense from a wheelchair.
Twice a week, Corey Royal, who has spina bifida, comes to Sredzinski to learn to defend himself while seated.

“It’s a new challenge for me, and I like it,” Sredzinski said. “In reality, he’s teaching me as much as I’m teaching him.”

Spina bifida occurs when the spine is not completely or correctly formed in the womb. Its effects differ depending on what part of the spinal cord is damaged. Some people with spina bifida can be severely paralyzed, while others are able to walk unaided.

Royal, a 26-year-old Troutman resident, approached Sredzinski after he heard about The Rock’s custom workouts. But training a student in a wheelchair was completely new to Sredzinski.

“Well I had a spare wheelchair,” Royal said, “and he wanted to borrow one so he could understand where I’m coming from, in terms of what I can do in a wheelchair that’s different than what he can do.”

Sredzinski started by showing Royal how to block – which is how he starts training all of his students.

“You can know a ton of moves, but if you’re knocked out, you can’t use them,” Sredzinski said. He developed a way for Royal to block while sitting, and then showed him how to capture an attacker or put them in a submissive position. He’s even developed a good way to complete a choke hold from the chair.

“He’s an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter,” Royal said, “so he’s teaching me moves – self-defense moves – punches and blocks. It’s amazing. He started working with the other wheelchair, understanding things I can and cannot do.”

Sredzinski tried out different moves he’s comfortable with, but he tried them in a wheelchair to know what motions work and which ones don’t.

“When you talk to someone like Corey, you start to appreciate the little things,” Sredzinski said, like being able to dig in to throw a punch.

He’s learned the wheelchair offers an advantage for some moves best executed close to an opponent.

“We’re kind of learning off of each other,” Royal said. “That way I can understand what he’s trying to teach me and then do it my way instead of the way he knows how to do it.”

Sredzinski opened The Rock at 14125 Statesville Road in February, after moving from Michigan to the Charlotte area with his fiancée Deanna Watts and their children, Stella and Hunter.

His work with Royal has focused on protection, but teaching Royal awareness has been just as important.

“The worst part about this is that there are some people who would attack someone in a wheelchair,” Sredzinski said. “I like to pride myself on customizing to each individual,” which is why he’s been so eager to train Royal.

“I was just looking to get back in shape. I used to be in shape, but I had surgeries and they slowed me down a little,” Royal said. “I feel a lot stronger because of it, and I feel great working out with him. He’s doing a real good job with it.”

Sredzinski said he hopes to be able to expand his work to help more people with disabilities. He has been in contact with Rehab Solutions of Charlotte, which asked him to teach self-defense to people with limited mobility.

“I’d like to be able to train someone who’s blind to defend through feeling,” Sredzinski said.

For now, though, he’s focused on helping Royal achieve his personal goals.

“If you have a heart like that young man, you can do anything,” Sredzinski said.

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