From rock bottom to world championships: How jiu-jitsu brought light back to blind warrior’s lifeJune 1, 2023
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When Kadek Artayana steps onto the mat at the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world championships in California in early June, his opponents will have a distinct advantage.
Artayana is completely blind.
The Balinese-born Australian lost the sight in both of his eyes in two separate incidents when he was aged 10 and 20, leading to a life shrouded in darkness.
But there is light for Artayana, and it comes through his coach Mikael Yahaya.
The pair met in 2020 at St Kilda’s Absolute MMA gym, where Yahaya – a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu – is a coach.
Three years later, both are in Long Beach for the world championships, where Yahaya will guide and coach his now blue belt-ranked student from the sidelines.
Kadek Artayana (wearing white) is blind and will compete at the Brazilian jiu jitsu world championships in California.Credit: Instagram/@kp_blindwarrior
“I’m his eyes,” Yahaya said.
“The biggest hurdle for him is the fact that he has to be prepared on all fronts because he’s fighting sighted people.
“Is it nerve-wracking? Absolutely. Before his matches, I’m like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to make sure that I say the right things for him’.”
From Yahaya’s perspective, coaching can be difficult at the best of times, with jiu-jitsu a fast-moving and frantic grappling dance that leaves little room for error.
Kadek Artayana fully lost his vision at the age of 20 and is assisted by a guide dog.Credit: Instagram/@kp_blindwarrior
When your student has zero vision, every word uttered is key.
“If there’s a lot of movement happening, there’s only concepts I can throw out, like make sure you end up on top, you’re winning the armpit space in regards to underhooks, make sure your posture is better than theirs,” said Yahaya.
“But when there’s what I call a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ or a stagnation, I can say he wants to bring his knees to his chest – I want you to try and elongate your opponent, stretch them right out.
“I’ve always been very big with him from the start. I said, ‘We can hope for the best and we can plan for the worst, but I want to let you know, Kadek: nobody wants to lose to a blind guy’.”
Artayana’s journey to the world championships is one in which anguish and self-doubt have given way to an outlook of inspiring children who are also without sight.
He found a community after moving from Perth to Melbourne and discovering the Absolute MMA gym. What struck him was how welcoming Yahaya and his fellow students were.
“I had never seen Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” Artayana said.
“I only wanted to do it just to make friends and a community because I don’t have family or friends.
Kadek Artayana has also competed in the AFL Blind league.Credit: Instagram/@kp_blindwarrior
“Mikael and some other people never treated me different or that I have a disability. Everyone treated me just like just one of them.”
This provided a stark contrast to some bleak days very soon beforehand. In July 2019, eight months before he first walked through the doors of Absolute MMA, Artayana made an attempt to take his own life, as he didn’t want to live with his blindness anymore.
“I thought there was no hope. I didn’t have anybody. I’m totally blind. I lost my career, I lost everything, my friends walked out of my life,” he said.
“Then I heard about Brazilian jiu-jitsu and this gym called Absolute MMA, and it turned out to be just around the corner.
Kadek Artayana with his coach Mikael Yahaya.Credit: Instagram/@mikaelyahaya
“I never thought they would say yes, because I’ve got a disability. Why would a combat sport say yes? But the moment I walked in, they didn’t even hesitate.
“Mikael took on the challenge. Somebody asked: ‘Who wants to train a blind guy?’ And Mikael took it on and from that moment we’ve clicked really well.
“When I met Mikael, him and his people made me feel like I belong.”
Artayana now undertakes public speaking engagements at primary and secondary schools in Melbourne as an advocate for suicide prevention and bettering the mental health of young children.
Kadek Artayana also took part in the 2021 AFL Blind Grand Final.Credit: Daniel Pockett
He found inspiration within his community and believes he can impart the same on those who may have a disability like himself.
“I want to inspire because I am the first person that has a disability from Australia to compete in an able bodied sport like jiu jitsu that’s completely blind,” Artayana said.
“So there’s that little bit of pressure because I want to inspire the next generation of kids who have a disability: ‘If this guy can do it, I can do it too’. That’s my whole purpose of doing this. I want to inspire and look beyond just blind sport or sport with a disability.
“I want these kids to have hope. If you want it, there is a future for you. You have to go work and put yourself out there. Even if you get hurt. You just get back up.”
If you or anyone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 131 114, or beyondblue on 1800 512 348.
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