"I guess you could say I've been a fighter since I was born," Jason Davis said. "The doctors told my parents they didn't think I was going to make it."
Growing up with cerebral palsy, Jason says his family always treated him just like his siblings. And he fondly looked up to his older brothers. When they decided to try martial arts, he was right there with them. His parents contacted the school, but without any consideration they wouldn't see past his wheelchair.
"That was the first time I was told no. And I didn't understand," Jason said. "When you are 8 years old, it is a tough thing to understand. But I sort of went on and took it in stride."
But the Pittsford native never stopped dreaming of earning a black belt and decades later contacted Kathleen Maxey-Scarcello, owner of a local martial arts school, asking her to help make his wish come true.
"Jason anything you put your mind to, I know you can do... Never dreaming he was going to show up on my doorstep, because I had a children's program. I didn't teach adults. And I got home and there he was, like, 'OK! I am going to do this!'" Maxey-Scarcello said.
The pair began training and adapting. What he couldn't kick, would be improvised. Almost immediately he noticed improvements in balance, breath control and flexibility. His doctors wanted to put him on relaxers to help continuous muscle spasms in his legs, but he asked them to give the martial arts a chance. Despite initial skepticism, the results were undeniable.
"Jason is basically our shining example of somebody that has been able to use exercise to get away from having to use medications or other interventions," said Dr. Michael Kenosh, Jason's doctor.
Karate chopping his way to better health, Jason wanted to spread the word and started the Adaptive Martial Arts Association. The organization connects disabled students eager to train with martial arts schools that are willing to teach.
The organization went national last year after traveling to the largest martial arts conference in the nation. Maxey-Scarcello says she was amazed at the lines of people at their booth eager to learn more. Since then, the AMAA has placed 35 disabled students into martial arts programs and found 250 schools that will consider adaptive training. Jason says he hopes that no one is denied training, like he was so many years ago. And he hopes to give inspiration to those athletes who don't believe in themselves.
"To say look, this is probably something that you thought you couldn't do, but I am doing it and it is working fantastic for me," he said. "And did you ever think that maybe you could do it too?"
Jason's fight didn't stop him from finding love. His wife, Katie, is right by his side. The sweethearts have been together for 13 years.
And his success is inspiring others across the nation and right here at home. Like Josh Tabor, a visually and hearing impaired student who started training because of Jason.
"I know I've had struggles in the past, but my teammates really helped me out. Because of the help from my teammates I achieved what I needed to achieve and it's been great," Tabor said.
A class full of dedicated students whose punches and kicks may not be traditional, but are definitely breaking barriers, one move at a time.
"If you can see the recurring theme here-- keep telling me I can't and I'll show you I can," Jason said.
Jason Davis hopes to attend the national martial arts conference in July.
For more on Adaptive Martial Arts or Jason's journey:
PO Box 4508