Kids with special needs gain confidence in karate class

Sensei Ricky Spritz, 35, has taught karate to special-needs children for more than 15 years.

“Ultimately what I hope kids get out of my class is a tool for life,” Spritz said. “I hope that they can take all these skills that they learn in my class-whether it be strength training, leadership, focus, confidence-and transfer it to their everyday lives.”

When did you start working with special-needs children?

I actually started teaching my first special-needs kid at the age of 16. It was probably one of the more challenging aspects of teaching. And my sensei, my teacher, used to make me work with kids with special needs to help me be a better teacher in general-to develop patience-because if you can have patience with a kid with issues, you can have patience with just about anyone.

Why did you decide to start your own karate class for special-needs children?

I started working first with elite athletes, and one of the days that I had a class with all athletes a mom brought in a sibling with special needs. I let him do the class and I said, ‘Hey this could be something different. Why not have a class for athletes and kids with disabilities?’ It just grew from there, and now there are 10 kids in the class. There are mainstream kids and kids with disabilities.


All children are welcome to enroll in Spritz’s class.

  • WHEN: Sundays, 11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • WHERE: Glencoe Community Center
  • COST: per family

For additional information call Spritz at 773-203-4288 or visit the Web site

How does a typical class run?

A typical class runs where all the kids bow-in. The first thing we do in any martial arts class is we bow. It is very similar to a handshake. It’s sort of a respect thing that we have for each other. Then we go into a slight warm-up to get the heart rate going. We stretch, do strength training with rubber bands, plyometrics (exercise involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles to increase muscle power), jumping, coordination and balance training. I pretty much run the class almost identically to working with a kid that’s training to be a professional athlete or an Olympic athlete. The class is just tailored to their needs.

How do the students react to your instruction?

The kids sort of react well to me. And it’s kind of hard because most students at that age, with special needs, are used to taking authority from their parents and maybe an occupational therapist. It’s nice to get them out of their comfort zone, and I actually get respect from the kids. You know, I walk in there with the shaved head and I think they’re a little intimidated of me as it is. So I have them run the class and it teaches them to accept leadership from their peers and learn how to take criticism from people other than typical authority figures.

What do the students get out of the karate class?

For these kids it’s building self-confidence and leadership. Most of these kids were diagnosed with low tone. They don’t have the same muscles and aren’t as developed as other kids their same age. They’re not the kids doing soccer, baseball, football, and basketball. This class is a positive environment for them to succeed in.

What do you get out of teaching karate to special-needs children?

It really balances me out. Every special needs kid that I work with, every one that I can make a difference in their life; it sort of fills me up. It’s not like a job that at the end of the day you feel depleted. It really feels good to give back and to really see the kids learn.


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