A karate teacher in Saskatchewan has changed the format of his classes to allow people with physical and intellectual disabilities to participate.

“I teach in four other mainstream classes and slowly over time I was getting more and more students with either physical or intellectual disabilities,” Brendan Breen told CTV News Channel from his martial arts studio in the small town of Ituna, Sask. “Word was just kind of spreading that I’m adapting my program for the individual.”

Breen is the founder and CEO of Martial Arts Abilities Canada, which is the first and only registered charity in the country to provide martial arts classes to those with special needs.

“We want people to be included and we want to change the way that people think about karate for those with either intellectual or physical disabilities,” Breen said. “We’re open to all.”

Breen’s teaching is based on a martial arts system developed by the Belgium-based Inclusive Karate Federation.

“The system is unique because it uses coloured armbands, blue on the left and red on the right, and then we put coloured placards on the wall because left and right can be challenging for some people,” Breen explained. “So it just goes by colour and that’s what really makes it unique and different.”

Breen also doesn’t want money to be a barrier to joining his classes.

“The program model is if they can afford to pay a program fee, then great,” he said. “If they can’t, then they’re still welcome. Obviously, we’re hoping that donors and sponsors can come onboard and help us with that, but we don’t want cost to be a barrier to people. I mean, we want students.”

One of Breen’s pupils is Owen Reid, who has cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair to get around.

“It makes me feel happy and overjoyed to be in a class such as Brendan’s and it makes me feel happy to be included,” he told CTV News Channel.

Breen’s classes, Reid said, have led to “great friendships” and make him feel like “a better person.”

“I just want to say that if I can do it, anybody can!” Reid said.

“Traditionally, karate can be seen as very rigid and kind of unforgiving,” Breen added. “For my approach, it’s all about the individual and what they can achieve.”