|Meet Dr. Tom Balchin
I am aware
that reading stroke survivors stories is very inspirational. I have always resisted writing
because I have always felt that what I have to say about the recovery of others, and how to help them achieve their goals, is much more relevant
and important. However, at ARNI, we have found that people want to know where some of the major ideas for
our unique programmes have stemmed from. Therefore, below is a brief account of the process
that led to the formation of the Trust.
In 1997 I had a major brain haemorrhage that paralysed the left side of my body. When I came
out of hospital I was still in a wheelchair and weighing roughly 9 stone. There was only one way to go though, and that was
upwards! I was fortunate enough to find an extremely innovative and expert physiotherapist
whose aim was to help me regain self-reliance as quickly as possible. This positive approach
helped me to regain emotional stability, which increased possibilities of physical stabilities,
and was undoubtedly instrumental to my further successes.
Through an innovative combination of movements derived from martial arts, resistance training and many other approaches, I have regained nearly all my functional movement, and continued to perfect it ten years later
using ARNI-developed techniques. During this time I also finished my first
degree and taught for two years in a 5-13 school. I then went on to complete my MA(Ed) and Phd and spent three years as research fellow/lecturer in gifted education at Brunel University, London and then as MA course leader in gifted education at Reading University.
I have completed a major handbook for the field (The Routledge International Companion to Gifted Education) and numerous other books, book chapters and peer-reviewed papers within the advanced learning and neuroscience areas. The latest book series is in preparation, concerning the training of stroke survivors. In conjunction with the day to day running of the ARNI Trust, I am Visiting Lecturer in neurorehabilitation at a number of Universities, mainly at Middlesex University Clinical Exercise Labs. I also sit on a new Section Council (Technology in Medicine) at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) and on the Council of the United Kingdom Rehabilitation Council (UKRC).
I have also become a very serious power-lifter and strength athlete. I am a
BWLA instructor and train many non-stroke trainees to become fit, strong and to put on muscle.
Along with this, I also practised aikido and karate for five years, achieving a brown belt,
and then same in taekwondo and hapkido. Remember, all of this was done whilst working around
the remnants of partial paralysis on one side. Ultimately, in April 2008, I was very proud to be awarded the grade of 3rd Dan by Grand Master Lee (8th Dan), who is the present Head Grand Master of the International Teukgong Moosool Federation. This is the the modern official system of self-defence used by the different teams of the South Korean Special Forces.
The outcome of this transition from my former state has meant that I have had to develop a
huge number of beneficial techniques all designed to restore function in people who have had
paralysis on one side. My strong belief is that knowledge translates to power! And so I have
researched, investigated and evaluated all the strength techniques under the sun that can possibly
of use to me. I have spent years acquiring the necessary knowledge to make myself strong and
cope with life again. Thus I have a great deal to share.
Having been used to driving myself in physical pursuits before my injury, I knew that there
is no magic button that was going to sort me out. Once physiotherapy ran its natural course,
I just went for it. I just took it as read that once out of rehab, it is up to you to take it
further. I have not stopped working and won't stop because I'm getting better all the time applying
the ARNI principles. My methods initially were all based on trial and error with a good dose of intuition, serendipity
and support, which allowed me to take risks and be creative.
However, I realised, a year before the inception of the ARNI Trust in 2001, that there are no real training
methods that are given to stroke survivors out there that actually work. Up to this time, I
had taken no notice of literature dedicated to stroke survivors; preferring instead to do what
I instinctively knew would work for me. However, once I got to the stage that I began wanting
to help others with their injuries and apply the knowledge that I had developed, I began to
notice the number of people who stated that they were stuck 'in limbo' after coming home from
rehabilitation, or had reached a 'plateau' at home with their own efforts.
My first success was a 50 year old in Brighton, four years out from stroke, who asked me to
help him to regain actual movement, function and confidence. This was performed free, to see
what could be done. Over a period of six months, using my own extensive gymnasium incorporating
equipment designed and built by myself for my own recuperation, we worked hard and produced
amazing results in terms of actual movement return from paralysis. In this time, he went from
walking with a stick, to being able to jog.. albeit a bit awkwardly! I began to wonder, from
my successes in assisting others, if I could produce a working structure to help people who
want to make as full recovery as possible and who were willing to explore options, be self-motivated
(click link), persistent and open-minded.
My recuperation was probably unique because I was able to create a strength training programmes
for myself that actually ‘delivered the goods’. From the start, my focus was to
build up my strength because I was very weak. I remember just being able to lift a weightlifting
bar. From there I dedicated myself to becoming strong and now, for instance, I can deadlift
220kg, squat 190 kg and thick-bar press 90 kg overhead for singles. I also squeeze well over
200lb of pressure with each hand (dynometer measure and Captains of Crush gripper no.2 close
6-8 times per hand). Believe it or not, my left hand has gone from nothing to actually being
stronger than my right.
To do this, I not only worked directly on the affected limbs but also realised that success
in this area is also achieved when one works round the paralysis to achieve coping mechanisms.
This involves training the rest of the body, utilising unilateral movements, in order to coax
function back from paralysis (movement after the time you have spent from insult realistically
does not happen immediately). It is important to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments
in order to develop more coping mechanisms which I firmly believe lead to increased function.
This has been done purely through perseverance and most importantly, good whole food. I believe
in good supplementation too; Vit C, glutamine and creatine are useful dietary supplements to
Strength is nothing without application of movement,however. My greatest fortune was that I
was initially able to ally strength training with aikido. Aikido is primarily a martial art,
but is not a ‘hard’ style, rather it is a softer, flowing style. It relies very
much on blending with an attacker’s movements in order to accept their energy and use
it to defeat them. There are a great many skills, techniques and principles to be learned in
aikido; but at its very core is energy and movement. Aikido principles are unique in the fact
that they allow the whole body to attempt movement in natural ways, building the difficulty
level as necessary according to the time you spend doing it. Along with increased movement come
untold benefits in confidence levels allowing one to deal with the disability you have.
The first few months were difficult. I insisted that no quarter should be given to me during
the training. I remember having to learn to forward-roll and backwards-roll, as well as doing
basic four-directional forms. I was tripping over my foot because of foot-drop (I wore no supports),
and there was no way I could allow myself to fall over; the mental blocks were just too strong!
I certainly could not sit in a kneeling position for meditation. However, these and all other
such challenges have all been overcome, providing untold benefits in instinctive body movement.
I found that the more I progressed in strength training, balancing up the strength in my weaker
side the more able I would become at aikido. They definitely complimented each other and, without
the combination of the two, I doubt very much if I would have made the progress in fine motor
movements that I have made up until today. An important qualifier to this is that aikido emphasises
that strength is unimportant; in fact, once strength goes into techniques, the natural energy
and efficacy of the techniques are lost. For those who have lost movement however, my teachers
and I have found that strength plays a significant part in assisting the body to relearn and
further develop physical movement. It is what I like to call ‘meta-change’; consistent
change that builds upon itself.
Of course, with the training comes confidence and strength of mind. It is about covering yourself
with armour really; stroke or comparable injury is so intense and emotionally overwhelming long
after physical movement seems to have returned, that you must do what is in your power to protect
yourself from further damage as you seek to not only regain the life you had, but use the insult
as an opportunity and chance to rise above. Through adversity comes strength.
So successful was my approach to my own rehabilitation that I decided to make it available
to other stroke survivors. With the help and assistance of Dave Waters (Founder and chief instructor
of the Kyudokai Martial Arts Association) the Action for Rehabilitation from Neurological Injury
group was started, dedicated to assisting others in their rehabilitations from the effects of
stroke. Dave has since retired, but the Trust owes him a great debt of gratitude for getting
the Group off the ground, and providing the authority we needed to expand.
I am proud of the way the successes that we have achieved in 9 years. I have been personally
able to help over 500 stroke survivors, and have run countless seminars for instructors. The growing band of skilled Instructors continue to help people
all over the UK.
These Instructors are all experts in physical movement, most are registered with the Register
of Exercise Professionals, and are also either strength athletes or martial artists aswell.
These people been through the comprehensive ARNI Institute Functional Rehabilitation & Exercise Training after Stroke Qualifactionand have had to learn how to take special care of stroke survivors. These are the people to train you. These are the people who will show you how to encourage real plastic change yet understand that it is vital that you also develop some real-life coping
strategies... fast. Don't bother going anywhere else. I firmly believe the concept of ARNI is unique,
and its many successes bear out the necessity for existence.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO WHAT I'VE DONE TO GET BETTER. THE ARNI TRUST INSTRUCTORS ACROSS THE COUNTRY WILL SHOW YOU HOW, AND HELP YOU, TO REHABILITATE YOURSELF TO THE BEST ACHIEVABLE DEGREE.
Please read some of the testimonials
to our work in the Members Page.
Read more in THE SUCCESSFUL STROKE SURVIVOR