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New Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program strives to empower NH youth with disabilities, special needs

Manchester Police Athletic League

This summer, kids and adults with autism and Down syndrome can take part in a new program promoted by the Manchester Police Department: free Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes in a safe and supportive environment.

Manchester Detective David Lisboa is the instructor. He’s originally from Brazil and works in the domestic violence and sexual assault investigation unit. As a kid, he ventured into martial arts and has experience working with people with high-functioning autism.

A similar program in Rio de Janeiro inspired Lisboa to open one in New Hampshire. He runs the program with his wife, a special educator. Both are doing this job as volunteers.

He says there are very few programs like this in New England.

Lisboa says jiu-jitsu is known for its focus on technique and leverage rather than physical strength, which is beneficial for people in wheelchairs too. He says the moment people with disabilities step onto the mat, they experience a transformation.

“It is amazing the impact it has on their personality and just on their overall behavior,” he said. “Every time they push themselves, they grow mentally, physically, and spiritually.”

The curriculum will consider each person's unique needs, abilities and will advance at the participant’s pace. Participants do not need any previous experience.

The program also aims to create a family support system and provide a meeting space to create friendships. To ensure the program reaches those who can benefit most, he is spreading the word in the Manchester School District and on Instagram, but he hopes people from all towns sign up.

“This is a program for every kid who doesn’t have the opportunity to join a membership in the gym financially,” he said.

Classes will take place every Saturday at the Manchester Police Athletic League.

You can contact Detective David Lisboa at:

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.
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