Leon Lacabanne, Blind Karate Expert

by Robert T Smith (1976)


Leon Lacabanne has accomplished something quite difficult. He’s become a black belt of Karate, the highest belt rating of the art.And he didn’t begin with KarateĀ  until after he became legally blind.Leon, 34, has been a diabetic since early childhood. He was graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota- in math and physics. He became interested in electronics.

Before graduate school, Leon decided to work a bit. He became a lab man for KSTP-TV and installed its first color processing machine and remodeled the police monitoring system and the station’s two-way radio setup. He also held a second job at the university. There he designed two satellite experiments and other lab instrumentation. He also did color processing by instrumentation.

One morning, when he was 23, Leon awoke with a large blank area in his right eye. He could see somewhat around that blank spot, but things were fuzzy and dim. Two months later, the same thing happened to the left eye.

“I was in lousy physical shape and I figured maybe if I’d get into good condition I’d get myeyesight back,” said Leon.

With cane, he went to the Midwest Karate Association and asked if he could enroll. Nobody there laughed or offered him pity. That was 10 years ago and recently he became a black belt.

Leon could absorb the philosophical aspects of Karate, but how could he do the physical self-defense aspect?

“Much of it is a kinetic thing, something you sense or feel,” said Leon. “Often an instructor will show something and then ask: “Did you feel that?” It was slow going.
Instructors would take Leon’s arms and legs and move them in the proper movement for the various moves. “I can see some movement, but if an opponent moves into the blank areas he disappears,” said Leon.

Could he beat a full-sighted black belt karate expert? “Not really,” said Leon. “I could hold my own for a while, but eventually he or she would make a move I cannot follow. But I can handle most of those with belts under black.