Traumatic Brain Injury Doesn’t Stop the Warrior’s Spirit

It’s not uncommon to find Danny Trujillo, head instructor and owner of Chozen Martial Arts Academy, holding pads and focus mitts, calling out combinations of punches and kicks. It’s the same thing he does on most days for most students.

But on this day, his student Matthew was punching and kicking not from a standard fighter’s stance, but seated in a wheelchair.

At 18 years old, Matthew Hernandez became one of Danny’s students. His passion for martial arts was exceptional. Matthew achieved his 3rd degree black belt, became an instructor, and performed in many competitions. All was going as well as could be, until Christmas Day of 2008.

Matthew, his wife, and their two sons were on their way to family to celebrate the holiday when they were involved in an automobile accident. While his wife and boys fully recovered from their injuries, Matthew was not as fortunate.

Having sustained major trauma to multiple parts of his body including his skull, Matthew’s doctors put him into a medically-induced coma. After several weeks, Matthew pulled through, left the hospital, and started the next phase of his life.

For the first couple of years his recovery was centered around physical therapy, additional surgeries, and relearning the basics of day-to-day living. Throughout the process, Danny remained close, helping Matthew and his family in any way he could.

Then, when he felt his student was ready, the teacher asked a question, “Matt, do you wanna get back into the dojo?”

Matthew replied, “Yeah.”

Because Matthew’s mobility was significantly limited with his wheelchair, Danny modified his training, getting constant feedback to make sure he wasn’t pushing Matthew too hard physically. After months of hard work Danny awarded Matthew with an honorary 4th degree black belt.

Aside from continuing his own recovery, Matthew wants to be an inspiration for others. He shares, “Yes, I might use a wheelchair. I may not talk that great. But that still doesn’t stop me. I don’t give up, and you shouldn’t either.”

Almost 5 years to the day of Matthew’s accident, Danny and Matthew took on their next milestone, performing on stage at the studio’s annual Black Belt Extravaganza.

Coach and student took their place in front of a packed auditorium. From his wheelchair, Matthew punched and kicked his way through his demonstration, including a fight choreography finale with the studio’s other instructors. At the end, as the audience stood roaring with applause, teacher and student took their bow.

Now, only 10 years after his life-changing accident, Matthew has started training in Brazilian jiu jitsu and is preparing to compete in an upcoming tournament in Long Beach.

Danny and Matthew demonstrate that regardless of your circumstances, with a warrior’s spirit, faith, and a caring coach, everything is possible.

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