Coping with his daughter’s mental health condition required strength of a different kind, martial artist Adrian Valman tells Brigit Grant..
Adrian Valman doesn’t scare easily. Although his diminutive size – 5ft – suggests that he would, the 50-year-old former Israeli army soldier can tackle opponents who tower above him. But when Adrian’s 11-year-old daughter, Tiana, started displaying signs of extreme OCD earlier this year, he was terrified.
“She had many different dreadful symptoms – severe OCD being just one of them,” he explains. “We didn’t recognise her as our daughter and my wife and I had absolutely no idea what to do.”
Seeking help at their local hospital – St Mary’s in Paddington – did not improve things, at least not at first as the hospital dismissed the family, deeming Tiana’s condition “non- medical”. “It was awful because we were in a hospital, but still no closer to getting help,” says Adrian, who grew up in Woodford. “Our son has suffered with Crohn’s disease for many years so we are used to being in that medical environment searching for answers, cures and help. But this was entirely different.
There is a stigma surrounding mental illness that makes discussing it taboo, particularly when it effects the young. Getting a diagnosis is very hard and Tiana was no exception.” But help did come.
St Mary’s referred Tiana to the Collingham Collingham Child and Family Centre in Kensington, which is an NHS residential (inpatient) service for children under the age of 13 with complex mental health problems that include emotional, behavioural and psychological difficulties. “We knew we were in the right place as soon as we met service manager Paul Byrne and his team because they understood what we, as parents, were going through,” says Adrian. “The clinic provides intensive assessment of a child and also works with the parents to help them develop a coping mechanism and better understanding.”
“There is a tendency for parents to feel responsible for their child’s condition,“ clarifies Paul. “Parents have hopes and aspirations for their children and when mental illness occurs, it has an enormous impact on their lives, but it is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. Part of our role is to help them handle things in a different way.”
The hardest part of the process for Adrian was leaving his daughter at the centre, as the children live in from Monday to Friday. “It was very stressful having to let her go,” he admits. “But at the time she wasn’t our daughter. We couldn’t cope and we could see her going down a path of self-destruction.”
But the staff at the Collingham – many of whom have been there for more than 20 years – were able to help Tiana, who was an extreme case, but within a few weeks her parents started noticing an improvement in her behaviour. “She was there for three months and is really a lot better,” says Adrian. “She is still on medication and we have to look for warning signs, but we have turned a corner.
“Because of my son, I have given money to Crohns charities for years. But now I want to raise awareness about mental health as well as money for the Collingham, which receives an NHS grant but never really has enough funds to buy all the additional things the children need.” So Adrian is holding a charity event befitting a man who isn’t intimidated by the size of others. As 5th Dan President of the British Kapap Association, he has invited many of the top martial artists in the world to an all-day self defence seminar that is open to the public.
“The seminar was really a result of me posting my concerns about my daughter on Facebook,” says Adrian, who has been teaching self defence for 25 years. “Many of the instructors I know contacted me personally and revealed that they had been through similar experiences with their own children and said they wanted to be involved in an event that would highlight the issues. I was amazed at how many of them said they would come and teach for free.”
Like Krav Maga, Kapap is another Israeli self- defence method and the British Association is now international with Adrian and other instructors coaching police, military, navy, border guards and prison guards around the world.
“At our event, we will have Poland’s most famous martial artist, Stanislaw Majchrzak, who is a 10th Dan president, and Santiago Sacaba, who is a 10th Dan Shorin-Ryu-Karate master and teaches karate to the Japanese.”
Adrian’s list of ex-SAS Jujitsu and Modern Arnis masters is formidable, but he assures interested parties that it will be a fantastic day of learning about self-defence or simply watching.
For Collingham’s Paul Byrne, it is certainly the most unusual fundraising event he has ever been part of. “But I am honoured that Adrian’s experience of our services has made him want to do more for us,” he says.
“All ages and genders can come along and take part or just watch – and they don’t have to donate to the charity, “ adds Adrian. “I just want them to think about mental health momentarily as it can scare even the toughest of men.”
• The British Kapap Association Martial Arts Self-Defence Seminar is on 27 June from 10am to 5pm at Gateway Academy Sports Hall, Capland Street, NW8 8LN. Entrance fee £30.
Email email@example.com to book in advance.