Mr. Norris, being a martial arts expert, have you heard how they are helping kids to fight cancer, even in certain hospitals? My child is one of them, and I can’t tell you how it’s helping. – Joe C. in Michigan
Of course, no one has to convince me of the power of a disciplined mind and body through the martial arts. That’s why, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush helped me start KickStart Kids, which is my martial arts foundation and program offered in middle schools across Texas in lieu of their physical education program. It builds up not only their self-esteem and stamina but also their self-discipline.
Joe, you’re absolutely right. In recent years, martial art disciplines have even branched out to help cancer patients.
One great example of that is the program Kids Kicking Cancer, a nonprofit organization founded by Elimelech Goldberg, a rabbi who holds a first-degree black belt in the Korean art of choi kwang do. Goldberg is also a clinical assistant professor in the pediatrics department at Wayne State University Medical School.
However, what uniquely qualifies Goldberg is his empathy. He lost his own 2-year-old daughter, Sara, to leukemia in 1983.
After serving for 12 years as the director of a New York-based summer camp for children with cancer, he created the KKC program in 1999 in loving memory of Sara and her courageous battle. To the students in KKC, Goldberg is known simply and endearingly as Rabbi G.
Just this past week, Goldberg reflected on the origin of KKC on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Referring to a young cancer patient who was having to be held down during treatment, Goldberg said: “I explained to this little boy (that) in the martial arts, you learn that pain is a message. You don’t have to listen.”
From there, Goldberg taught the boy how to breathe so that pain isn’t his focus. He explained to the boy, “Watch me.”
He told “GMA”: “Five minutes later, this boy was doing a simple tai chi breathing technique. Twenty minutes later, they pulled out the needle, and the boy looked up at the nurse and said, ‘Did you do it yet?’ And that’s when Kids Kicking Cancer was born.”
ABC notes that KKC is “operating in nearly one dozen cities around the world and has helped more than 5,000 kids breathe, kick and punch their way to overcoming the pain and anxiety that goes along with having cancer.”
According to KKC’s website, the program “helps children with cancer manage the stress and pain of their disease and treatments through personalized coachings instructed by black belt martial artists.” The organization’s mission is “to ease the pain of very sick children while empowering them to heal physically, spiritually and emotionally. We emphasize relaxation and mental imagery, and skill each student according to his or her capabilities to engage in breathing, meditation and active karate exercises.”
Breathing techniques are a part of meditative practices. Meditation and prayer are spiritual practices, but they are also holistic practices that affect both mind and body. They call us to center ourselves and our focus on what is good, right, helpful, peaceful, etc. They call us to focus upon things greater than ourselves or our condition, such as God and our healing, and, as a result, obtain a higher status of well-being. As a Christian, my meditation incorporates reflecting upon the Scriptures and what they say for my life.
By no means do we martial arts experts believe breathing, meditation or positive thinking alone can independently heal, but we know they help. At the very least, especially when people face grave adverse conditions, they are colossal contributors to their well-being, the healing process and survival spirit.
Considering the power of the mind alone, the Mayo Clinic notes that the health benefits that positive thinking and optimism may provide include:
“Increased life span.
“Lower rates of depression.
“Lower levels of distress.
“Greater resistance to the common cold.
“Better psychological and physical well-being.
“Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
“Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.”
In the August edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers reviewed 16 studies spanning 30 years that examined patients’ attitudes toward health. They collectively pointed to the conclusion that an optimistic attitude can do wonders for healing and recovery.
Donald Cole, senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, explained: “In each case, the better a patient’s expectations about how they would do after surgery or some health procedure the better they did. … Less pain (after surgery) was directly associated with better expectations, positive expectations.”
NBC News’ chief medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, deduced, “This mind-body connection that we have been toying with for the past couple of decades really does have hard science behind it.”
Snyderman concluded: “You can’t blame people for their diseases. But how you go through your life with the grit and determination to make it through – that you do have control over. And that makes a difference.”