It is unusual to hear a chorus of screams in a children’s ward. But that’s exactly what happens in hospitals in South Africa when kids learn karate. Kids Kicking Cancer is an organization that supports children in their treatment by coaching them in martial arts. Sensei Ilze van der Merwe is an instructor based in the Western Cape where she empowers children with cancer and chronic diseases to fight back against disease.
Cancer treatment can be grueling and often takes an extreme toll on patients, both physically and mentally. “The road to health often requires painful treatments,” says Van Der Merwe. Between surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and medication, it can cause children to lose their childhood. But in the weekly karate classes, they learn the basics of the martial art along with breathing and meditation techniques. “These exercises that we teach the kids can ease the pain by breathing in all the good things, the light,” says Van Der Merwe. “The exhalation represents pushing away that pain, fear, and frustration.”
Kids Kicking Cancer focuses on three core values: peace, strength and purpose. Van Der Merwe enables children to cope with the stress of illness and build their resilience. “Martial arts empower children to fight back and feel like winners of their disease rather than victims,” she says. “When children are empowered, they feel they can conquer anything.” Through karate they offer children the space and freedom to live after their illness.