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The Kajukenbo Kid

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'Any One of These Kids Can Fight' continued...

"We didn't want to come here and say, 'Let's teach a special class to these children," says chief instructor Mike Stempf, a fourth-degree black belt. "Any one of these kids can fight."

About 10,000 babies born each year in the U.S. will develop cerebral palsy, according to the CDC. It is caused by injuries to the brain during fetal development or at the time of birth. Individuals with cerebral palsy can suffer from loss of movement, hearing, or vision, difficulty with speech, and seizures. Symptoms usually develop before the age 2 and may appear as early as three months. Some may experience mental disabilities, while others suffer none at all.

A Step Toward Independence

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, and there's no research that shows martial arts, specifically, is helpful for patients. But exercise is just as important -- if not more so -- for people with cerebral palsy as for those without it, Brunstrom says.

"Anything you can do to get them moving is one more step toward independence," says Brunstrom, director of the Pediatric Neurology Cerebral Palsy Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "That is really the mission -- to help these kids to grow to be independent, so they can do anything they want in their lives."

Rebecca Lamers has been in therapy since she was 2. She tried a variety of classes like horsemanship therapy to keep her active, but nothing held her interest. Kajukenbo is the first class that Rebecca actually looks forward to and has benefited her, as well, her mother says. When Rebecca began class three years ago, she stood using a cane. Now the 20-year old stands alone, is an orange belt, and can throw repeated punches. She uses two canes to walk, but none to fight.

"Therapy is boring, and it hurts," her mother, Linda Lamers says. "This keeps their minds off what they are doing. She now stands on her own. She feels so confident, and I feel confident about her going places" on her own.

The Fighters With Courage and Power program began in the summer of 1998 with five children. It has grown to include more than 60 ranging in ages from 8 to 21. Each student has his or her own success story, Brunstrom says. Children who couldn't get out of their wheelchairs can sit on back-less benches. Others who need canes for stabilizing, can punch without stumbling. Those who were dependent on their parents, now work well with others.

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