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The Kajukenbo Kid

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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.

Going Global

Brunstrom and the instructors from Gateway are developing a video series, instructor programs, and manuals to take to other cerebral palsy organizations. The group, including about half a dozen students, parents, instructors, and volunteers, will be providing doctors from around the world with a demonstration this summer at the 5th International Congress on Cerebral Palsy, which will take place in Slovenia.

"As soon as they start doing this, they forget about balance and let their bodies take over. We never tell these kids they can't," Stempf says. "It's not about size. It's about knowing the techniques."

Nine-year-old April Lohrmann is the youngest in the class. With a yellow belt around her black-clad waist and a scrunchy in her hair to match, she punches with vigor as her Madeline doll keeps watch. By the time she is 12, April, who wears braces on both legs, hopes to be a black belt.

"It's fun," she says. "And I can beat up on my dad."

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