The Kajukenbo Kid
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.
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
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