Karate can help kids kick cancer pain, study finds

Posted at 4:25 PM, Jul 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-16 16:25:25-04

DETROIT, M.I. – For years, a Michigan rabbi has been teaching karate to children battling cancer – and his pain-fighting techniques are working, according to a new study.

‘Rabbi G,’ whose full name is Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, started Kids Kicking Cancer in 1999 and has been instructing young patients in the ways of martial arts, meditation and breathing exercises ever since.

It was a personal tragedy though that brought him into the medical world. More than 30 years ago, his first daughter, Sara, passed away from leukemia.

“Our little daughter was an amazing superhero, who at two years old would tell the doctors in the hospital, no medication today please, or tell the five-year-old kids in the clinic, don’t cry,” he told WPIX in a 2015 interview.

Watch Kids Kicking Cancer in action (aired December 11, 2015):

The organization says it helps over 3,000 around the globe through programs in Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, California, Canada, Italy and Israel.

A new study from Wayne State University School of Medicine found that Kids Kicking Cancer was effective for the vast majority of patients they studied.

"The martial arts have often been known to be invested in Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee types of activities," said Dr. Martin Bluth of the Wayne State University School of Medicine. "So what we did is assess whether or not martial arts intervention using the meditative capacities and empowerment capacities ... can have an effect on moderating or reducing childhood cancer pain."

The research team worked with 64 children of varying ages to test their pain levels before, during and after their martial arts training.

The study found that 85 percent of the students reported feeling less pain, thanks to Rabbi G's method.

According to the research, older children – who are usually less likely to open up about what they are feeling – and those experiencing higher levels of pain reported the most benefit.

Bluth said the study shows that martial arts can have a "profound effect" on the pain felt by children recovering from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Unlike so many other pain management programs, there are no drugs involved.

There may now be data to back Kids Kicking Cancer, but, for Rabbi G, the evidence has always been clear.

“It takes five minutes to make these kids laugh and they just become children again,” he said.  "Letting the children feel that spirit, giving them that power, breaking through the darkness, changes everything for the child.”