Martial Arts Therapy: Using Tae Kwon Do to Beat Illness – Part 2

In our last post, we looked at the ways in which martial arts can be used as an alternative or complementary therapy for those suffering with a physical or mental illness – and today, we’re continuing in the same theme. For those suffering with a physical or mental illness, the idea of taking up a martial art may seem counter-intuitive. We may ask ourselves: “if I am ill, then should I be resting?”

Not necessarily. Challenging yourself in a discipline that hones your physical and mental capabilities may just be the route to overcoming your issue. A martial art such as Tae Kwon Do not only keeps you fit and active, but it also helps to nurture your self-confidence, self-discipline, and provides a great way to socialize and co-operate with your fellow students. Tae Kwon Do teaches that whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve – a principle that is invaluable when life seems to be at its worst. Our World Class Tae Kwon Do training can help you to learn all these skills – contact us today to learn more.

Our last post featured a Q&A with one of our students, Sarah, who found that our training program helped her to deal with her breast cancer diagnosis. Today we’re finishing up our interview with her, and hopefully the remedial benefits of martial arts will be clear to see. Here’s what she had to say:

Q. Martial arts therapy is usage of martial arts as an alternative or complementary therapy for illnesses and disorders. Would you say martial arts played this role in your recovery? If so, how?

A. I do believe Tae Kwon Do is an alternative therapy for many illnesses and disorders.  It is a sport that really emphasizes not just physical fitness, but the mental aspects of health too. We learn so many things besides form and self-defense in class. We reflect on them when we test for belts. I have to say that I used a great deal of what I practiced in class in my journey of cancer treatment. I took all those words seriously, but never really thought about how I used them until your question. 

I had to use my focus to get as much knowledge about my type and stage of cancer so I would make educated decisions for my care. I set certain goals for myself during treatment. I knew getting to class was good for me, so I set the goal and did it. I needed to have certain habits to keep up my blood cell counts so I made them habits. I used my cooperation when I was in a room with five doctors all saying different stuff (my self-control worked in overdrive during these times as well). I made myself responsible to eat even when I didn’t want to, and rest when I knew I couldn’t keep going. Each little step gave me a feeling of confidence I am forever grateful for having. So yes, definitely, Tae Kwon Do helped me through this journey.

Q. Master Scarsella mentioned that you tested outstanding in the dojang while undergoing chemotherapy treatment – an incredible achievement and display of strength and character. What helped you maintain such dedication and focus throughout training?

A. First and foremost, my boys did. I started with them and I wanted to “finish” with them. I decided that cancer wasn’t going to take this moment from us. You can go to the beach the next year or set off fireworks another time. You test for Black Belt once, and I wanted that moment with them. When you aren’t promised a lifetime, these moments become incredible moments. That being said, Master Scarsella and his staff gave me the support that I needed to get there. Extra time before or after class, encouragement on those days I know they could read “defeat” in my body language. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the atmosphere inside the dojang – it radiates from every area. Amongst the instructors, the staff, Master Scarsella, Miss Jessica, your classmates, the atmosphere surrounds you and really lifts you up. Not something you will necessarily find in other “fitness” type businesses.

Q. With your diagnosis, there must have been daily mental hurdles as well as physical ones. How did martial arts training help you overcome these, if at all?

A. Forms and self-defense change with belts, except for 1st Dan Black Belt, which focuses on 2 forms where you must work to improve those forms for each level testing. One aspect of receiving chemotherapy that isn’t particularly well known is what we hatefully call “chemo brain.” It is almost like a thick fog. Names, lists, what you are doing, the order of things, lots of different things just become so much harder. I was good at math, could do it in my head no problem – now I am slower and sometimes I just say “calculator please,” or ask one of the boys. I have heard many say, I am like that normally. 😉 You can’t really describe it. Memory games and sequencing games are recommended to help reverse some of the effects of chemotherapy. Memorizing forms and the sequencing of self-defense has helped a great deal in my recovery.

Q. One of the many benefits of taking part in martial arts is the tight-knit social community designed to help each student gradually increase their capacity to handle challenges and obstacles. Can you explain a little about how this worked for you?

A. Well, this is a tough one. We are a community. We encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and support one another when things outside of class arise. We are not a perfect group of people. You have those you just instantly click with and others you have to warm up to in every class and level. You learn adaptability – I think that is an important skill for children to adults. Not every situation in your life is going to be ideal, and honestly, most of them are not. The ability to adapt yourself to make the best of the situation you are in is an incredibly valuable tool. I had to adapt to a complete lifestyle change. I think learning from those in our TKD community helped me be able to make those adjustments.

Q. Do you have any words of wisdom for any readers battling an illness or disorder?

A. Not sure they are wise words, but do what you can, then do what you must, then do something you think you can’t every day. Be it a new technique, or even as small as walking a mile. Every time you do something that you think you can’t do, whether you succeed or not, builds your confidence to go out and try more.

A big thank you to Sarah for sharing her story! Unfortunately, she is just one of many people that will suffer from a serious illness, but the inspirational way in which she has made the best out of her situation can be a good life lesson for us all. What’s more, the way in which Tae Kwon Do has helped her take back control of her life is a prime example of the benefits of martial arts therapy.

Not only does martial arts therapy aid in keeping you physically fit, it can also help to keep your mental faculties in working order. As we’ve heard from Sarah, the mental self-discipline that is required in Tae Kwon Do helped her to alleviate some of the effects of her chemotherapy. All in all, when you feel at your lowest, taking up a martial art may just be the best thing you can do – to see how our World Class Tae Kwon Do training can help you or your loved ones cope with a physical or mental illness, contact us today.

Martial Arts Therapy: Using Tae Kwon Do to Beat Illness - Part 2

About the Author

Master Justin Scarsella has been teaching with his team of talented instructors in Birmingham since 2004, and World Class Tae Kwon Do Schools have been operating across the country since 1983! Their top-rated instruction methods, along with the time and care dedicated to each student’s needs and abilities, have seen him receive glowing reviews throughout his career. He now has two locations in the Hoover and Birmingham areas, and his classes cater to all ages, aged 4 and up – even families can take part together!