Martial Arts Therapy: Using Tae Kwon Do to Beat Illness – Part 1

Many people are aware of the benefits that martial arts training can have in providing a greater level of self-defense proficiency and self-confidence – what is less well-known is the way in which martial arts programs can significantly benefit those suffering with physical and mental illnesses. Martial arts are being increasingly used as an alternative or complementary therapy to people who unfortunately suffer from a wide array of physical and mental ailments, in what has become known as “martial arts therapy”.

One of the martial arts at the forefront of martial arts therapy is Tae Kwon Do, and at our school, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide help to those who need it most. To see how our world-class martial arts training can help you or your loved ones who suffer from a physical or mental health illness, you can contact us here.

With martial arts therapy in mind, we thought the best way to show how martial arts can help those suffering from physical or mental illnesses was to ask one of our students. Sarah very kindly agreed to talk about her journey in remedial martial arts. In the first of two installments of her Q&A, here’s what she had to say:

Q. How did you first get into martial arts?

A. I first saw Master Scarsella’s World Class Tae Kwon Do at a booth at my boys Renaissance Faire at their school. I didn’t get a chance to sign up the boys that night, but I made a mental note to call.  At first, I just signed up my two boys who were in 3rd and 5th grade at the time. My boys asked in the beginning, “Mom, will you do it too?” I told them no for a couple of weeks, but then I saw just how much fun they were having in class and I thought, “I can do this.” 

I asked Master Scarsella and Miss Jessica to help me keep it a secret and began going to the adult class in the middle of the day while they were in school. At their first testing, I brought them in to practice beforehand and slipped away to change and surprised them by testing with them for that first belt.  We have been testing together ever since. I guess I would have to say a whim brought me to TKD.

Q. Were you enrolled in classes before or after you received your diagnosis?

A. I was diagnosed with breast cancer after I began TKD. I was devastated. I loved Tae Kwon Do. I got my results the day before we tested for red belt in February of 2018.  I tested with my boys and I was thinking the whole time, “This is it, I’m done.” Following that test, I started the many doctor’s appointments that go along with a cancer diagnosis. I heard you will be sick, weak, and tired so many times. It was almost a challenge at that point. I told Miss Jessica and asked her if they would care if I showed up in a bandana.

After my first treatment, I kind of took it slow.  However, I then realized I could do this. I looked forward to class. It was a time when I was a normal person, not a sick person. I wanted to keep up with my boys and I just needed that time to clear my mind of everything else and focus on one thing – Tae Kwon Do.

Q. How did participation in martial arts classes help you in dealing with your diagnosis?

A. Tae Kwon Do classes were beneficial in several different ways. They helped with my anger, my need to feel and show strength, and my nutrition. In the beginning, after the initial shock wore off, I was angry. I did the whole “why me?” stage. Mentally I could feel the defeat and I didn’t like myself for that.  Coming to class and smashing targets, either by kick or punch, was instrumental to my mental attitude. Having an outlet for those feelings made me feel lighter, calmer, and happier. I believe this helped me maintain a better attitude throughout this journey.

It was very important to me to show strength to my two boys. Not only because it reassured them I was ok and working on getting better, but to show them strength is available no matter what circumstances you are facing. Feeling strong carries you from treatment to treatment to class.  Sitting in a chair for 7 hours hooked up to an IV pole can drive you to crazy town, so going to class and giving 100% in a physically demanding sport multiple times a week gave me that feeling of strength, and told me, “I can do this.”

The physical demands helped my nutrition solely by making me hungry – hahaha! It is widely documented how chemotherapy is awful on your digestive system. Not wanting food, suffering from nausea, and having what you do eat tasting awful makes many cancer patients lose weight and become weak. I knew I had to eat to stay strong and be able to keep up my treatment, be a mom, wife, and friend, and perform in class, so the exercise made it a little easier to eat when I needed to eat.

Q. Did martial arts help you in ways that no other outlet could? If so, please explain how?

A. Yes, I believe Tae Kwon Do helped me in ways no other outlet could.  Everywhere I turned someone was there asking and wanting to help. Do not misunderstand, I was very appreciative of every offer given or meal for my family when it was just easier to eat the food without having to cook it. I was more than appreciative – I was really humbled at all the wonderful people that surrounded my family and I. However, I needed moments where Sarah was just Sarah. I could go to class and get partnered up, do everything everyone else was doing, working to help my partner and to improve my own techniques and curriculum. These moments helped me stay sane.  No one staring at the “woman in the scarf” trying to figure out if it was fashion or illness. No sympathetic glances in stores… just me doing what I like to do with others who feel the same way – enjoying Tae Kwon Do.

In our next post, we will hear more from Sarah about her inspirational journey, and how Tae Kwon Do helped her to regain self-confidence and self-control of her life after her diagnosis. What’s clear from her story is that martial arts therapy can have huge benefits for people suffering from physical and mental illnesses, and at our school, we take a great deal of pride in being able to provide this for our students.

Martial arts training is not just for learning self-defense – the discipline, dedication, and hard-work that is required to learn Tae Kwon Do is just as useful outside the classroom as it is inside. The skills we teach have a wide range of applications in everyday life, and as you can see from Sarah’s story, can help someone to overcome the worst that life can throw at you. To start your Tae Kwon Do journey, simply get in touch with us today. We offer a range of classes for all ages and abilities, and taking part in the world’s premier martial arts offers countless benefits to all our students. You can learn more here.

Martial Arts Therapy: Using Tae Kwon Do to Beat Illness - Part 1

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!