SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The young people who learn martial arts at a studio north of Detroit are not considered students.
Their instructors use a different word.
That's because the techniques these children learn will be used not to take on an opponent from a rival studio but against the deadly diseases that ravage their young bodies and threaten their lives.
Called Kids Kicking Cancer, the Southfield, Michigan-based program helps sick kids learn to use martial arts-style breathing and relaxation techniques to manage stress, anxiety and pain stemming from their illnesses and medical treatments.
It was founded by Elimelech Goldberg, a rabbi and first-degree black belt in the art of Choi Kwang Do. Known to the children as "Rabbi G," Goldberg said he was motivated to start Kids Kicking Cancer by the memory of his daughter Sara, who was diagnosed with leukemia just before her 1st birthday and succumbed to the disease a little more than a year later.
"My daughter, at 2 years old, contributed so much to this planet, because she brought in this light. And now that's the light that I'm privileged to help spread to the rest of the world," Goldberg said before leading a class of 16 preteens and teenagers suffering from cancer, sickle cell anemia and other ailments.
One child in the class of "little heroes," as Goldberg calls them, is Jayson Harris, a 9-year-old from Detroit whose cancer is in remission.
"Being in class is like a second family to me," Jayson said shortly before taking his spot on the mat and driving his fist into a striking pad held by instructor Michael Hunt.
The training also is designed to teach the kids to take control of their situations. Or as Goldberg says, to teach them to be victors instead of victims.
Hunt, 27, was the latter when he joined Goldberg's first class in 1999. He had already undergone a year of chemotherapy to treat a cancer of the muscles known as rhabdomyosarcoma, as well as having four ribs and a tumor removed from his side. Hunt later had two steel rods surgically implanted on either side of his spine.
Now, he certainly is the former.
Being a part of Kids Kicking Cancer allowed him to cut down on the medications he had been taking to manage the pain, and as a trainer he is an ever-present reminder to enrollees that the program can help.
"I'll tell them my story, and they're like, `Oh, OK. Now, I know I can do it,'" Hunt said.