Martial arts helps children with disabilities

June 11, 2009 11:20:09 AM PDT
Karate is more than kicking. It improves the mind and bodies of children, and that is especially important for kids with disabilities.Karate and other martial arts teach children with disabilities how to focus, concentrate and set goals, while at the same time, to be cool and strong.

North Shore Dojo in Glenview teaches children and teens with and without disabilities.

"When we get these kids in the gym and they all put their karate suits on, they're not that different," said Sensei Jeff Kohn, a sixth degree black belt and founder of North Shore Dojo.

Kohn has been working with children and teens with disabilities for more than 25 years.

"Over the years, I've collaborated with a lot of occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech people and just a lot of great mentors of myself," the sensei said.

"It gives them the opportunity to be in a arena where they can be regular kids, typical kids, but also, it just gives them confidence. And it gives them the ability just to be strong about themselves," said Kohn.

One Kohn's students, 12-yer-old Michael McCarthy, was born with no legs. He has been doing karate for six years.

"I wouldn't go to anyone else except for him because he's helped me a lot, and he's the one who helped me get through this place when I was like?4 or 8 years old," said Michael. "And I keep falling, but he keeps helping me, and we've been best friends ever since I met him."

Michael's mother, Julie, says karate has given her son a new outlook on life.

"He's a very strong child with a lot of determination. What I've seen is karate has really given him an outlet for all of that energy and all of that determination that he has," she said.

North Shore Dojo has 40 kids with disabilities in their program, and they are looking to expand.

"My program is a six-days-a week program, and most of the kids come three days, two or three days a week, and a number of them I teach privately," said Kohn.

Deborah Early's 20-year-old son Michael has multiple disabilities.

"He was born seven weeks early with pneumonia and had brain bleeds and a neurological package resulting from? what it involves [is] vision impairment, learning disabilities, seizure," she said.

However, karate is what the 20-year-old loves the most.

"I think he feels powerful and strong here. I think he has a great relationship with sensei.," Deborah Early said.

Regardless of their limitations, everyone, like 19-year-old Sarah, can achieve their goals.

"I did punch, punch, and I got the blue belt," she said.

North Shore Dojo has set up a foundation called Karate Can Do! to help children with disabilities reach their fullest potential.

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