Childhood Cancer

Kids Kicking Cancer

September 30, 2019 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Sensei Ilze van der Merwe tells us how Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) is giving hope and strength to childhood cancer patients and their families.

Origin of KKC

Kids Kicking Cancer was founded, in 1999, by Elimelech Goldberg, a black belt karate instructor and clinical assistant professor of paediatrics at Wayne State University in Michigan, USA. 

The program is now running in over 60 hospitals, across five countries, and has positively impacted the lives of more than 6 000 children and their families, as well as the healthcare professionals treating them.

How does KKC help children?

KKC is designed to empower and uplift children who are battling cancer, or suffering from chronic diseases that cause them significant pain and discomfort. 

Through the practice of martial arts and breathing techniques, the programme brings about a sense of power, peace and purpose into their young, yet challenging lives.

The program provides tremendous psychosocial support. Importantly, it requires no additional infrastructure, technology or personnel in terms of administrative or nursing assistance. 

Powerful words

While practising fun kicks and punches, we focus on teaching children three powerful words: 

1. Power – They are powerful and their true power lies within them. They can take control of their bodies and their illness, by breathing in the “light” and blowing out the “darkness”. We teach them to be victors of their journey and not victims. 

2. Peace – The deep-breathing techniques empower them with a sense of calmness when they undergo painful and lengthy treatments, that sometimes require countless injections, and comes  with pain, fear and frustration. 

The breathing techniques releases endorphins and sends oxygen to the brain, assisting in calming the body before procedures, which enables them to tackle these medical procedures with a sense of being in control and calm. It also substantially reduces their fear and pain. 

3. Purpose – When they see that the breathing helps them, we teach them that they have a purpose to teach the world. They too can make a difference in other children’s lives, by teaching them how to take control over what life brings across their path.

KKC in South Africa

With the rising burden of disease amongst children in SA and the challenges faced in the delivery of healthcare, KKC is ideally placed to support children, their families and their caregivers during their treatment process. 

The program is delivered free of charge in either the outpatient facilities at hospitals, or in the wards for children who are in-patients. Family members and siblings visiting the hospitals are welcome to join.

Each martial arts therapist needs to undergo intense training at the KKC headquarters at Wayne State University for a week and complete a fully online course. Once completed, they undergo hands-on training at the hospitals. 

Once marked as “fit and proper”, they are chosen as instructors. 

Sensei Moses Sebopa heads up the coordination of KKC in Johannesburg and Pretoria and assists with the coordination of the African roll-out along with Sensei Su Dal Col. 

I head up the Western Cape coordination and manage the program administration and South African roll-outs. 

The hospitals KKC are currently serving:

Cape Town

  • The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital
  • Groote Schuur Hospital
  • Tygerberg Hospital
  • Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital


  • Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital
  • Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre


  • Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital


  • Steve Biko Academic Hospital
  • Netcare Unitas Hospital
  • Dr George Mukari Academic Hospital

There are plans to spread our wings to East London, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana.

Our aim is to reach as many public and private hospitals as possible, across South Africa and Africa. So, we can bring joy, comfort, empowerment, pain relief and control into the lives of these children. KKC relies on donations to reaching more hospitals and children. 

Ilze van der Merwe

MEET OUR EXPERT  – Ilze van der Merwe

Ilze van der Merwe is a 4th Dan black belt Sensei and head instructor of two dojos in Cape Town. She has been actively practising martial arts for 28 years and teaching for 20 years.

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