As an 11-year-old boy fighting cancer in 1999, Michael Hunt learned many lessons. One has been unforgettable:

“Breathe in the light. Blow out the darkness.”

Child stands with hands in front, eyes closed, breathing out.
Brandon practices the meditation techniques taught at Kids Kicking Cancer.

Hunt was a patient at Children’s Hospital of Michigan when he was given the chance to be one of 10 children in Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg’s first karate class for kids with cancer. Although he has been cancer free for more than 20 years now, he never left the organization or forgot what the Rabbi taught him as he struggled through years of surgeries and pain.

A second-degree black belt in Tai Kwon Do, Hunt is a martial arts therapist having worked for Goldberg’s nonprofit, Kids Kicking Cancer, since 2005. He teaches martial arts classes to sick children in person and online, visits children in hospitals, does support meetings with teens on zoom, and plans events for families of children with cancer. There is no cost to children or families.

Goldberg, or “Rabbi G” as he is best known, is a black belt and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics who lost his first child to leukemia at the age of 2. The small non-profit program he began in Detroit 22 years ago is now global, reaching more than 7,000 children in eight states and five countries. Because of the pandemic, all classes are now virtual, but the good news to that is that it opens the doors of Kids Kicking Cancer to children and families around the world. Children can zoom into as many classes as they wish.

Among the organization’s supporters are the Lions of Michigan. Through a grant from the Graymont Community and Economic Development Fund, and local fundraising efforts in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, karate students receive free uniforms and a backpack. Club donations also contribute to summer camp for kids and supplies.

Snapshot of zoom karate class.
The pandemic has made for virtual karate classes with children around the world.

“The respect I have for Kids Kicking Cancer is immense,” says Chris Smith, a Lion in Michigan’s Engadine-Naubinway club and Childhood Cancer Chair for Single District 10.

“Their philosophy to empower and teach children to take control over their disease and to be role models for others is amazing. Children are taught to see themselves as victors, and not victims. This is so powerful. As parents, we so want to take the pain away for our children, but we cannot do that.  This program helps them have the inner strength to do that. “

Although students learn traditional karate moves, they focus on the mind-body techniques of meditation, breathing, relaxation, and visualization to dramatically lower pain levels. They learn to breathe in the light, the energy, what gives them joy, and to blow out their pain, anger, frustration, fear, and stress.

There is no body to body contact and no board breaking in class, says Hunt. If health concerns restrict one child in a class from punching a pad or doing a kick, the class plan changes for everyone. A child is never made to feel left out.

He knows the importance of that from personal experience, recalling the years in school when he was in treatment and prohibited from taking part in any physical activity.

“I couldn’t’ go to gym or out to play. I was in the main office while the other kids were running around and playing outside. It was like I was being punished,” he says. “I always loved the martial arts, but at home every time I asked to take a class, the answer was no. So I had to sit, plopped in front of the TV or reading.”

One day his social worker suggested he try a new karate class for kids with cancer that was starting at the hospital. It was Day 1 for Rabbi G and Day 1 for Michael Hunt.

“I was hooked,” Hunt says.

Kids Kicking Cancer has since grown to help all children with serious illness and pain. For their families it provides friendship and a connection with others facing the same struggles.

“These are people who won’t ask you a lot of questions because they already know,” Hunt tells the parents. “They know because they are going through the same thing.”

At home the children will teach their parents and siblings about power, peace, and purpose – three key words learned on the first day of class. Students discover that they have the power of being a martial artist, the peace that comes from focused breathing and meditation, and the purpose they find in their lives when they share what they’ve learned.

Empowerment, says Hunt, is one of the most helpful aspects of the program as each child becomes a teacher to others. At the end of class their teacher asks, “What is your purpose?”

The students yell out with gusto: “To teach the world.”

“They would be doing a disservice to themselves and everyone around the world if they kept hold of this tool and didn’t share it with anybody,” says Hunt. “It changed my life.”