Children with Cystic Fibrosis oftentimes face adversity in the world of physical activity and athleticism. The nature of the disease makes it seemingly very difficult to participate in and enjoy certain activities. However, Master John Nottingham, the founder of USA Martial Arts School in Phoenix, Arizona, has learned that the type of martial arts that he teaches at his school can have a lot of positive benefits for children who are living with Cystic Fibrosis.
Cystic Fibrosis, or CF, is a genetic disease that affects the blood, and the body’s ability to digest food from enzymes. This, in turn, causes mucus to build up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe at times. Children living with CF often have to fight a daily battle with hospital appointments, therapies, medications, and breathing treatments, so one may wonder, “How can children living with CF participate in sports?”
With the help of Nottingham, one young teen with CF, Sean, has experienced many of the positive benefits that martial arts has to offer, while also earning his second degree junior black belt.
According to Nottingham, one of the primary benefits of martial arts that “we teach breathing techniques. In particular, in our brand of martial arts, we incorporate yoga-style breathing. So deep belly breath, drawing the breath deep down into the lower two-thirds of the lungs.” With these types of exercises being taught and practiced in classes, Sean’s mother has reported significant improvements in her son’s condition. As he worked on expanding his lungs, he became stronger, and even more resilient to infection, which is very important because people living with CF are often more susceptible to infection.
In addition to breathing exercises, Nottingham also notes that during his martial arts classes, he and his students focus a lot of their time and energy on establishing healthy eating and living habits such as hydration, healthy food choices, and “developing a philosophy for life and habits in eating that are going to contribute to a stronger, healthier mind and body” says Nottingham. He and he students also regularly swap and share recipes with one another.
Another important aspect to martial arts that has helped Sean in dealing with his CF is that there have been activities incorporated into the martial arts program that highlight his improvements. Nottingham integrated a blow gun tournament to showcase the improvements in his lung capacity. However, while the blow gun tournament does allow Sean to showcase his abilities, he is not treated as “different” because of his disease.
“We don’t treat him necessarily differently. He has a disease, but the disease doesn’t have him, and I wanted him to have that break, that rest where he can come in and it’s a safe haven, where he feels substantial and strong and there’s a place where he has an outlet to just be the best version of Sean that he can possibly be,” says Nottingham.
To parents with children living with CF looking for activities for their child to participate in, Nottingham suggests helping children discover their interests and what inspires them. He also suggests choosing an activity that is challenging not only physically, but mentally challenging as well.