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Parkinson’s patients are finding success by attacking the disease that attacks movement with karate.  It’s a discipline centered on the mind body connection. But it’s the connections the students are making with each other that are just as powerful.

A class at Fonseca Martial Arts is part of an ongoing study out of Rush University Medical Center. The idea came to neurologist Dr Jori Fleisher from one of her patients.

“I mean, it sounded crazy, but it sounded like so much fun,” Fleisher said.

Dianne Cherne was diagnosed 10 years ago. She started karate as part of the study, but plans to keep going — she’s now an orange belt.

“Even though I have Parkinson’s, I feel that I’m still able to do the movements the way they are supposed to be done,” she said. “Usually I tell (friends) and their like ‘Did you break a board?’ We haven’t tried that yet.”

Karate is not about fighting another person but more so about never letting anything defeat you,” martial arts expert John Fonseca said. “These students in this class can do everything that a student in one of our other adult programs can do. They are fighters. If you are dealing with this disease, you are a fighter.”

The powerful movements have helped Brad Schlichting better his balance.

“I was falling a lot,” he said. “I would get feelings like my feet were stuck to the floor called freezing.”

But he said there’s been another, unexpected benefit.

“It’s very supportive,” he said. “Sometimes you feel isolated when things aren’t going well and working with people who understand what’s going on makes it much easier to progress.”

“They felt instead of going to a support group and sitting around talking about their problems, they were able to see each other improve and achieve,” Fleisher said. “And that was really powerful for them.”

Lillian Carvello was just diagnosed last fall, but she’s already facing the disease with a fighting spirit.

“I actually have always wanted to do karate ever since I was young,” she said. “It is a little bit intense. I’m tired.”

And that’s the idea. Breaking a sweat and increasing heart rate appear to have neuroprotective effects. In other words, any form of exercise may help slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

“We found really to our surprise with such a small and short study not only did people report fewer falls over time but their quality of life really improved even in that short phase,” Fleisher said. “So, it’s not that karate should be the end all be all answer. Exercise should be the end all be all answer for our folks.”


Fonseca Martial Arts:

Fonseca martial arts offers the special karate class at multiple locations.

Contact Phone:  (312) 563-2900 (Press 4/Code: Karate)


Learn more about the Rush Karate Study on their website.