Kicking Cancer

PsyD Alumnus Teaches Kids to Cope with and Overcome Illness

Kicking CancerClad in a traditional white karate uniform, Dr. Bruce Rush (PsyD ’99) does not look like your typical psychologist. Nor does he act like one. “Sensei Bruce,” as he is affectionately known, uses martial arts to equip children with tools such as power breathing and guided visualization to help manage the emotional stress that comes with cancer, and hopefully empower them to even overcome this difficult disease.

“I want these children to see that they can be active participants in their treatment by keeping a strong mind and spirit, even if their body is weakened by the treatment itself,” said Rush. The fact that a child may be undergoing treatment does not lessen his or her ability to effectively practice karate. On the contrary, to focus beyond pain and fear when the body is weakened is practicing karate. For example, a child in a wheelchair can demonstrate a strong mind and spirit by doing what he or she is capable of in that moment, even if that is only lifting an arm or a hand. A child’s courage and determination give meaning to his or her experience that cannot be taken away.”

One might suspect that Rush’s passion for karate was founded in his own childhood lessons. In fact, Rush only began the practice after college in an effort to exercise. Rush also practiced judo, and over time developed such an interest in Asian philosophies that he actually wrote his dissertation at GSEP on Zen and the Therapeutic Relationship.

Meditating lessons

Rush’s interest in the creative karate therapy began with his friendship with Dawn Barnes, the owner of several Los Angeles-area karate studios. Barnes was looking for a charity to support when she discovered Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC), created by Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, who himself lost a child to leukemia in 1983. Goldberg integrated his spiritual knowledge with his love of martial arts to develop this unique organization in New York City, which later expanded to Detroit, Michigan, and most recently Los Angeles.

In August 2009, Barnes and Rush collaborated to introduce the program at Barnes’ studios in Sherman Oaks and Santa Monica, and have recently received approval to launch a program with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, where Rush actually did his psychology internship.

Adam Pomerantz

One of Rush’s best students is 8-year-old Adam Pomerantz, who has been receiving chemotherapy for leukemia for the past two years, with one and half more years of treatment scheduled. His mother, Sharon Rogel Pomerantz, had been seeking an activity in which Adam could participate that could help him feel productive and less insecure about his situation. She found out about KKC from a friend, and since then has driven Adam nearly an hour each way to the Santa Monica studio in order to meet with Rush for once-aweek lessons. “I’m very happy that Adam has something in which he can excel and feel strong,” said Sharon. “I don’t have to push him to come here. He wants to come here. It’s helpful.”

Adam himself professed that the karate “makes him feel amazing,” He is now the most senior student who Rush teaches in Los Angeles, and sometimes uses the skills he has acquired to help new students with their technique. Adam so enjoys the sport that he intends to get his black belt eventually, particularly as Rush reminds Adam that “a black belt in karate is a white belt who never quit.”

Rush has another phrase, or rather a series of phrases, he likes to repeat:

rush: “Who are you?” adam: “I am a powerful martial artist.” rush: “What is your purpose?” adam: “To teach the world.” rush: “What is it you want to destroy?” adam: “Fear.”

Practice punching

This routine has done wonders for Adam, according to his mother. “It helps that Sensei Bruce is a psychologist,” she offered. “He addresses both the active part of the sport, as well as the emotional part. It is both a physical release as well as a lesson in relaxation and coping techniques.”

Despite already having a hectic schedule as director of clinical training at community agency Bienvenidos, Rush has assumed the role of the KKC California program director, and also trains other teachers coming into the program. “I don’t have to do this, but at the same time, I have to do this,” Rush explained. “It’s part of my commitment to service, instilled in me during my doctoral program. I owe my involvement in this terrific initiative to Pepperdine, because it was at GSEP that I received the encouragement to believe that I could make anything possible. It was the mental preparation to do challenging things that now allows me to work with children with cancer.”

To learn more about Kids Kicking Cancer, visit:

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