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Kicking Out Parkinson’s Disease

Kicking Out Parkinson’s Disease

CHICAGO – In a unique collaboration, neurologists from the Rush Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Program are working with a Chicago-area martial arts academy to provide a karate program specifically designed to help people with Parkinson’s disease

Called “Kick out PD,” the program takes place twice a week for six months, with sessions offered at all five locations of Fonseca Martial Arts.The school is owned and run by John Fonseca, who both have won multiple championships in international karate competitions.

Karate may increase mobility, balance, well-being

“Karate may be an appropriate and effective strategy for improving functional mobility in people who are living with brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Jori Fleisher, principal investigator of the study and neurologist at Rush.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors, rigidity, a slowing of movement and difficulty with balance. The movement problems of Parkinson’s disease are caused by loss of the brain chemical messenger dopamine as a result of dysfunction or death of brain cells that manufacture this essential chemical. 

“We all know that martial arts can change lives,” said Fleisher. “It can improve your health, confidence and discipline.

“The Kick Out PD classes are an opportunity for those with Parkinson’s disease to derive both physical and emotional benefits from participating in a karate class," Fleisher said. “Our initial pilot study showed that martial arts may be beneficial for individuals with Parkinson’s disease by increasing mobility, balance coordination and overall well-being.”

'I never imagined myself doing karate'

For 69-year-old Ethel Meyer, whose most visible sign of Parkinson’s disease is hand tremors, the twice-weekly, one-hour karate sessions have helped her with balance and coordination. 

Meyer credits the drills where she and the other students in the dojo often change direction with each strike or block while balancing on one foot and kicking the alternate leg. 

“I never imagined myself doing karate,” Meyer said. 

“I like the sense of achievement ... the competitiveness with yourself,” said Meyer, who also was promoted to orange belt, the third ranking up from beginner status.

Participants receive six months of free karate classes

Participants who have joined the Phase II program are working with karate instructors from Fonseca Martial Arts and use karate movements and mindfulness practices to work on its key areas.

The purpose of the Kick Out PD program is to assess if it can improve objective and patient-reported outcomes compared with individuals given a standard exercise prescription for Parkinson's. The phase II study is a randomized trial in which half of the participants immediately will begin the six-month karate program and the control group will be prescribed a regular exercise routine. 

All participants will eventually get six-months of free, non-contact karate classes. The group provided regular exercise recommendations will get to participate in karate classes after their trial period.

The karate class is designed for individuals from 30 to 90 years of age with early-to-middle-stage Parkinson’s disease. It will focus on incorporating the following activities:

  • Upper and lower limb movements in multiple directions
  • Increasing body awareness
  • Shifting body weight and rotation
  • Relaxation of muscles
  • Improving reaction time
  • Using complex repetitive actions to improve coordination
  • Footwork training
  • Centered weight shifts to help with fall preventions

Participants also learned how to strike shields for self-defense and stress relief.

Each participant also attended a pre-intervention study visit. All participants completed an assessment focused on overall mobility, gait, balance, mood and quality of life. Following the six-month session, participants attended a post-intervention assessment and focus group.  

For more information about Kick Out PD classes, contact Katheryn Woo, research coordinator, at

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