For some, the most dangerous attackers they’ll ever take on are their own bodies.
Linda Frick first spotted her challenger about a decade ago, when a slow-moving brain tumor called a meningioma caused her to see double, then stopped her left eye from seeing a full field of vision.
About four years ago, after her first brain surgery, she heard about a free martial arts program for cancer fighters and diabetics.
Here experience in martial arts? Next to zero, unless you consider watching karate and kung fu on television.
But Frick gave it a chance and soon developed a rapport with her fellow classmates and with instructor Kathrin Sumpter of Sequim Martial Arts.
“The way she does (the class), it’s like we’re partners,” Frick says. “You’re never intentionally trying to hurt each other. We have a really good time and we’re all really good friends.”
Sumpter started the program five years ago — but it wasn’t easy. In an article published in 2009 in Tae Kwon Do Times, she describes trying to get the program off the ground from scratch. Since Feb. 2007, she pounded the proverbial pavement, getting her message out through flyers, speaking engagements, newspaper announcements and mailings.
“The older I get, the fewer people I know that haven’t been affected by one of these illnesses, either by battling the disease themselves or caring for a friend or family member,” Sumpter wrote.
Her dad was a 20-year survivor of diabetes that led him to dialysis.
“I began talking to cancer fighters and survivors, and although their stories were all unique, they all had two things in common; they were scared and their energy levels were low,” Sumpter wrote. “When I boiled it down to those two components, it quickly occurred to me that martial arts can combat those two things.”
Now, she sees a half-dozen regulars at Sequim Martial Arts for at least one of two parts of the program: the regular session from 10-11 a.m., or Tai Chi/Qi Gong/meditation practice an hour before.
The program tries to reach not just cancer fighters and survivors but also those afflicted with diabetes and those on dialysis.
Good thing for Eric Fehrmann, who’s battled diabetes — a disease in which the body fails to produce enough insulin (or cells do not respond to insulin), leading to high blood pressure — for 25 years. About three years ago, Sumpter and students showed up at a diabetic group meeting to talk about the program.
“I was impressed with what I saw,” Fehrmann said. “The next morning I went — and I haven’t stopped.”
Sumpter’s program focuses on the cornerstones of martial arts: balance, proper breathing, true targeting and purposeful motions.
“As you go through and learn she always emphasizes the parts you’re doing correctly,” Fehrmann says. “It’s good for your self-confidence. My balance is improved, reactions are quicker. One of the biggest things about it is that it’s fun.”
The regular program starts with half-hour series of moderate stretches, then transitions into blocks. Those include drills of back and forth motion as students learn five attack blocks (down, hook, middle, up, outside).
One of the program’s more popular practices is next: Eskrima, the Filipino martial art that focuses on stick combat.
“At a time in their lives when students feel out of control, there’s undeniable power in wielding a weapon,” Sumpter writes.
“That grabs everybody,” Frick says.
Then the class transitions into hubad drills: tactical, hand-to-hand exercises.
“There is nothing but pain-free trust in this class, nothing but gentle kindness and positive energy,” Sumpter says.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself,” he says. “You’re completely immersed in what you’re doing. It improves your whole outlook on life.”
Yeah, but does it work? Frick and Fehrmann seem to think so.
Frick underwent her second brain surgery in 2011, when her brain tumor grew back. Two days after her procedure, she was ready to go home.
“I think the training and the breathing all the other stuff helped; it amazed (the doctors),” Frick says.
“It makes you stronger, both mentally and physically.”
It even helped with her poise. Frick recalls going on a trip to Seattle where strangers had previously approached her. After her training, she didn’t have nearly the same problem.
“It must have changed way I was walking,” Frick says.
Fehrmann had a heart attack in July, followed by open-heart surgery. He had to get up without using his arms.
“My leg strength was strong enough all because I was into martial arts,” he says. “By being active it improves my physical being. My emotional status is good. There’s a lot of left brain, right brain switching with the forms going on.” Fehrmann and Frick have become de facto spokesmen for the program, Sumpter notes, by helping give demonstrations and speaking engagements at diabetes and cancer support groups at Olympic Medical Center, Sequim Senior Activities Center, through radio programs and more.
“I would recommend it to anybody that fits into her criteria,” Fehrmann says. “Actually, for anybody. Martial arts can do a lot for anybody in any condition.”
That, Sumpter notes, is what she was looking for.
“It’s clearly helping people find and cultivate their inner strength during the fight of their lives,” she writes. “I am honored to be able to help them in the battle.”
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.