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Rabbi helps area kids punch and kick their way to health

A Kew Gardens martial artist wants to help kids fight life-threatening illnesses — literally.

Rabbi Gary Moskowitz eventually wants to get a punching bag in the shape of a cancer cell, but for now he must settle for simpler ways to institute his Martial Arts Therapy program, where youth do battle with their sickness by using a variety of techniques.

“They’re taking part in their own healing process,” Moskowitz said.

The therapy encourages sick children to stay active when conventional wisdom would have them confined to a bed.

“The concept is simple,” Moskowitz said. “There are other ways to treat illness.”

Moskowitz is trained in several forms of martial arts.

He uses his knowledge to engage kids physically and mentally and help them buck the idea of being the passive victim.

“They’re going into a battle and they still need to work out. They need to be active,” he said. “I don’t treat sick kids like sick kids.”

Moskowitz once went to the home of a boy who had cerebral palsy.

The disease had ravaged the boy’s muscles and tendons, preventing him from straightening his arms or walking unaided. While traditional physical trainers might have provided a series of stretches and exercises, Moskowitz taught him knife-fighting.

But what is the benefit of having a grown man hold a rubber knife and lunge at a defenseless child?

The defense techniques that Moskowitz taught the boy involved tight circular wrist motions, some of the same movements that were prescribed in repetitive physical therapy exercises.

But this time the boy didn’t want to stop. Instead of repetitive calisthenics, he was living out dreams forged in video games and action movies.

“They’ll practice knife fighting. They’re having fun,” he said. “In fact, the only side effect is that the kids have fun and get healthy.”

Movement is key to his philosophy and is the visible part of his therapy program. But it isn’t the most important.

“A good martial artist is not trained to destroy,” he said. “The main point isn’t fighting, but living a long, healthy life.”

Moskowitz teaches his kids to control the most heart-rending aspect of their illness — chronic pain. He calls it mental Judo.

Often, Moskowitz has the kids visualize the pain, telling them it is a chemical, or thinking of it as a physical manifestation like a ninja. Instead of a formless concept, it becomes something they can work with.

He helps them practice selective feeling, where they can experience the feelings they want to and tune out others.

It’s all part of the program.

But Moskowitz said that he has a long way to go.

He is currently trying to get his 800-hour training program accredited so martial arts therapists can train at universities. He also wants to get funding to open a martial arts training center for ill children. He wants to offer his services free of charge and call it the Dojo for Disabilities.

More information is available at the program’s website, www.martialartstherapy.org.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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