Sensei Ilze Van Der Merwe

With a 4th Dan Black Belt, Sensei Ilze brings over 30 years of martial arts experience to Kids Kicking Cancer. Practicing traditional Shotokan Karate since the age of 10, Ilze joined Kids Kicking Cancer as a Martial Arts Therapist in 2018 and was instrumental in building the Heroes Circle program in South Africa. She is a two-time silver medalist, having competed in four World Championships since the age of 20. In 2021, she relocated to Vancouver and currently serves as National Expansion and Training Coordinator for Kids Kicking Cancer Canada.

Program Location
Vancouver, Canada and formally started in Cape Town, South Africa

How many years have you worked with Kids Kicking Cancer?
4 years

How did you begin with martial arts?
I was 10 years old and walked with my younger brother to his karate classes every week. Within a month of seeing what he does, I came home and asked my parents if I can please also enroll as it looked like so much Fun! Shortly after that I started and never looked back. I have been doing karate for the past 30 years. Training, teaching, and competing.

What lessons have you learned over the years from practicing or teaching martial arts?
Firstly, that patience and persistence can take you to high achievements. Along with the will to endeavor and never give up.

Secondly, that each student, I included are on their own path of discovering. Discovering themselves, their art, and their strengths & weaknesses. Your path of life and training will be different from the person next to you and by comparing your journey with the person next to you will only bring you grief and disappointment.

What inspired you to join Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) as a martial arts therapist?
Firstly, that I would have the opportunity to give back to my community through my passions which is my sport, teaching and the kids. And secondly, I have the chance to make a difference and share my light and love with the people around me.

What do you love most about Kids Kicking Cancer’s mission?
Having the opportunity to ease the pain of these amazing kids, going through the fight of their lives. We get to help and equip them with a life skill to take control over their pain, fear, and frustrations through our breathing techniques. Techniques that they can use, not only for their pain but through all life’s challenges and stressful situations. Being in control of your body and being able to keep yourself calm in the midst of a storm is the true martial arts way.

Do you have a favorite KKC story or experience you would like to share?
I believe that I am here to make a difference in these kids’ lives, to bring them love, light and joy in their time of illness, pain, frustrations, and fear. I arrive ready for my classes with excitement and joy! Not with an energy of pity or sadness. They ‘feed’ off our energy. That being said, we are all human and we ourselves go through tough days.

One Tuesday morning, I had such a day. Tears were in my heart after a tough few days. On that day I truly experienced how a 4-year-old boy had the ability to teach the world! As I visited a young girl with a big tumor in her tummy, she was being very down and not being able to move her body and join us in our class. This young boy followed me to her ward. I told the young girl that even in days when we are down and don’t have the energy to lift ourselves, we will always have one another to lift each other up. And this young boy did just that. I called him in and asked him to please show us how he punches and kicks. That he will be our strength that day. He smiled from ear to ear, while punching and kicking on my count. 5 minutes later, the girl and I smiled widely, feeling uplifted by this little boy’s energy. I was so grateful for him. On that day when I was out of words and she was very sad and in pain, this little boy had the ability to change our day and uplift us.

What do you do for fun?
I love the outdoors, exploring new places and I love trying new things and skills. I love spending time in nature, going for trail runs and finding new hiking trails and locations. Trails with amazing views across the valleys and seas. I also recently tried a new skill – surfing, and absolutely loved it! Think I’m hooked now.

What would your superpower be and why?
My smile, my light and my kindness. Through my uplifting energy, I have the ability to make people smile, feel uplifted and shine. This has helped me so much with connecting with the kids. Bringing them joy in their tough times.

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Help more children find

Power. Peace. Purpose.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic, we are committed to empowering one million children to reduce their pain and stress with the help of our evidence-based martial arts therapy.