Sensei Keith Vartanian

Program Location
Digital Instructor

How many years have you worked with Kids Kicking Cancer?
I have been with KKC for three years!  

How did you begin with martial arts?
I began with martial arts by way of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I had it on my TV all the time as a kid, trying to jump off the couch and mimic the moves, and my mom was not going to deal with any broken arms, so she put me into martial arts at age 6.  

What lessons have you learned over the years from practicing or teaching martial arts?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from martial arts is that things in life take time. I’m not a naturally talented person, so sometimes it takes me a while to grasp certain concepts or movements. But through my training, I know that life is a journey, and we can appreciate and enjoy the learning just as much as we can appreciate becoming proficient. 

What inspired you to join Kids Kicking Cancer as a martial arts therapist?
When I went to Detroit to the Main Kids Kicking Cancer office for the first time, I watched a class with a little boy who could barely move his arms and legs, he was so weak. From the outside, and understanding very little about cancer and these sorts of sicknesses, he looked like he should be in the most enormous amounts of pain and discomfort. But being on the mats, I saw none of that. I saw a smile. I saw joy. I saw love. I saw hope and relief in the parents. And I knew in that moment that what was going on here was truly innovative and incredibly special. I wanted to be a part of that.  

What do you love most about Kids Kicking Cancer’s mission?
I love that with Kids Kicking Cancer, all that matters is that child and that family that you have in front of you. I’ve come from a coaching background, in schools where you need to meet a certain quota of sign-ups in order to keep the school going. I did not like that type of environment – I wanted to focus on making each individual kid better, stronger, smarter, happier. That is the entire essence of Kids Kicking Cancer. As long as you effect one child, you are doing good work.  

Do you have a favorite KKC story or experience you would like to share?
I worked with a child in the hospital room for a year and a half. He was in isolation, meaning we had to gown, glove, and mask up every time, and he could never leave his room. I can’t imagine being a young child and never leaving a hospital room for a year and a half. It shook me every time I went in there.

For the first few months, he was dealing with so much pain and discomfort, he could barely roll over to say hello to me. I would just sit with him for a bit, in silence, just so he knew that we were there for him. This went on for months. 

One day, I went in and he was awake, which was not very typical. I could see he was a bit upset, so I sat with him and asked him what was wrong. He hadn’t been able to see his father for weeks, who’s work was making it difficult to get time to come in and see his kid. He started to cry, and I just sat there and held his hand, rubbed his shoulder. A lot of the time I have learned we do not end up doing martial arts with our kids. Sometimes, we just sit and talk, sit and listen.

We sat there for about an hour like that. 

The next week I did my daily rounds, and when I got to his room, for the first time, he was not in his bed. I was stumped for a second, until he emerged from his bathroom door and said “I’m ready”. 

As a 9 year old, he wrote a daily exercise chart out for himself, with punches, pushups, playroom walks, and Power Breathing. Over the next year, I watched him transform from a child in complete isolation, with barely enough energy to open his eyes and make a sound, to a child out of isolation, walking around the unit, and bragging about the amount of punches he could do. That day was a switch for him, and it is one of the biggest honors of my life to be a part of something like that.  

What do you do for fun?
I like to do a lot of things for fun! I find so many things fascinating, so I end up trying them all. I am an actor and so I love all things film, I play guitar and sing, and I love to work on 3d animation. In my free time I go to the gym or play sports with my friends! 

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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.