We are pleased to present another well-written thesis by a new Black Belt, Tana Amen.  Tana is highly respected and the author of the book, “Omni Diet”, which is a NY Times Bestseller book on optimizing your health through diet.  She and her husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, psychiatrist, best-selling author, and
Founder of the Amen Clinics”, have been working together on a new book, “The Brain Warriors Way.  Tana’s discusses her Kenpo journey and breaking through many obstacles to achieve her goal.


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Tana has been gracious enough to share a .PDF version of her thesis, The Brain Warrior’s Way. Click below, you can download to your computer or kindle.


The Brain Warriors Way






Introduction: The Assault

“Victim” — the word victim conjures different emotions for everyone. I find the word victim repulsive. It’s personal. At fifteen years old I was attacked when I was walking to school. A very large man grabbed me. First he grabbed me from behind with one hand between my legs. When I turned, screaming, he grabbed me from the front, with one hand clawing at my chest. He continued over powering me, grabbing and pushing. All the while he was violating very private places on my body. He ended by trying to drag me down an alley and push me into the large bushes. I realized that if I didn’t fight back that was exactly where I was headed. Fortunately, it didn’t occur to me to be scared. It actually didn’t occur to me that this psychopath in a suit was planning on raping me. Righteous indignation and fury were the only emotions that were coursing through my veins at the time. My anger gave me the fuel I needed to fight hard. I had no training, but instinctively I knew how to rip his shirt, slam my knee into his groin, and run… fast!

Following the shock of that event, I remember feeling terrified that any man could over power me at any time simply because he was larger or stronger than I was. Fortunately, outrage quickly triumphed over terror. It took about a week before I made a resolute decision that I would never be a victim, or at least I would never act and feel like one. I may not be able to control being attacked. But I made the decision that I would absolutely have control over my response. I began training so my body would be strong. While my friends were dieting to look like Victoria Secret models, I had pictures of Ms. Olympia taped to my mirror. I wanted nothing to do with the image society was shoving down the throats of young women to be impossibly thin. My template was set to value physical strength and agility.

What I never anticipated was the attack that came quietly eight years later, with no fanfare. With no warning this perpetrator knocked me flat on my back. It was a sucker punch I never saw coming. In fact it came from inside my own cells. I felt totally betrayed by my body when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that had metastasized into my lymph nodes and recurred multiple times. For the next eleven years, while my friends were graduating from college and getting married, I was undergoing surgeries, radiation treatments and dealing with a multitude of other health issues that followed as a result. For the first time I knew what it felt like to be a victim and I despised it. I became so depressed I literally prayed that I would die. I thought, “If there is a God, He has given up on me”.

But God hadn’t given up on me. Somehow I managed to summon every ounce of power in my being and with God’s help I transformed my anger and fear into a positive energy that fueled a phoenix-like rise from the ashes of poor health. What does being attacked on the street have to do with being attacked by cancer? More than you might think.

Using the experience I had gained, I decided to help others learn to transform their health and I became a nurse. I also became a martial artist. When I found Kenpo, I was home.

Initially I thought of nursing as something I did for other people and Kenpo as something I did for myself. I love Kenpo. It enhances every part of my life. As a forty six year old mother, I don’t practice to enter tournaments. I practice for the love of the art. It empowers me! I want to be an example of strength for my daughter and my patients. My passion for Kenpo quickly began spilling over into everything I did. I realized that Kenpo isn’t a sport, it’s a mind set. I’d find myself using it as a teaching tool for people struggling with their health programs. Here are a few examples of the metaphors I use in coaching patients:

  • PMS- Every Kenpo practitioner remembers how awkward it felt when they first started learning complex moves. Most of us felt like our bodies would never cooperate. However, over time the moves became smoother, until eventually it felt natural. When someone is first starting a health program they are overwhelmed. I tell them not to worry because they are in the “primitive phase”. Soon they will transition to the “mechanical phase”, and then the “spontaneous phase” will kick in and they won’t have to think about it at all.
  • Get Your Black Belt In Health- Using this framework I can give people a metaphor for ranking the advances they make. It’s also psychologically empowering. Explaining that being a black belt doesn’t mean you are tougher or stronger, or that you don’t get scared. Being a black means you never gave up, you faced your fears, you persevered, and you ALWAYS get up one more time! This gives people permission to fall without “failing”, as long as they get up and do it again. Most importantly, you pass on the information you gain by becoming a mentor to someone who is struggling. For it truly is in the giving that we receive.  Preparation, awareness, avoidance and deflection is the framework I teach for avoiding a “fight” with someone larger than you. Depending on the client I’m working with, this could be the food industry, pharmaceuticals, mental illness or even cancer.
  • Kenpo means law of the fist. If you have to fight, hit hard without getting hit and get out fast. It’s not about being tough, it’s about winning. In other words, know when to speak up and be your own advocate, and when to stand firm. This could be at your child’s school, the medical system, etc.
  • Build your reserve by being a well-conditioned athlete. Fighters don’t show up on fight day and expect to win if they haven’t been training all year. You build your reserve by living your message and practicing every day. When “fight day” comes and you’re hit with a crisis, you have the physical and mental reserves to manage it. If you’ve been eating well, sleeping and exercising, you’re more likely to reign victorious!
  • “Fighters fight and writers write”- This is a personal favorite of mine. By focusing intensely on the things that I do very well and not trying to do everything, I’ve become much more successful. I surround myself with people who support my weaknesses. This concept is transformational for many patients.It didn’t take long to realize that my training in Kenpo was the perfect framework for teaching people how to be their own health advocates. Many of the patients I work with are women who have been victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. At the very least, they’ve never been taught to embrace and nurture their core power. The idea of being a “warrior” strongly resonates with these women. It’s an empowering concept.

In part because of my love of Kenpo training and personally having a “warrior” mentality, we have developed a new program, “The Brain Warrior’s Way” that we use in our medical clinics, Amen Clinics. Let me explain how the concept of brain health intersects with my training in Kenpo:

At Amen Clinics we use a sophisticated brain imaging study called SPECT to help us understand and treat our patients. My husband, psychiatrist Daniel Amen, often says a picture is worth a thousand words, but a map is worth a thousand images. A map tells you where you are and how to get to where you want to go. Using the brain scans, we teach people to care about their brains. After looking at 110,000 brain scans on patients from 111 countries we firmly believe that with a better brain comes a better life. Though some patients will always benefit from medication, “skills not just pills” is a concept we take seriously. We start with least invasive, most effective treatment first. Daniel and I both trained at Christian schools where the focus was on the whole person. We believe it’s critical to carry this philosophy into psychiatric care and brain health. We use a model of four circles. This is analogous to the four wheels on a car. If one of the wheels is out of balance the car will crash. In this case, the four wheels, or four circles are:

Biological: how your physical body functions (body)

Psychological: developmental issues and how you think (mind) Social: social support and your current life situation (connections) Spiritual: your sense of meaning and purpose (spirit)

Amen Clinics 4 Circles Treatment: Biological, Psychological, Social, and Spiritual

Our treatment plans are directed toward optimizing these 4 circles. For example:

Biological interventions may include diet, exercise, supplements, medication, neurofeedback, transcranial magnetic stimulation, sleep apnea evaluations and treatment, hyperbaric oxygen, and others.

Psychological strategies may include different forms of psychotherapy, including cognitive therapy, or not believing every stupid thought you have, hypnosis, meditation, interpersonal psychotherapy, and dealing with past traumas or other emotional issues.

Social interventions may include appropriate school or work accommodations, relationship counseling, parenting classes, and social skills training.

Spiritual inventions include an in-depth conversation on what your life means, why you are here, and major life goals. In addition, it may also include discovering connections to past and future generations and the planet.

As a speaker and a coach, I began to see and feel the power that my martial arts training has in each of these areas, so I was elated to discover that research supports my beliefs. In fact I was surprised by the extent of the findings the science revealed. With such a powerful tool at our fingertips, I strongly believe we should be encouraging far more women, children and “at risk” adolescents to practice Kenpo. It’s important in my work to have scientific data to establish credibility. With 126 scientific articles readily available, the “Brain Warrior’s Way” was born!

Following is the four-circle model we use at the Amen Clinics, adapted to show how Kenpo contributes to people becoming warriors for the health of their bodies and brains.

read more by clicking on the PDF link above.

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