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Empowering Teen Girls Through Martial Arts

A conversation with WOW-Women Of Wrestling's Keta Rush.

Courtesy of Keta Rush
Keta Rush in Action with Women of Wrestling (WOW)
Source: Courtesy of Keta Rush

Wearing a cape, and an aura of strength, in many ways, Keta Rush resembles a superhero. The WOW-Women Of Wrestling's performer has earned deep respect from the sports community. Her youth advocacy and Team Bully Buster Self-Defense Studio have helped countless youth access their own power. Yet Keta's fights began long before she entered the ring, when Keta was a young person herself.

Adolescence greeted Keta with a shock. After her mother suffered a massive accident landing her in a coma for 39 days, Keta tried to understand it, yet the youth around her did nothing but contribute to her hurt.

Like many, Keta faced bullying. When her parents approached the school, the bullying worsened with an incident where those girls who had been so cruel beat her up. Keta fell into depression and attempted suicide. She expresses the feeling that there was "no point" in life.

Bullying among women, especially in middle and high school, is persistent and insidious. Unlike their male counterparts, women often utilize more psychological tactics in their unkindness, slowly working away at each other's sense of self-worth. This can look like spreading rumors, kicking one girl out of a friend group, and exclusion in addition to the more traditional, physical bullying common among boys.

I spoke with Keta to better understand her story, her unique perspective on bullying, and her thoughts on approaching this wicked problem.

As I spoke to Keta about those dark days, Keta reflected, "I didn't feel safe going to school." She shares, "I would say every single day of my freshman year I felt hopeless."

Tragically, Keta’s experience is not an anomaly. A recent survey of 13,677 youth found that as many as one-third reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for at least one week in the prior year (Sutter, et al., 2022).

Perhaps more than anything, hopelessness has been linked to thoughts of suicide. With peer relationships playing a prime role in adolescence, bullying coupled with hopelessness creates a dangerous storm for youth. Like Keta did, thousands of young people attempt suicide each year. Some do not survive. Whether physical or psychological, bullying can threaten a youth's well-being and life.

An Outlet and a Purpose

Still, clearly, this was not how Keta's story ended. As I marveled at her experience, I asked how she made it through all this. Keta talked about finding a passion, acting. She shared a story of going to an audition that she thought was for a TV show. What she was greeted with was women pro-wrestlers in capes. Keta instantly connected. In time, she engaged at a professional level, finding herself where she is today with WOW, as a WOW superhero.

Keta wanted to help others still in the grain. Still, as Keta's journey so tragically illustrates, it can be difficult for adults to intervene effectively in matters of bullying. Keta took the approach of using what she knew, martial arts. Not to teach the teens to fight, but to empower them: "Self-empowerment, self-control. How to control your emotions." These are things that are sometimes unacknowledged when it comes to bullying. Keta has utilized her gifts to instruct youth in marital arts and self-confidence.

Research shows that having a relationship with a trusted adult can serve as a protective factor for youth who are experiencing bullying, potentially decreasing their risk of suicide (Park et al., 2022). A study that employed the use of martial arts to encourage youth in secondary school also provided results suggesting that such instruction may improve mental health and a sense of self-efficacy in teens (Moore et al., 2023).

Courtesy of Keta Rush
Keta Rush
Source: Courtesy of Keta Rush

Hope in Action

Keta also remarks on the centricity that therapy has played in her healing. She shares, "therapy saved me." Keta acknowledges the barriers many face in accessing mental health care, including cost, but wants people to know that resources exist. Spaces such as community mental health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) offer accessible mental health care subsidized by the federal government (Adams, 2024). Many private clinicians also offer services on a sliding scale.

We discussed the incredible obstacles teens face in self-worth. In a world of social media and video games, the art of self-love is sometimes neglected. She also emphasizes the importance of schools to take bullying seriously, citing that it is often downplayed. Keta is coaching youth not only in self-defense, but self-compassion too.

For those youth hurting each day, Keta is hope in action.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Adams, D. R. (2024). Availability and Accessibility of Mental Health Services for Youth: A descriptive survey of Safety-Net Health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community Mental Health Journal, 60(1), 88-97.

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