From Trauma into Triumph: Mel Thomas’ Mission to Empower the Next Generation

Imagine a world where every young person is empowered with the skills, confidence, and resilience to face life's challenges head-on—this vision drives Mel Thomas and the transformative KYUP! Project.

KEY-UP is a power cry in martial arts.

Two-time Australian Hapkido Champion Mel Thomas created a program called KYUP! (pronounced the same way) with a powerful mission: to foster resilience in the next generation and break the cycle of family and intimate partner violence at a grassroots level.

In today’s episode of the Courageous Conversations podcast, hosted by Leanne Pilkington, the two-time Australian Hapkido Champion reveals the heartbreaking real-life story that inspired the KYUP Project and how her personal challenges became a force for change.

Emphasising that the KYUP Project is about so much more than just self-defence, Mel shares why the project is also zeroing in on embedding self-worth and defence components into the educational curriculum.

She also explores the heightened challenges that today’s youth face, explaining why establishing open dialogues can strengthen family bonds and bolster society’s resilience against violence and mental health issues.

“The sooner we can teach young girls that they have the right to take up space, the sooner we’ll see a shift in gender equality.”

  • 01:18 – Unleashing empowerment: Mel redefines self-defence, turning the KYUP Project into a beacon of empowerment and resilience.
  • 01:44 – Catalyst for change: The heartrending story that inspired the inception of the KYUP Project, setting the stage for transformative empowerment in young lives.
  • 04:31 – The education revolution: Advocating for self-worth and self-defence as essential curriculum components, reshaping the educational landscape.
  • 06:28 – Post-pandemic realities: Analysis of the surge in violence and mental health issues in the Covid aftermath and their impact on youth, offering insights into societal shifts.
  • 11:07 – Conversations that matter: Strategies to foster open, impactful discussions with teens on critical issues, strengthening familial bonds and promoting understanding.
  • 16:02 – Empowering futures: Education’s role in empowering young women, opening doors to endless opportunities and choices.
  • 17:42 -Triumph over adversity: Mel shares her journey of overcoming personal hurdles through martial arts, underscoring the power of self-worth and inner growth.
  • 22:11 – Expanding impact: The challenges and triumphs of scaling the KYUP Project, running a charity, and the art of acknowledging limits.
  • 24:24 – Selecting success: How to surround yourself with positive influences for personal and professional development, a guide to curated growth.
  • 26:18 – Feminine force: Pioneering a gender-inclusive approach in self-defence, fostering mentorship, and empowering young girls towards equity.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.


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