Martial Arts

Age Is Just A Number

By Joseph Gironda - 8th Gup
Lago Soo Bahk Do, Bayonne, New Jersey



L to R: David, Joseph, Master Lago, Patrick

"We don't want to be late for karate, Dad!"

This past school year, I started taking my twin six-year-olds to Master Noelia Lago, chief instructor at Lago Soo Bahk Do, in my hometown, Bayonne, NJ. David and Patrick are in the autistic spectrum, and she holds classes for special needs students. Dressed in their do boks, earning colored stripes on their white belts as they worked hard and made slow but steady progress, the boys' twice-a-week classes were excellent for them, emotionally as well as physically.

What effect did this martial arts encounter have on me while I happily brought my kindergarteners to the dojang, watching them learn and grow? I was bitten by the martial arts bug myself, of course. There I was, encouraging my boys to defy any imitations of special needs and do the karate they relish. I'm fifty-six. Was my age an excuse not to do the same?

I approached their instructor after several months of my children's training, to make it David, Patrick, and Dad as her students.  We would be in separate classes, but it would be my commitment, a greater bond between my sons and me.

Private lessons brought me to a basic level, one where I could take classes with teens and other adults. When I started classes what was asked of me was to try my best. When doing jumping jacks to warm up (when was the last time I did those?)if the teens did ten in the time I did seven, Master Lago had no problem; just do the seven, and, in time, I'll pick up. I did. If others could stretch with twice my flexibility, no problem, I'll limber up. 

I've come pretty far. The main problem I had? Breathing. It sounds so simple; after all, I'd been doing it my whole life. Now I had to control it while stretching, punching, kicking, and sparring. When I'd be lightheaded because I was swinging between hyperventilating and suffocating myself (I kept trying to do it all in one breath!), she'd let me recover, remind me how to breathe, then get me right back into class activity. That's karate; you move at your own pace.

The time arrived for my test, with me vying to move from white to orange belt, one of a number of students seeking promotion.
I hadn't taken a test since 1980, when I was in graduate school, and the examiner was not my instructor; it was her own teacher, Master Denise Mullin.

During the test, I sensed where I was weak or strong, and I had a personal high point - when the white belts did the three basic hyungs together. We were in tune with one another, adults and teens alike, our skill - not our age - making the moment happen.

I learned a week later that I had passed the test, and in an awards ceremony, Master Lago presented me with a certificate, a bronze pin, and my orange belt.

Fifty-six?  Age is just a number.

July 4, 2008




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