Black Belt At 64 Years Old
By Flo Covell, Cho Dan
Baez Tang Soo Do, Middletown, NY
a martial artist? What is the driving force propelling us forward? What
fuels our passion? Is it our desire to be stronger, to increase focus,
to be healthier, to overcome fears, or just to be able to kick butt?
Each of us will answer these questions differently, as we come in
different sizes and shapes, with different ages, values and backgrounds.
However, despite our vast differences, we all share a deep passion for
our martial art, for Tang Soo Do.
experienced the indescribable energy we feel each time we enter our
dojang. With each kick, with each "ki hap", we are immersed into
the powerful present moment and feel the awesome energy rippling through
us. Fueled by it, we reclaim our power, we shed our false, weak selves
and be who we really are. We realize the emotional, physical, mental and
spiritual power that comes from practicing Tang Soo Do. With deep
gratitude, we are humbled by our experience, and want to share our
experience with others. We want others to join us, to take their first
step, to kick their first kick, to yell their first "ki hap".
We turn to a friend and say "Come, just take one class. If I can do it,
you can too."
As a new black belt, I
am still defining who I am, where I've been. How did I get here? In
retrospect, perhaps the many experiences in my life were part of my
martial arts path.
During my childhood there were many difficult
times. However, I cherished physical mobility and freedom, running and
playing outdoors. I spent most of my adult years working as a registered
nurse and raising 5 children. Two of my children were born handicapped,
one with autism and one with a serious neurological condition. There
were many challenges throughout the years.
After the birth of my 5th
child, I was having circulatory problems in my legs and began
running. I enjoyed the runner's high, the stress reduction and began to
realize the benefits of exercise. At 45 years old, I was diagnosed with
rheumatoid arthritis. Upon hearing the diagnosis, tears came to my eyes
and I was scared. However, shortly afterwards, I viewed a TV show about
a 60 year old woman who had rheumatoid arthritis, began karate and
greatly improved. I felt hopeful and inspired. I said to myself "someday
I'll take karate."
When I turned 50 years
old, my husband and I attended a firewalking seminar, and walked on
fire. We were very impressed with the power of human potential, how the
mind affects the body, and the importance of having a positive attitude.
So, we became certified Firewalking Instructors and conducted firewalks.
We also walked on fire on the Geraldo Show. It was a very exciting time
in our lives. However, firewalking was not about walking on fire. It was
about how to live everyday, how to be fully present and how to overcome
fears and challenges in life. I learned I could do anything I put my
In my early fifties, I
had to give up running. The constant repetition was hurting my joints. I
was very disappointed. For so many years aerobic exercise had been an
important part of my life. A few years later, at 55 years old, I was
diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Walking helped somewhat, but I was often
very tired. The year I turned 60 years old, my husband, my soul mate,
died after a long illness. I was devastated and immersed in grief. How
would I go on? Who would I be without him? He believed in me so
much. Would I be able to believe in myself without him? He was the wind
beneath my wings. Would I still be able to tap into my human potential?
Three months later, my
daughter asked me if I wanted to join my grandchildren in karate
lessons. Remembering the TV show I saw 15 years earlier inspired me to
say "Yes". Somehow, deep inside, I felt I was already a black belt in
life. I had overcome so many challenges throughout the years. It was
now time to manifest on a physical level what I felt spiritually,
emotionally and mentally. There was a black belt within me wanting to be
released. In September of 2003, I started classes at Baez Tang Soo Do
Karate in Middletown, New York (www.baeztsd.com).
My black belt journey began. I kicked my first kick, I yelled my first
I was the only
senior citizen in the classes and it took me longer to warm up and to
learn the different moves. But I soon realized all I had to do was
personal best." I was not competing against anyone else and I
progressed at my own pace. As the weeks and months passed, I felt
better and better...less stiffness, less joint pain, and more energy. The
exercises in classes were varied, not too much repetition on the same
joints. It was an aerobic exercise my body could handle. I was
delighted...it felt like I was given a new lease on life. I felt more
confident, my focus improved and it was helping me deal with the loss of
my husband. Tang Soo Do was healing me physically, mentally and
emotionally. I was hooked. Thank you, Tang
Two years after my
first class, after attaining a red belt, I was diagnosed with an aortic
aneurysm and a leaky aortic valve. Both of my parents died of ruptured
aortic aneurysms. I was scheduled for open heart surgery at Columbia
Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. I felt in top physical condition
before the surgery, because of my previous two years training in Tang Soo Do. I was so grateful for Tang Soo Do. As a result of my training,
I was able to remain hopeful and positive about the surgery. I focused
on healing thoughts and told everyone I was going on a "Columbian
One of the first
questions I asked my surgeon
was "When will I be able to start training again?". I could not imagine
my life without Tang Soo Do. Ironically, my surgeon was a black belt in
karate and assured me I would be back in class one month after the open
heart surgery. I went under anesthesia listening to a positive
affirmation healing tape that played continuously throughout the 7 hour
surgery and for the next 21 hours while in intensive care. My aortic
valve was repaired and the aneurysm was fixed. I came through the
surgery with flying colors. Thank
you, Tang Soo Do.
One month to the day,
after surgery, I was back in class. Of course I had some restrictions
and made sure I followed all the doctor's orders. I did forms in slow
motion and could barely say "ki hap". Week, by
week, I became stronger and stronger. I was determined not to let
anything stop me from achieving a black belt in Tang Soo Do. My
instructors, my family, and my friends were very supportive. Six months
later I entered a local tournament and placed 2nd in weapons
and 3rd in forms, competing against adults 20 years
Then, in May 2007, eighteen months after the open heart
surgery, I passed a 6 hour black belt test and was awarded
Dan". I was 64 years old. Finally... the black belt in me was
released! I felt proud and delighted. Although, I was sad my
husband was not by my side, it felt so good to be able to say "Yes, I
can go on in life, be who I want to be and do what I want to do." Tang Soo Do became the wind beneath my wings. Thank you, Tang Soo Do!
Come...take just one
class with me. If I can do it, you can too! The journey to the
black belt begins with the first
kick, with the first "ki hap". I'm sure you, too, have overcome
many challenges in your life. Let the black
belt in you out!
Visit Ms. Covell's
personal site at
View Ms. Covell's three part video that appeared on