Martial Arts


Black Belt At 64 Years Old
By Flo Covell, Cho Dan
Baez Tang Soo Do, Middletown, NY


What makes 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. 

We have 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 mind to.  

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 ( My black belt journey began. I kicked my first  kick, I yelled my first  "ki hap". 

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 "my 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 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 Soo Do. 

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 Cruise." 


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 colorsThank 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 younger.

Then, in May 2007, eighteen months after the open heart surgery, I  passed a 6 hour black belt test and was awarded  "Cho 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 WebMD.

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