While it may not be the proverbial Fountain of Youth, taekwondo students Shelia Evans, 63, and Steve Pepoon, 57, agreed that studying martial arts has proven to be a great way to regain some of their youthful vigor.
Evans began her study a year or two ago at Yang Masters United Taekwondo Center in Paola. Pepoon began his study of the martial arts several years ago and just recently resumed.
Despite the fact they are both more than 50 years old, Evans and Pepoon agreed they are enjoying themselves, while pursuing a worthwhile and entertaining hobby that encompasses more than just their time in class.
“I enjoy it. I was the oldest for a while,” Evans said, laughing.
“But, you know, it’s good exercise.”
The respect that is taught and developed in class is also spilling over into her daily interactions, she said.
“I’m saying ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ a lot more. I’ve been saying it out in public. It’s contagious, I guess.”
Taekwondo didn’t begin as a way for her to have fun, she said.
After her husband died, Evans was in Paola and saw the sign advertising martial arts.
“My son has some physical disabilities and I thought this would help with his motor skills,” she said, “and, it has tremendously.”
Her son’s motor skills are not all taekwondo helped, since she decided to participate as well.
“I can’t believe I’m doing 50 or more jumping jacks,” said Evans, who has arthritis in her feet. “I haven’t done that since high school, and that’s been eons ago.”
Pepoon said he joined the taekwondo school in Paola as a means to regain some of his old flexibility and because he’s always enjoyed staying active.
“I used to live in California, and I took training out there for 4 1/2 years,” he said. “Then, I got busy in my career and got away from it.”
He said when he moved into the area, he saw that the school was opening and thought it would be fun to get back into the discipline.
His choice was the right one, he said.
“Although, it’s a lot harder at this age because I’ve lost a lot of the flexibility in my legs,” he added.
Since he joined, he said he is slowly rebuilding his stamina as well as regaining more of the flexibility he’d lost.
“It is a confidence-building sport,” Pepoon said. “Instead of just going to the gym and lifting weights, you’re actually learning a skill.”
He added that while he believes there is nothing wrong with going to the gym, he also believes a person can easily stagnate at a gym, because many times people don’t push themselves to do better or work harder in that sort of environment.
Instructor Robert Johnson, 49, said taekwondo forces a person to continue to grow. Each level of growth is signified by a different color belt and a higher degree of difficulty.
The growth is noticeable, Pepoon said, but sometimes it requires a little patience.
A happy place
Pepoon and Evans agreed that martial arts has benefited them, not just because of the increasing level of exercise after each belt promotion, but because it is a social atmosphere that promotes friendly competition.
“You can feel really bad and come in and perk up as soon as you’re in class,” Evans said.
“There’s just something about it.”
Pepoon said he’s known people who show up just because they want to get a black belt, but he said the pursuit of happiness through martial arts is more than just about the color of the belt.
“A lot of people get into it just because they want the status of saying ‘Well, I’m a black belt,’ but you realize once you’re in it, that’s not a well-defined place because different schools give black belts for different skill levels,” Pepoon said.
Gaining a black belt, otherwise known as a complete understanding of the basics, is just the beginning, he said.
Full mastery of taekwondo is a lifetime pursuit.
Like many martial arts, taekwondo has more than one focus. Pepoon said the one he’s dedicated to learning now is called hapkido, which teaches the student how to disarm and disable an armed opponent.
He said hapkido is perfect for those who want to ease into learning self-defense techniques without putting too much strain on the body.
“The nice thing about the hapkido — it’s probably a better way for the older people to start in the martial arts, because they’re probably thinking that ‘Oh, I’m not going to get stretched out’ or something like that,” he said.
“There are actually a lot of good techniques that are pretty simple when you understand them.”