Grandmother earns her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.

A 75-year-old grandmother has earned her black belt in Taekwondo seven years after her grandson asked her to take him to classes – and she decided to join in.

Barbara Wood, from Bristol, took up the Korean martial art at the age of 68 after driving her grandsons, Ash and Dylan, to their club.

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.

She said: “I thought ‘this looks good’ and asked if they had an age limit. When they said there wasn’t one, I thought I’d try it out.

“I figured if I didn’t give it a go, I’d just be at home vegetating – rather than in the dojang meditating.

“I think age is just a number and you shouldn’t think you’re not capable of doing something just because you’re old.

“I think it’s important to give things a go and if it doesn’t suit you, you can give it up – but you must try.”

Barbara Wood with her grandsons at a Taekwondo training session.
Barbara Wood with her grandsons at a Taekwondo training session.

Only 2 per cent attain black belt rank

Only around two per cent of students who take up martial arts attain a black belt, which takes years to achieve.

The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) says black belts are expected to have developed proficiency and a thorough understanding of all colour belt gradings, as well as their own.

Students have to carry out advanced patterns, sparring, self-defence and breaking, as well as understanding the theory behind the Korean martial art.

Barbara, who is also a green belt in Tang Soo Do, another Korean-based martial art, said: “I am proud of my black belt after working so hard for all those years.

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.

“Once got over my nerves, everything fell into place. I was the only one to break everything, I did well in sparring, and my line work was fine.

“I also got 80 per cent right in my theory questions.  I spent weeks going through it so it was all in my head.”

She started at Fishponds Taekwondo Academy then joined Thornbury Taekwondo for extra tuition.

She came under the instruction of Master Vaughan Buxton, a 7th degree black belt and a British, European and World title holder, who believed in her ability to achieve black belt.

She said: “He told me it was my journey and was very encouraging. We all have different abilities, but with commitment and hard work, it’s possible to improve and reach your goals. But sometimes it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 75.

Women and martial arts

Barbara was born in 1948 in post war Britain in Wandsworth, South London, and was brought up with traditional views on a woman’s role in the family at that time.

She was married and had her first child while a teenager. She divorced in 1972, then met someone else and had two more children. She stopped working for a time while raising them.

Barbara, who managed bookkeeping at a jewellery store, said: “We were told as children that women get married and have children. I wasn’t encouraged to continue my studies or develop a career.”

The Suffragettes taught themselves the martial art of Jiu Jitsu in the early 1900s. And a feminist self-defence movement emerged in the 1970s because of violence against women.

Women appeared in combative arts in film in the 1940s, while so many men went off to war. And in the 1980s Hongkong action films featured heroines such as Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh.

Barbara said: “When I was growing up, we didn’t see women in martial arts. There are lots of women in martial arts now and our classes reflect this. I think it’s good for girls and women to learn a martial art as it gives them self-defence skills and confidence.”

Physical and mental wellbeing

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.

Barbara, a talented gymnast and speed skater in her youth, credits the martial art with boosting her fitness and memory.

She said: “It not only helps to keep you physically fit, but mentally sharp too.”

Research suggests martial arts improve mobility, flexibility, balance and coordination in older adults. It also engages the mind and has been found to have therapeutic benefits.

Barbara also enjoys the social side at the club, where she is affectionately known as ‘the old lady.’

Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.
Barbara Wood, who has earned her black belt in Taekwondo, aged 75.

She said: “We take the class seriously but also have a laugh and some banter. As there are students in their 50s and 60s, I don’t feel out of place.

“I’d recommend it to anyone. There’s no age limit and you just do what you can. I find it fun and very rewarding.”

Mr Buxton said: “Barbara has impressed everyone at the club with her dedication and hard work. She’s an inspiration and shows that taekwondo is suitable for people of all ages.”

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Angela Belassie runs PR The Write Way to help small to medium sized organisations get coverage and raise their profile.