I got my black belt in Taekwon-Do aged 80

I got my black belt in Taekwon-Do aged 80 even though friends warned it could kill me – all fit pensioners should try it

  • Jules Stewart has been practising the martial art on and off for nearly 20 years
  • Despite warnings from doctor and friends, graded for black belt in East Croydon
  • Visit to read the full version of this article

As Jules Stewart prepared himself for his Taekwon-Do sparring session, his gaze remained fixed on his opponent’s face, hoping to spot an indication of their plan of attack, and at the same time, trying to decide his defence and counterattack.

Not your usual afternoon out in East Croydon for a pensioner.

Yet, last September, a few weeks short of his 80th birthday, it was agreed Jules had ‘the potential’ to grade for his Black Belt in the martial art.

‘It was the moment I’d been anticipating for more than 20 years, on and off, as a student of the martial art. My objectives in becoming a Taekwon-Do practitioner were twofold: to boost my self-confidence and prove that age is indeed but a number,’ Jules tells

Jules Stewart, 80, just got his black belt in Taekwon-Do in East Croydon, pictured ,in spite of his GP and his friends advising him not to 

‘My GP wasn’t convinced though, telling me I could expect to sustain injuries if I tangled with any 20-year-olds and that I may also be risking a heart attack.

‘A friend asked me over steepled fingers if I was prepared to put myself in danger of serious bodily damage in, what he kindly referred to as, my “declining years”.’

Jules, who feels fitter now than ever before, was determined to prove them wrong.

And that was why, one drizzly Saturday morning found Jules sharing a dojang in East Croydon with a roomful of twenty-somethings, about to grade for his Black Belt in Taekwon-Do.

Jules completed the tasks needed to get his black belt, including board breaking, sequences of kicks

Jules completed the tasks needed to get his black belt, including board breaking, sequences of kicks 

‘On a signal, we were called up to perform a sequence of kicks – turning, forward, side, hooking, reverse – up and down the sports hall. And again. Then came the patterns, nine in all for a Black Belt aspirant, each ranging from 19 to 38 movements.’

Board breaking was next on the agenda for Jules, which entailed smashing a half-inch thick plastic board with a side kick, and a second one with a punch or a strike with the side of the hand. Jules thankfully managed both. 

‘I was relieved that the splintering sounds that followed my two attacks came from the demolished boards, not my anatomy.’

Then, it was time for free sparring, first one-on-one and then fighting two opponents simultaneously. The final item was the dreaded theory test.

After 10 minutes of grilling, Jules limped home to soak in a hot bath spiked with lavender oil and, after grabbing an ice pack and pulling on his knee braces, he collapsed on the sofa.

‘In Spain, where I lived for 20 years, it was commonly said that your First Communion marks the happiest of your life. For me, it was the Monday morning after my grading, when I opened an email from Grand Master Nardizzi, congratulating me for passing.

‘My age has never been questioned by fellow students. On the contrary, I’ve been treated with upmost courtesy.

‘Through Taekwon-Do, I’ve discovered new mental and physical potential. I would recommend it to any fit pensioner. Putting your feet up is good for circulation – delivering a turning kick is even better.’

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