Chris Johnson and Hilary Groves, both of Boston, have achieved the elite ranking in Kuk Sool Won, aged 76 and 85 respectively.
The pair began learning the Korean martial art in 2019 when they joined Boston’s Kuk Sool Won in 2019. The school said they are the oldest in the world to achieve a black belt in Kuk Sool Won.
Chris, who is now 77, said: “I heard of Kuk Sool Won, but always thought martial arts was only for young people. I was told about a new class called Silver Dragons, which was specifically aimed at people more my age. Fed up with doing the same routines of exercise, I decided to have a go and immediately became hooked.”
“I liked how we spent time doing special exercises to help loosen the body and increase tendon and ligament strength,” he continued. “My health improved, as did my mental sharpness as I had to remember new things.”
“I sometimes help in the children's class which is amazing – they revitalise my energy and the respect they show me as one of the school’s seniors is humbling,” he added.
Chris also spoke about how Kuk Sool Won helped him recover from a stroke.
“I started doing as the physio had told me, but added what I had learnt in Kuk Sool Won. If I couldn’t do it physically, I would visualise it,” he said. “I went to see my consultant in Lincoln and he said that, the extra exercise I was doing during my rehabilitation, helped the speed of my recovery and was interested in knowing what they were.”
“It’s been a great journey and to achieve a black belt at my age is one of my greatest achievements,” he added. “You can teach an old dog new tricks. There is no excuse for any person of any age not to come and have a go.”
Hilary said: “I was never been interested in playing sports or doing exercises for their own sake. I had settled into a nice rhythmic life of knitting, crocheting, chatting to the neighbours, gardening – the kind of thing old ladies most often land up doing.
“Then came Kuk Sool Won. I went to cheer my family at the Kuk Sool Won championships some years ago, and was struck by the camaraderie of everyone there, and most of all by the grandmaster’s unforgettable demonstration of Kuk Sool Won at its best. At pushing 80 then, I didn’t seriously consider trying it myself. But there it sat in the back of my mind until a class for older people was arranged when I was 82, and I signed up with alacrity.”
Hilary described her journey towards black belt as a ‘huge learning experience’.
“I could hardly stand on two legs, let alone one, and kicking was a mystery,” she said. “But because the lessons are in one’s own time, gradually the old body begins to re-learn old skills and best of all, to find un-dreamt of possibilities.”
Hilary spoke of a range of benefits of Kuk Sool Won, from learning how to fall ‘more or less safely when taken by surprise in the garden’ to an increased feeling of security.
“I am confident that if accosted while shopping, the basic techniques we have been taught will spring into action and I will be able to deal with whatever transpires,” she said. “This feeling of security in our time is rare among the older generation.”
Head instructor at Boston’s Kuk Sool Won Sonny Boyall described Hilary and Chris’ achievement as ‘inspirational’.
"It should be an inspiration to others to do something, not necessarily what we are doing, but something that they have always wanted to do, but thought they were too old for it,” he said.