Age is just a number

Rick Devereux

The stereotype of someone in their 70s is not very appealing.

Hard of hearing, muscles atrophied, cranky and dependant on


Newport Beach resident Jerry Cole, 70, smashes that stereotype,

along with planks of wood, while zeroing in on his goal of attaining

a black belt in tae kwon do.

"I don't know anyone over 50 who does [tae kwon do]," he said.

"I'd like to be a role model to other elderly that you can still be


Cole said he had always had an interest in the martial arts and

decided to join Marshall's Tae Kwon Do in Costa Mesa last March.

"I came in as a curiosity and decided to give myself a birthday

present just before I turned 69," Cole said. "I have type 2 diabetes

and my doctors told me to lift weights, and I walk around Balboa

Island every day, but I really enjoy performing martial arts."

Cole is currently a brown belt and only needs to master the red

belt to move to the highest level, black belt. Master Tom Marshall, a

three-time national champion, said Cole possesses the inner

determination that separates regular students from champions.

"You see all these guys up here," Marshall said, pointing to the

posters of the national teams he was on in the 1980s. "Jerry is just

like all of these guys because he is extremely self-motivated. People

want to come in here and not work, but a true martial artist

practices on his own. That's what Jerry does. He'll come in here by

himself to practice."

Cole's diligence has paid off in a quick ascension up the skill

level. In 1 1/2 years he has started training with weapons, a skill

usually reserved for more advanced students. He has also learned how

to defend himself from multiple attackers.

After Marshall positioned four boxing bags around Cole, the former

banker spun and kicked all four targets in the blink of an eye.

"At my age, endurance is an issue," Cole said, with just a hint of

an increased breath. "This is good for me and I enjoy it. I've been

to a ton of gyms in my life, but this is more exhausting and more


As accomplished as Cole is, Thomas had to adjust his teaching

style to fit Cole's abilities.

"I do customize his workout to fit his abilities," Thomas said.

"When other people have to kick over their shoulders, I ask Jerry to

kick over his waist."

Along with endurance, dexterity is another concern for Cole.

"I can't say that I enjoy stretching, but it has helped me," Cole

said. "When I'm jumping and spinning, my joints get a little stiff.

But I do enjoy sparring, though."

He also said that the mental aspect of martial arts has kept him

focused in civilian life, even though he admits to forgetting things

from time to time.

"Tae kwon do is extremely intellectually stimulating," Cole said.

"I do get some senior moments. This helps me focus."

In order to move to a higher level, the martial arts student must

pass a test of skills including stances and techniques at a moments

notice. This test, called forms, requires concentration and recall

abilities that challenge students more than half the age of Cole, but

he has been able to advance four belt colors and is eyeing the final


"When you work out here you can look at the [progression of]

belts," he said, pointing to a wall with the belts in order from

white to black. "Hopefully, I'm within a year of getting my black

belt. It's challenging, but the progression is measurable."

Cole's progression has been more than measurable, it has been


"He practices like he's 40," Thomas said. "He gets frustrated when

he can't do something another student is doing, and I have to remind

him that the other student is barely out of college. He compares

himself to 25 year olds. He thrives to be as good as kids almost

three times younger than he is."

Cole feels that he needs to be as good as the younger students in

case he is ever in a dangerous situation on the streets.

"I'm not going to be able to stay and fight somebody 300 pounds,"

Cole said. "But I'll be able to hurt him enough so I can get away."

Marshall agrees that failing to prepare is the same as preparing

to fail.

"Just think if your buddy was drowning and you had an instant to

save his life, you would be upset if you didn't know CPR," Thomas

said. "It's the same thing with self-defense. Most people don't get

trained until something bad has happened to them, which is backward.

And I think the elderly are victims too many times when they don't

have to be."

Cole, who was one of three original vice presidents for Century 21

Real Estate, was discriminated against earlier this year because of

his age.

"I had an opportunity to work overseas in a position that I was

almost overqualified for," Cole said. "And without even looking at me

or talking to me they turned me down due to my age. They said I

wouldn't be able to take the daily grind."

Cole laughed at the thought that he couldn't take the physical

demands of a desk job minutes after a spring with Thomas with staffs.

The martial arts have given him such self-confidence that he and

Marshall have discussed opening special sessions, especially for the


"I'm feeling good about myself and I'm not afraid," Cole said. "I

feel comfortable in any situation that people won't treat me wrong."

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