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Mind over maturity
Age proves to be no barrier in Julius "Pops" Finley's quest to earn a black belt in mang ho.
By Mike Camunas, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008
Julius Finley won't go looking for a street fight.
This 74-year-old Spring Hill resident just earned his first degree black belt in mang ho, a form of self-defense karate, at the Jerome Brown Community Center on March 3.
Just don't expect any kung fu hustle out of him.
"Really, if someone were to approach me with trouble, I think if it were an older fella, he wouldn't have a chance, but a younger fella, he'd have met someone who knew something," Finley said. "I can protect myself because you can't judge me by my looks or age.
"This is what I need, being an older fella. I need to be active, but I don't need to be fighting."
Finley, who is originally from Pennsylvania and is lovingly referred to as "Pops" at the community center, spent three years earning his black belt, but when he arrived at the classes, the instructor, 20-year-old USF student Robert Blanton, thought Finley was a little lost.
"When he first came here, we thought he was looking for his grandkids," Blanton said. "We don't discriminate, though, on age. We'll work from starting at age 4 all the way up 100 if we have to. I was definitely shocked, though, and three years ago, I didn't think we'd be here today."
When Finley first found mang ho, he knew it was for him.
The jujitsu-orientated style of karate - one that strays from teaching weapons use - doesn't involve much, if any at all, jumping or kicking generally associated with, say, Jackie Chan.
But that's just fine with Finley, because his first objective was to get in shape. After that, then Finley wanted the hardware.
"I was never apprehensive coming out here," Finley said. "I always knew what my goal was going to be: To get a black belt. I didn't care what it took.
"The most important thing was stamina. Then it was learning all the moves. I kept myself in good shape. I'm a single fella (his wife died 10 years ago) and I exercise a lot. And (getting my black belt) wasn't difficult, but the main thing was to stay in shape. That's really what I had to do."
Blanton notices a big difference from that first day.
Not only did Finley seem focused, the onetime coal machinery designer was one of 16 students to join the class.
Of that group, Finley was the oldest, and the ages ranged from 16 to 54.
Now, however, Finley is the only one with his black belt.
"He's easily the oldest student I've ever taught, but I've never seen anyone this old get a black belt," Blanton said.
"After a while, when there were other adults in class, he would help out and tell them they were doing it wrong. He certainly knows what he's doing because it's like he's almost perfected (the moves) now. If you're not doing something right, though, he'll let you know.
"He's really come a long way."
It seems that it might be difficult for a 74-year-old to earn a black belt.
Most karate students, such as Blanton, earn their black belts before they can even buy a lottery ticket.
Not Finley, who also had to recover from prostate surgery before starting the classes.
He had to perfect the moves to be happy with himself and adds that if he's healthy, he'll continue to stay in shape and attend the mang ho classes.
As for fighting, well, it can always be a backup plan.
"I didn't want to try all that stuff they were doing with all the kicking and spinning," Finley said. "I wanted something that was more for everyday life. ... This is a lot like street fighting, really, but I'm hoping I don't have to use it.
Where: 301 Darby Lane, at the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville.
Mang ho martial arts has been in existence since 1981. According to www.manghoma.com, there are 14 different levels of belts to earn, the highest being First Degree Black Belt. Mang ho - which is Korean for tiger - isn't a traditional style of karate. It focuses on self-defense with a style that is jujitsu-orientated. Basically, it's a weaponless style that uses hand, arm, foot, shin and knee striking and blocking techniques. As the Web site puts it: "Martial arts are combat arts, methods for killing an opponent in battle. Martial ways, or, those arts that have a spiritual component, go beyond combat effectiveness."
For more information about mang ho and the classes, contact Robert Blanton at (352) 597-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.