The 68-year-old black belt
Spaniard’s Bay resident earns his martial arts achievement
Spaniard’s Bay’s Howard Smith doesn’t see the big deal.
When the 68-year-old tells people he recently completed the test for his first degree black belt in taekwondo from the Precision Tae Kwon Do, they usually get wide-eyed and gush about the acomplishment.
Smith just doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s just another step along the way,” Smith told The Compass. Leaning against the back of a booth at a local coffee shop, he takes a sip of his hot beverage and smiles thinking of the memory. “I don’t look at it that way. I think anyone can do it.”
That’s not to say Smith isn’t thrilled at the accomplishment, because he is. It’s just the latest in a journey he started more than 30 years ago when he first started practicing the martial art.
“It makes you feel like you accomplished something,” he said. “If you want something bad enough, you can do it.”
That burning desire to get his black belt stuck with Smith for a long time. When he was 38years-old, he was forced to put taekwondo on the back burner as work beckoned.
Smith stayed away from the sport for almost three decades.
That was until his 65th year. That’s when he got back in the dojo and started training again.
“This wasn’t always the plan,” said Smith. “It was always in the back of my mind, to get back into it.”
Stepping into the sport again, Smith met a familiar face. Precision instructor Scott Bartlett was just getting into taekwondo as Smith was getting out of it.
Now, Bartlett is tieing the black belt around his protégé’s waist.
“It’s special for him. I felt great pride knowing Mr. Smith got his black belt,” said Bartlett. “I’ve known him since I was a boy.”
The basics of taekwondo haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. However, some of the techniques have. Although Bartlett and Precision honoured his previous belts, there was still plenty to learn before he could test for the black belt.
“I had to start over really,” said Smith. “I like the challenge of it. There are some things that stay with you.
“It wasn’t easy to get back into it.”
Bartlett recognized that, and worked with Smith to get him up to speed.
“I know how big of a deal it is to get a black belt,” said Bartlett. “I put him through the same testing I put his grandson. I really wanted him to feel that he deserved it. “I wanted him to get it.” Bartlett would like to see Precision become a haven for older people wanting to get fit while also learning something new.
He uses the image of Smith bringing him the black belt as the guidelines for this.
“I’d love to see an executive class and older class at the school,” said Bartlett. “It’s great for health and keeping people involved in something.”
He even has an idea on who could teach it.
“I’d like to see Mr. Smith start teaching. I could give him his own class.”
The sport of taekwondo, black belts and the Smith family go hand in hand it seems. His son Paul and grandson Daniel are black belts, while Paul’s wife and his daughter Hannah are also enrolled at the school. Smith’s other son and grandson also practiced the sport.
A picture taken at the belt ceremony is something Smith will hold dear. It’s of him, Daniel and Paul clad in their gi and respective black belts.
“It’s pretty great to be sharing it with my family,” said Smith. “It’s nice to have that picture. There are three generations there.”
There are times when Smith finds himself practicing the art at the same time as his grandchildren. When this happens, he doesn’t just push himself to keep up with the younger generation — he wants to surpass them.
“I try to get ahead of them in lessons,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve got to keep up with pop.”
Armed with his first-degree black belt, Smith has his sights set on the next step of his journey.
“It’s another step going for it,” he said.
Spaniard’s Bay resident Howard Smith (second from right) recently earned his first-degree black belt from Precision Tae Kwon Do. Here, he is shown with grandson Daniel (left), instructor Scott Bartlett (second from left) and his son Paul.