FEATURE: Meet Doncaster’s pensioner age martial arts specialists

A member of Ultimate Taekwondo Doncaster.
A member of Ultimate Taekwondo Doncaster.

Hitting retirement age for many is a time to put up your feet, relax and enjoy a gentler pace of life.

But not for one group of Doncaster pensioners - who are fighting back against old age by taking up taekwondo!

Kathy Hook, who competed in the Barcelona Olympic Games in taekwondo.

Kathy Hook, who competed in the Barcelona Olympic Games in taekwondo.

The small group of sprightly silver martial artists meet each Thursday evening at a gym in an industrial estate in Doncaster to practice their best kicks, punches and blocks as part of their very own ‘fight club’.

Project leaders at Ultimate Taekwondo launched the ‘ultimate veterans class for people aged over 50’ to encourage older people to get fit and healthy by taking part in an activity with a difference.

And anyone who fancies having a go will be learning from the best.

Class instructor Jenny Furness is a 65-year-old grandmother-of-two, who also happens to be a 3rd dan black belt in taekwondo.

A member of Ultimate Taekwondo Doncaster.

A member of Ultimate Taekwondo Doncaster.

She became involved in the martial arts discipline late in life herself when aged in her mid 40s and now believes there is no better way to keep fit.

She said: “My son Duncan was already doing taekwondo and I wanted to get fitter so I gave it a shot and have never looked back.

“I think some people have a perception that it is a younger person’s activity.

“But don’t be put off by it, taekwondo is for everyone, of any age or ability.”

Jenny Furness with her taekwondo certificate.

Jenny Furness with her taekwondo certificate.

She explained that as she worked her way up through the ranks she has had to kick and punch through blocks, score kicks and punches against an athletic 19-year-old in sparring and defend herself against a simulated attack. And the Sprotbrough woman almost had to put her skills into practice out in the real world on one occasion.

She said: “There was a guy with a walking stick who was arguing with me and the situation got a little heated, but thankfully he knew who I was and obviously decided to leave it there.

“The thing about taekwondo and self-defence is making the other person aware that you have these skills and could use them - but without actually deploying them.

“If you actually have to use your skills then the situation has gone too far.”

She added: “But knowing how to defend yourself makes you walk taller and you feel more confident in yourself. Your whole body language changes, so it makes any potential attack even more unlikely.”

Jenny said that the over 50s class, which launched about a month ago after a £500 donation from Doncaster Council, has so far been attended by a few curious older people, including a woman aged in her early 70s, keen to give something new a try.

Jenny urged other people to give it a try.

“We wouldn’t expect people of an advanced age coming for the first time to be able to do high kicks and specialist moves obviously so we start off with gentle warm ups, basic kicks and punches just to get them used to it. Then further down the line we will build up on the repertoire of moves and skills.

“Feedback so far has been fantastic. Those in the class have said things like they would never have thought they would be able to do it and are so glad they gave it a go. “

She added: “It is just a great way to boost fitness, improve co-ordination and memory through learning sequences. The social side of it is great too - what a fantastic opportunity to make new friends.”

Jenny picked up her incredible range of combat skills from former Olympian Kathy Hook, who owns Ultimate Taekwondo, during a mentorship that began more than 10 years ago.

Kathy , a mum-of-one from Armthorpe, reached the taekwondo quarter finals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is a former world and European bronze medalist, and former 17-time British Champion.

She said: “Going to the Olympics and all these big competitions was absolutely amazing. Being part of Team GB made me really proud. I remember being in the canteen with Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell just chatting away and there were no egos. You were just part of the team.”

Kathy launched Ultimate Taekwondo 20 years ago and is now focused on helping older people to get involved.

She said: “Jenny is fantastic and she shows that it is absolutely never too late to take up a new sport or activity that you are interested in.

“We have had a few enquiries so far from people saying that they have always wanted to try it but never gone for it.

“We want as many people as possible to join in and my message to people would be to just come and have a go.

“You never know, you might just like it. We could even end up with new people getting black belts.”

*The ultimate veterans class for over 50s takes place in a fully-equipped training centre called The Den based at Unit 2, Gunhills Industrial Estate, Gunhills Lane in Armthorpe. The sessions take place every Thursday from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. For more information visit www.ultimatetkd.co.uk, ring 07742 479 273 or attend one of the sessions on the night.