Julie Graham never planned a life in sport.
But after taking her son to Taekwondo classes decades ago she found herself unexpectedly smitten by the Korean martial art.
She went from sitting at the side of the class knitting to becoming a passionate practitioner.
Now, at the age of 62, new grandma Julie is taking pride in her latest Taekwondo achievement after gaining a coveted 6th Dan ranking.
Julie who teaches Taekwondo and keep fit around the Preston area, said: "There are very few women in the country that have the 6th Dan. It’s quite prestigious - because at 62 you are not doing too badly if you get the 6th Dan.”
She was a latecomer to the sport,deciding she would not enrol for classes until her son was qualified, so as not to appear to be competing with his achievements.
She recalled: “I had to take him to classes in Preston at the scout hut down Strand Road. I would be sitting in the room knitting away. I would be watching thinking I could do this. I would have loved to do it. I wanted him to go as far as he could go. My son Martin got his 1st Dan”
However after this achievement he decided he did not want to pursue the sport.
Julie thought it was now time to have a go herself: “I’ve never looked back. I was 38 when I started and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve carried on. I’ve never got hurt, touch wood ... nothing serious.”
She acknowledges there have been minor discomforts but said: “When you are training it is done under strict rules. You do full contact but only with all the safety equipment - body armour, helmets, teeth guard, arm shield, leg shield, groin guard if necessary. Nothing is done in malice or with any intention of hurting others. It also makes you think about other people ... if you can restrain them without hurting them and without hurting yourselves. Taekwondo is the way of hand and foot. Because your legs are longer than your arms you tend to use legs more than arms. You don’t want anybody in your personal space.”
Julie says there is great discipline in the practice and its proponents develop greater spatial awareness of where they are and what they are doing: “The aim is to keep any potential attacker at a distance.”
The Korean martial art demands speed of thought as well as of body. She said: “It’s definitely mental as well as physical. There’s a lot of discipline in the art. We use the force of the other person against themselves."
She has, she said, seen the benefit of Taekwondo for different age groups. In particular she has seen the calming effect on children with attention deficit hyperactivity.
To gain her latest grading Julie attended an examination in Nottingham and had to send a written thesis to Korea.
She said: “My exam lasted about 50 minutes. I had to do break boards, self defence and what’s called a poomsae, which is a pattern. There were probably 70 people there taking all different grades”
She said “I opened my first club up in Preston and I’m now based at Lostock Hall, United Taekwondo at the scout hut on Moss Lane.”
Her class on Friday evenings starts at 6pm. Julie also runs a range of keep fit classes at West View and Fulwood Leisure centres in Ribbleton and Fulwood and takes a private class at St Margaret’s church hall, Ingol on Fridays. It’s here that she teaches her oldest pupil - 90 year old Arthur Jefferies .
Julie remains dedicated to staying fit, walking around four and a half miles a day and swimming regularly, taking some zumba and occasional Pilates classes .
Prior to taking up Taekwondo Julie, who is married to David, had concentrated on raising her family and had worked as a school dinner lady.
She relocated her Taekwondo class to Lostock Hall eight years ago.
A typical Taekwondo class begins with a quarter hour warm up: “We run about. We do star jumps, press ups, burpees - all the usual keep fit type stuff. Children need an element, of keep fit because of schools cutting down on p.e.(physical education) lessons.”
A reduction in children going out to play and the attraction of sitting at a computer also mean that it is helpful to offer general keep fit awareness: “It’s learning a skill as well, learning to look after yourself and also learning how to deal with other people. It’s one of the best thing I’ve ever done and I absolutely don’t feel any different than when I started.”
She continued :“You don’t have to be fit, tall, slim - any ages can do it and it’s such a good sport for keeping fit. But it’s more than that. It’s about your head getting into it and it does get into your head...The more you learn the more you want to learn.”
Looking back getting her 1st Dan was she recalled: “absolutely amazing. When I started and I was a yellow belt I was 38 and there was a young chap who said what are you doing here?
“He said you’re never going to get anywhere, you’re rubbish. He put me down so much a and he failed his Black Belt and I got mine and this lad, he had to stand behind me. The sense of achievement was amazing. You can imagine a 40 year odd old lady with two kids getting your black belt.”
She loves teaching her classes every bit a much: “You see these little kids come. how they get through it all.. how they come from a scrap of a thing and to watch them grow in Taekwondo. I’m so proud of them.”
Does she wish to advance to the next Dan? Now there’s a challenge: “There’s a seven year gap now before I could do the next one.” said Julie.