70-year-old O’Fallon woman earns black belt
“Hi-yah!” screamed Yvonne Bailey before sending her right hand slicing through one board, then another.
“Yah!” she screeched again, dropping her elbow to splinter a couple more boards.
A quick breath, then another powerful shriek, and her foot was exploding more pieces of lumber.
Bailey had been practicing for this day for a long time.
A student in Tae Kwon Do at Park’s Yong in Martial Arts in O’Fallon for more than 10 years, Bailey earned her third-degree black on July 7 after she broke eight single boards with her hands and feet, and then a group of about 10 boards with her hand.
“It was just amazing. It took me, like, a long time,” Bailey said of the multifaceted test to earn her latest belt.
Holding the boards for her were her fellow black belts, but there was one glaring difference between Bailey and her classmates — she could be their grandmother.
“People make fun of me. ‘I should be sitting at home doing nothing,’ (they say),” said the 70-year-old Bailey. “But I’m not the kind of person to just not do anything. I have to be constantly moving. Even if I’m hurt, I still come to class. It doesn’t matter. It’s just what I do.”
“You’re never too old to learn something,” Mindy Park, an instructor at the dojo at 101 Carson Drive in O’Fallon, which has been in operation since 2003.
When asked if the board breaking hurt, Bailey responded laughingly with, “Not if you know what you’re doing.”
Board breaking aside, Bailey said testing day wasn’t easy. It’s packed with requirements, like a fitness test, self-defense techniques, sparring and performing 19 different Tae Kwon Do forms — all from memory. But she was undeterred.
“I’m like a dog with a bone. Never tell me that I can’t do something,” she said.
Park attested to Bailey’s active and stalwart nature.
“She’s tough. People don’t want to mess with her. She could put up quite a fight if she had to outside of school,” Park said.
Bailey said she has been a “jogger for years,” and for decades has been involved with different forms of martial arts — Aikido, Karate, and now Tae Kwon Do, as well as the sword martial art of Kumdo.
But more so than the physical elements, Bailey said the mental part of the Tae Kwon Do black belt testing is the true challenge.
“Memorizing all that stuff — I’m not as young as some of the people. Things come very easy for them,” she said.
Thankfully, Bailey said she hasn’t had to put her martial arts skills to work outside of the dojo, except in the kitchen.
“Only to split some frozen pork steaks,” she laughed. “I couldn’t get the knife through, and I only wanted two out of the six, so I gave it a karate chop.”
Bailey thanked the school, its members and instructors for helping her through her journey.
“Being alone is not easy,” she said, referring to the martial arts school as her second home.
Upon her accomplishment, she also had some sage advice for the younger students.
“It’s never too late to start. Get in shape and stay active,” she said. “Everyone will experience fear, depression, loneliness and old age at some time. But it’s how you conquer it that’s important.”