71-year-old grandma earns black belt

Lisa Reicosky

The petite 71-year-old grandmother was surrounded by attackers — some young, some old — coming at her with kicks and fists, and even some weapons.

Nancy Rogers was a little nervous at first, tearing a bit. But she was ready. She had been training and preparing for 12 years.

And three hours after the attack began, Rogers had her coveted reward: She had earned her black belt in martial arts.

Rogers faced a four-man panel of black belts, including her teacher Bill Hardy. The group evaluated her knowledge  as she demonstrated her skills last week.

Shouting “Ka! Ka!” she defended herself against students of varying levels of skill, using techniques in a number of styles. Her black belt is in hard style karate, and earned a black sash in both northern and southern soft-style kung fu.

She also demonstrated skills in judo, jujitsu and aikido, as well as ground fighting and weapons skills.

“She’s quite capable of hurting someone,” said Hardy, owner of Shidan Martial Arts, where Nancy trains.

The school, Hardy said, is of a traditional style where it takes a long time for students to get through the system.

“Most people don’t stay. She has stuck it out,” he said. “That’s impressive.”

It hasn’t been a completely smooth road to black. She once broke her collarbone after getting tossed and landing improperly.

“Unfortunately, it was me that tossed her,” said Hardy.

He didn’t go easy on her at her black belt test, either, often telling the students, “Don’t give it to her. Make her have the technique.”

“We pushed her pretty good,” he said with a chuckle.

She’s a fighter

As the second oldest child in a family with five boys, Rogers has always been tough.

“You learn not to back off,” she said.

The retiree said she’s always been fascinated with martial arts. The divorcee said she wanted to learn to defend herself following an abusive relationship.

“I swore if I ever got into another relationship (and he became abusive), he’d wish he had never met me,” said Rogers.

Joining Al-Anon and learning martial arts has fueled her self-esteem; fortunately, she has never had to use her knowledge.

At 5-foot-3, 118-pounds, Rogers is amazingly fit. She said her panel of judges were impressed with her stamina as she demonstrated choke holds, forms and sparred students who were a fraction of her age.

She lists skating, running, and water-skiing among other favorite activities. Her mother, at 93, is still independent and sharp, so good genes help.

“I hope I’m like her when I’m 71,” said her friend of six years Dianne Williams, a young mother of two and fellow student at Shidan who says the black belt test is not easy. “She is the epitome of perseverance — a remarkable woman who sets her mind to something and does it.”

Right now, Rogers has set her mind on moving up to the next degree of black belt, and her fellow students have no doubt she will do it.

“She is a sweet lady,” Williams said. “To see her on the street, you’d never say, ‘I’ll bet she has a black belt.’”

Canton Repository