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Karate ‘kid’ seeks to have fun with family, winds up finding purpose

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By Angye Morrison

What started as a way to have fun with his daughter turned into a life-changing activity for Barnie Ross. That wouldn’t be a big deal – except that the activity was karate and Ross was in his 60s at the time.

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In 1999, Ross and his wife, Carol, watched their daughter in a tournament, and according to him, “She looked like she was having a ball.”

Ross said he didn’t have much spare time when his kids were growing up, and consequently he didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. He decided to make up for that by spending time with his daughter and her two children at the karate facility where she learned her skills, and in March 2000, he signed up.

What he found there went beyond just a fun activity. He found a way to spend time with his family while bonding with his new family, the teachers and students at the facility.

“I have found something I didn't know I was looking for. I have found a purpose and reason for my life. I have found a family of people who care about one another. A family who love and respect each other. A family where no one is above another no matter what color belt they might wear. A family that looks to the needs of all its members,” he said.

That home is the Alpha Upkudo Karate facility in Havana, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary later this summer. Ross has studied there under Anne Radke, president of Upkudo International Karate Foundation, and a master teacher.

But she has become much more than a teacher to Ross.

“She’s like a second daughter to me,” he said, adding that it was Radke who encouraged him to try for his white belt, the first step on the way to earning a black belt.

Radke has great affection for Ross as well, and said he’s like a father to her.

“He’s the real deal. He’s a man of character, honorable,” she said. “He’s an inspiration to me and everyone here. For the kids, he’s like a grandpa to them.”

As for the karate and self defense demonstrations the facility provides at various events throughout the area, Radke said Ross is the “star of the show.”

“He gets the biggest laughs and applause,” she said. “Everybody just falls in love with him.”

After earning his white belt, Ross began to think about earning more belts and, ultimately, his black belt. He decided he wanted to earn his black belt before his 70th birthday. He was presented the belt on his 69th birthday by Radke.

“My daughter is a second degree, so I have to call her ‘ma’am,’” he laughed. “But I don’t mind. Part of this is about learning respect. She’s earned it and I give her that respect.”

As a black belt, even though he says he is still learning, Ross felt it was time to give back and teach others.

“I’m still learning and I want my students to understand that everyone, no matter what level, has something to learn.”

Ross was asked to train as a teacher, and he has been teaching children in the 3-5 year age bracket, as well as the 6-12 bracket. Seeing his students “get it” is his biggest thrill, he said.

"To see the look of understanding on the face of someone you are trying to help is a surge of pure joy beyond anything I have ever felt before,” he said. “Because most of the people we work with are children, who are so full of life, I find myself feeling more alive, more capable of coping with the everyday happenings of my life. I find myself more tolerant of others and the things they might do.”

Ross said that through teaching, he has learned patience and discipline, and he tries to pass that on to his students. He teaches them basic skills, as well as respect and discipline.

“They keep me young. I try to show them how to be respectful of others by example. I give respect to my teachers and that helps (the children) learn,” he said. “But they should also have fun. I want them to have fun while they’re learning.”

Ross’ teaching will soon be interrupted by some surgery he has to have on his knee, something he’s not looking forward to. But when he recovers, he plans to continue teaching and pursuing higher belt levels.

Ross also encourages people of all ages to give karate a try, and said he would especially encourage senior adults to sign up, adding that the physical benefits are obvious, but it is about more than just kicking, punching and self defense.

“Karate has become so much more for me than the selfish reasons for which I first started. It has taught me that no matter who you are or at what stage in your life you are, it is a force that will sustain you for many years to come,” he said.