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The Journey of a “Tang Soo Do Grandma”

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The Journey of a “Tang Soo Do Grandma”

Tang Soo Do has provided many growth producing challenges and a plethora of beneficial rewards. If somebody would have told me seven years ago or before that I would have embarked on the journey to black belt, I would have told them they were crazy!

After all, I was born in a little town in Wisconsin, grew up on a modest farm and was the youngest of five kids. I had polio when I was young, which limited what I could do. The only job I had on the farm was to wash the dishes at night. I never learned to swim, or ride a bike, nor did I play any sports. I was never encouraged to set goals for myself or achieve anything for that matter. I was married right after graduating from high school and had my first child 11 months later. 

I spent the next 25-plus years raising five children, the two youngest being twins. I have spent most of my life assisting my husband and family, taking care of a home and trying to be of help to others. My idea of participating in sports was sitting on the sidelines at my children’s and grandchildren’s various sporting events cheering them on. I am a 75-year-old grandmother of 10 and a great-grandmother of six. Why on earth would I join martial arts? Yet I did!

I was introduced to Tang Soo Do when my daughter and her two sons joined Soldotna Martial Arts. At the time, my daughter and I ran a small kitchen and bath shop where my grandsons were also home schooled. Throughout the day I would hear of stories from the previous night’s karate class and see the excitement in their eyes as they rambled on. By request, I went to class to watch my grandsons practice several times and attended most of their tests. 

I was impressed by Master Draper’s professionalism, kindness and overall approach to teaching. He was patient and encouraging yet pushed for perfection. I could see the respect the students had for Master Draper and that Master Draper had for his students. Everyone was encouraging one another throughout the classes. The do jang was filled with an atmosphere of fun, hard work, and positive reinforcement. It inspired me to step out of my very small comfort zone and try Tang Soo Do. I never expected or planned on achieving a black belt. I just wanted to be part of that environment. 

When I told my family and friends what my plans were they looked at me like I was crazy. Some expressed concerns about injury, and then quickly change to an attitude of “lf you’re going to do it, give it your all!”

When I started Tang Soo Do it was more difficult than I had anticipated. My body

did not want to perform the moves correctly, and my mind didn’t seem to want to remember the simplest of moves and terms. I felt like a fish out of water, flopping around, gasping for air and feeling like I didn’t belong. I was beginning to think Tang Soo Do was not for me.

When tested for orange belt with a strip I thought maybe I was at a good stopping point. However, not only did I receive encouragement from people at karate, but my family was so proud of me and made such a big deal out of it. Even my son in Tennessee sent me a big bouquet of orange roses in an orange vase with a white ribbon tied around it to celebrate the occasion. At that point, I realized I didn’t have a choice anymore. I knew couldn’t quit. I could not set that kind of example for my children and grandchildren. God willing, I was going all the way to black belt.

Tang Soo Do has helped me faced many growth producing challenges. I constantly wrestle with my mind going blank and get things confused easily. Floor exercises are always a challenge for me. If I am given more than two techniques I grapple with remembering them. It is difficult not to feel like a spectacle when I am the last one to finish, which is most of the time. 

I have faced discouragement even to the point of tears. At my cho dan bo test I forgot some of my hand, feet and self-defense moves. And at my pre-black-belt test I messed up many of my forms. It has been a challenge for me to focus on what I am doing and not look at other people and what they are doing. One of my biggest challenges is realizing I am just not a “spring chicken” anymore. In my mind’s eye I think I am in my 40s and 50s, but in reality, I am closer to 80 than I am 70. My back is weak, and my body hurts most of the time because of arthritis and advancing age.

As a result of facing these challenges, I have experienced a plethora of beneficial rewards. Practicing Tang Soo Do has helped and continues to help improve my flexibility, coordination, concentration, mental and physical stamina. I am learning to go at my own pace. I have become more confident in my abilities and believe I am much more able to protect myself and/or others if needed. This journey has reinforced in me the importance of positive attitude and solidified the need to persevere in challenging situations, and I have become more active. 

A couple years ago I started a walking regimen of 20 to 30 miles a week. I attend karate class four to five times a week. I am also very active in my church. A great reward to having trained in the art of Tang Soo Do is that my husband walks a little softer around me, especially after I learned number nine-hand technique. I had the invaluable opportunity to meet, train with and get to know some of the most amazing people that l now consider my karate family. I have accomplished more than I ever thought I could, and I am proud of that.

If it were not for Master Draper and his dedication to his students, and me specifically, I would not be where I am today. I do apologize for whatever gray hair I have caused him or for or the lack thereof. I have not been an easy student. Even when I gave Master Draper every reason to give up on me, he did not! He was determined to help me succeed. He pushed me to be and do more than I ever thought I could, all the while being considerate of my age and valid limitations. Frequent commands he would bellow out in class were “Watch out for Grandma,” “Don’t hurt Grandma,” “Careful of Grandma.” He treated me with kindness and respect and had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself. He pressed for my best at every class and always had an encouraging word.

As time winds down and I prepare to take my black belt test in a few weeks, I reflect on the challenges and rewards that practicing Tang Soo Do has brought to my life. I am blessed to have had this opportunity. My journey to black belt has proven to be one of the best things I have ever done. I love being a Tang Soo Do Grandma! UN

Arlene Franke is known as a “woman of valor” to her church area and community. She has set such a great example of perseverance, commitment and christianity to all those around her. 

Arlene is a long time member of the church and was baptized in 1965. She has been a loving wife to Charles Franke (local elder in Soldotna, Alaska) for 57 years. And she has served the church by her husband’s side for over 35 years.

On May 1, 2017, Arlene, at 75, made the front page of the local newspaper for testing and achieving her black belt in karate.

Arlene Franke


  • Artur Aleksandrov

    Dear elder sister in the faith Arlene, thank you for sharing your sincere and stimulating article on your experiences with Tang Soo Do! Your undertaking is quite exciting and unusual, considering your age, family background and decades of faithfulness as a member of God' Church.

    Since I have a background in kickboxing and Wing Chun, I can relate to the benefits, challenges and emotions you feel from practicing and advancing in a martial art, Arlene. There's pain and there's gain! Some aspects and feats of martial arts like Karate and Aikido are simply astonishing!
    Gichin Funakoshi, one of the fathers of Karate-do, said this: "Martial arts is not about winning or losing. It's not about competing or defeating your enemy. It's about the perfection of character of its participants". So there's definitely a spiritual element to the martial arts...

    At the same time, considering that "martial arts" literally mean "arts of war" and roots of certain martial arts styles originate in Eastern mysticism, I believe that there are certain hidden dangers for Christians that come along with the clear benefits you wrote about in your article. In fact, I am not too surpised that as you were entering the realm of martial arts you felt "like a fish out of water".

    Asabbath-keeping Christian named Eric Wilson, who achieved several black belts in different Kung-fu styles, made a fantastic lecture series on what he learned from his many years of practicing and instructing martial arts. It was fascinating, eye-opening and also sobering for me personally...

    The lectures can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/KCg93yOaEzA?list=PLlCB1paD_KAQ74qSNXaCVr34MPDplBZVi

    I'd appreciate to hear your opinions about Mr. Wilson's martial arts lectures. What do you think?

    Warm greetings from your brother in Europe,