BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- On June 6th, Lawrence Benbow, a longtime New Providence resident, became the first adult to earn his black belt at White Tiger Dojo. We took some time to speak with the 54 year old systems engineer to find out what it takes to earn one's black belt at White Tiger Dojo.
When did you start martial arts and why?
I began in 2004 when my daughters started taking karate with Sensei Darren (DeMarco) at The Connection for Women and Families in Summit. I was looking for a physical and spiritual outlet. Karate has provided this body/mind/spirit connection I was looking for - after just a few classes I was hooked and have never looked back. I soon found karate makes me feel better both mentally and physically; I found that the less I feel like going, the more I need to go. I always come out of class feeling more balanced. I then followed Sensei DeMarco to his 99 Industrial Rd, Berkeley Heights location when he opened up in September of 2014.
What did your black belt test encompass?
My black belt test took 3 hours and included the performance of 8 forms (Kata/patterns of movement) that range between 40-120 movements; 6 sets of applications (Bunkai) that highlight self-defense applications of 6 of the 8 kata; a 2 minute self-defense scenario that required me tosolve a real life confrontation with distancing, verbal agility and self-defense techniques; sparring 3 different people, of brown belt or higher rank, for 3 minutes each. Each match expresses 5 major distances: kicking, punching, grappling, take-downs, and ground work/fighting off my back. Lastly, during my black belt ceremony and promotion, the student body and spectators had time to ask me questions about myexperience over the last 15 years.
Did you have any concerns or reservations starting older and/or getting hurt?
Though there are younger adult students, most when I started were not that much younger and I never felt I was placed in a situation of getting hurt beyond the standard bumps and bruises you expect with any contact sport. Sensei pays close attention to keeping things under control in the dojo in terms of making sure we have appropriate equipment available and understanding/accommodating the students’ individual personalities and dynamics to maintain a safe environment.
What is your favorite part of studying martial arts?
I enjoy a sense of accomplishment as well as better physical/mental conditioning. I have always enjoyed the focus and attention to detail of kata (form work). More recently I am especially enjoying applications (how form relates to a self-defense application) - as I become more proficient, I am beginning to 'see' and 'feel' more within the applications. I especially enjoy when we are working and a particular movement or application just presents itself.
Do you have any other hobbies?
· Guitar/music – I have played guitar since I was a kid; it's my other passion.
· Musical electronics – I’m a DIY kind of person. I like working with my hands and building things so I have built a few amplifiers and guitar effects
· Home brewing
What makes White Tiger Dojo something you invest so much time in?
The sense of community and camaraderie with Sensei and fellow students, health management (strength, endurance, weight, coordination/balance). WTD is such a positive, inviting environment – any student will tell you that from day one they feel accepted and valued by the group.
What will you do after black belt?
I don't consider 'black belt' as a summit, but as a milestone. I think that making 'black belt' is just hitting your stride in Martial Arts. The longer I train I am beginning see the horizon expand. I am seeing/feeling things in the art that I couldn't not that long ago. I look forward to many more years here at WTD expanding my knowledge and abilities.
What things can you do now that you couldn't when you started?
At 54 I can get back into the suit I bought for my interviews after Grad School (at age 26).
I can do 40 pushups – before I began our martial conditioning classes a couple years ago, my max was 25.
I can do ‘kip ups’ again. Which starts on the floor and you rock your back towards your head, place your hands on either side of your ear and you spring up onto your feet. Something Sensei likes me to show off with when the younger kids think they're tired or that something is too hard. So I'm definitely younger now than when I started 15 years ago.
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