Barbara Nowicki is training for her black belt at a Cinnaminson dojo
Back in 2014, Barbara Nowicki was stuck in what she described as a “two-year funk.”
Her husband had died, and she felt she needed to do something to get out of the house. So, the Palmyra resident took a rather unusual step for a 62-year-old — she walked into a karate dojo.
Four years later, Nowicki, now 66, is preparing to take her black belt test later this year. Taking that first step in Action Karate in Cinnaminson was the hardest part.
“I was scared to death,” Nowicki said. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even make a fist correctly to throw a punch.”
She thought the instructors would tell her that she was too old or not fit enough to take classes. However, Nowicki said she was welcomed into the dojo, and head instructor Robert McQuade said any good martial arts school would accept students of any age.
“I don’t think anybody’s too old to do anything unless you’re dead,” McQuade said. “There’s no reason not to do something that you want to do.”
It wasn’t Nowicki’s first foray into martial arts. She took karate classes in the 1980s and actually earned several belts, but she stopped when her work and family lives got in the way.
“Over the years, I always thought, ‘What if I hadn’t quit?’” Nowicki said.
When she returned to the dojo in 2014, it was a difficult adjustment physically. Nowicki said she couldn’t run a quarter of a lap around the modest training room and had never been able to do a sit-up before.
“I can do sit-ups now,” she said. “I may only be able to get through 10 or 15 at one shot, but I can do them.”
Nowicki will need to be able to do sit-ups and much more when she tests for her black belt in December. She said she will be required to pass a physical exam in addition to knowing 36 self-defense techniques and nearly a dozen katas, or move sets.
“We say a black belt is a white belt that never quit or never gave up,” McQuade said.
Some of Nowicki’s younger classmates have the flexibility to kick as high as their shoulder or nose. On a good day, she can get as high as her waist, but that’s OK, she said.
“There’s no pressure to compete against somebody else,” Nowicki said. “You’re measured against yourself. You’re not measured against anyone else.”
The most important part, Nowicki said, is having correct technique and form for each move. McQuade called Nowicki a “wonderful” student.
“She truly cares about each individual part of her martial arts journey,” he said. “In every class, she’s determined to do it the right way, and she’s determined to make herself grow and become better.”
Karate is a physical and mental exercise, and Nowicki said she has experienced personal growth in her journey to becoming a red belt, the second-highest classification.
“I hope that I’m a better person,” she said. “I hope that I’m kinder and gentler and more patient than I was.”
Nowicki said she would advise older folks interested in martial arts to give it a try, even if they may not physically be able to do every move. She also praised the atmosphere at Action Karate and said martial arts has served as a way for her to meet new people.
“I’m glad I found this place,” Nowicki said. “I knew I had to do something and I could not have found a better atmosphere for me physically and mentally.”
“I’ve made friends here, and I’ve met people that, if I need something, I can call on them for help,” she added. “My circle of friends has widened.”