If Brooks Bingman "Bing" Ford is what being 80 looks like, then growing older should be something to look forward to. Aside from his sixtysomething appearance, the Columbia resident doesn't act his 80 yearseither.
Ford is breaking old-age stereotypes as fast as the wood he splits with one swift blow of his hand, elbow or foot. On Aug. 19,his 80th birthday, he will receive his black belt in martial arts.
It has taken Ford only two years, about half the time usually needed, to earn the belt at Will Maier's United Martial Arts studio in Columbia, where he is an assistant teacher and consultant.
"You areas old as you think you are; it's the adverbs that count," Ford said. "Quickly" best describes the actions of Ford, who during an interview periodically popped out of a chair in the studio office to demonstrate martial arts moves. He easily shifts to a crouching position with no audible signs of cracking knees.
"I've been here practically every day at the studio," Ford said. Marking off his calendar betweeneach test, Ford has kept track of the 20 to 30 lessons needed beforeeach exam for another belt.
He has earned eight belts, each a different color, each marking a different level of expertise. He spends at least one hour a day practicing and continues to take classes almost every weekday.
"The higher you go, the more classes you attend," he said.
Will Maier, owner of the martial arts studio, uses one word to describe Ford: "Indomitable."
"He has a 'Yes I can' attitude," Maier said. "He's a role model for people . . . a real inspiration."
When people in their 40s suggest they're too old for martial arts, Maier tells them about Ford.
Ford attributes his self-discipline to his 30 years as a dance instructor. Through the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Ford worked for Arthur Murray School of Dancing Inc., movingto Europe in 1961 to be regional director for the company's schools there and in South Africa.
In 1966, he and his wife, Marion, now 76, opened their own Arthur Murray dance studio in Geneva, Switzerland, a business they operated for 24 years. When their daughter, Penny Bezdikian of Columbia urged the couple to move back to the States two years ago, they followed her advice and settled in Columbia. A son, Brooks Bingham Ford Jr., lives in Washington.
"Why do things halfway?" Ford said. "As (Arthur Murray) dancers, we got to the point wherewe were asked not to compete because there wasn't anybody better than we were."
That attitude seems to provide the zip that has enabled him to enjoy life to its fullest. During the 1930s, before his career with Arthur Murray, he taught acrobatics and tap dancing, was a congressional page in Washington, was a "gopher" for his cousin (formerSen. Jennings Randolph of West Virginia) and worked as a bookkeeper for Riggs National Bank in Washington and as a disc jockey for a District of Columbia radio station.
"In those days you did everything you could to make money," he said.
While working for Arthur Murray, Ford says he danced on television shows in New York City, Washington and Syracuse, N.Y. In Europe, Ford's diversity continued. Seven years ago, after closing his studio of 24 years in Switzerland, Ford says he worked as a translator for an English radio station in France, opened a sailing school and shared a partnership in a clothing business in Liechtenstein. The Fords also continued to teach dance in their homes.
When the couple moved to Columbia in 1989, it didn't take long for Bing Ford to find another interest. He was driving along Route 108 one day when he noticed a sign advertising Will Maier's studio.
"I drove by, saw the sign and walked in," he said. At the time, Ford recalled a two-week karate course at Fort Meade boot camp prior to World War II that "stuck" with him. "The course gave you confidencebefore going overseas," Ford said. After that, he said, he always wanted to learn more about martial arts.
Currently, Ford is trying to learn everything he can about tai jutsu, a martial art that combines several styles. He plans to earn a black belt in it, and in anotherstyle, ninjutsu, as well.
In the meantime, Ford works at perfecting other students' skills as well as his own. As an assistant teacher, he continues to learn from his students.
"I have learned from the littlest person of about 4 years of age to -- well, I can't say theoldest, because I am," Ford laughed.