Martial arts student, a black-belt holder, is still kicking and punching in his 80s

August 17, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

Two days shy of his 83rd birthday, Brooks Bingham "Bing" Ford really is getting better.

Three years ago, the Columbia resident marked his 80th year -- amid the fanfare of 300 spectators who had gathered at Howard High School -- by earning a first-degree black belt in martial arts.

Mr. Ford is still kicking and punching -- with the same fervor of his younger classmates at Will Maier's United Martial Arts studio in Columbia -- toward a third-degree black belt that he hopes to attain on his 85th birthday.

He trains three hours a week and works an additional 15 hours TC week as an advisory consultant, martial arts instructor and teacher's assistant at Mr. Maier's studio.

"He is awesome," said Will Maier, 45. Describing Mr. Ford as his "hero, role model and surrogate father," Mr. Maier said younger students also admire Mr. Ford. "They see him do the rolls and falls and totally respect him."

"I'm here at the dojo [studio] every day," said Mr. Ford, who can spout trivia about tai jutsu and nin jutsu -- two styles of martial arts -- faster than a karate kick.

Always eager to learn, Mr. Ford wanted to "learn more about the ethnic culture" connected with martial arts so he took weekly Japanese language lessons last September, continuing them until about a month ago from an instructor who came to the studio.

"It's fun to know what words such as, 'ashi baril' -- striking the ankle -- mean," said Mr. Ford, who also has learned how to write 48 Japanese characters.

Next month, he will be traveling to England to learn even more about martial arts during a three-day program on Tai Kai, or convention training, that "will attract people from all over the world."

Asked where he gets such pep, Mr. Ford replied, "I go to a chiropractor and I believe in acupuncture." He also swims three times a week, does push-ups, abdominal crunches and other exercises.

Mr. Ford attributes his agility to his dancing experience, a major part of his diverse past.

"During the '30s, while living in New York, I would sleep in my car, waking up in the morning to the knocks on the hood by a patrolman. Then, I would shop the shows, looking for an afternoon one that needed a part-time dancer," he said.

During that same period, when work was scarce, Mr. Ford says he did everything he could to earn a living. Some of his jobs included teaching acrobatics and tap dancing in a dance school he started in Oklahoma, working as a bookkeeper for Riggs National Bank in Washington, serving as a congressional page, and working as "go-fer" for his cousin, former Sen. Jennings Randolph of West Virginia.

During the '40s, '50s and '60s, Mr. Ford worked as a dance instructor for Arthur Murray School of Dancing Inc. In 1959, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to be regional director for the company's schools in Europe and South Africa.

Seven years later, he and his wife, Marion, 79, opened their own Arthur Murray dance studio in Geneva, a business they operated for 17 years. Both of them are fluent in French, German and Spanish, as well as English.

After closing their business in 1984, the Fords, who have a son and daughter, moved to Columbia in 1989 to be closer to their daughter, Penny Bezdikian. Shortly after moving, Mr. Ford saw a sign from Route 108 advertising Will Maier's studio, and signed up for classes.

"I feel certain if I had not been involved in this, I don't know what I would have been into, other than tennis and swimming," Mr. Ford said. "With this, you are using muscles you wouldn't normally use.

"But it's not the physical part that is so important [in martial arts], it's what goes on inside," Mr. Ford said. "There's a sensitivity that I've acquired that's hard to explain; it's something you can develop inside of yourself. . . . It's a lifelong self-development program."

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