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‘It strengthens your mind’

Krystle Wagner • Apr 18, 2018 at 12:00 PM

ROBINSON TWP. — Robert Allen has spent the past 38 years training in the old system of taekwondo.

The 70-year-old Robinson Township man recently tested for and received his eighth-degree black belt and became certified in taekwondo, tang soo do and hapkido. Having an eighth-degree black belt also earns him the title of grand master, Allen said.

Allen was introduced to taekwondo during his high school years when he had a lesson on the beach with Frank Thomas. He started taekwondo classes 38 years ago when his then-wife visited the YMCA to exercise and signed him up so that he could learn how to protect himself.

Before moving to West Michigan, Allen spent 18 months in South America teaching English. He was robbed during that time, he said.

Allen earned his first belt in 1980, a year after he began attending classes. He trained for five years with Joe Saladin, whom Allen calls Mr. Saladin. Saladin was a student of Master Monte Beghtol, who Allen trained with from 1985-2011. Allen also learned stick-fighting from Master Bong Jornales.

The black belt system requires individuals to train for a minimum of four hours each week. To receive a second-degree black belt, they must train four hours a week for two years, according to Allen.

To receive a third-degree black belt, Allen had to train an additional three years. To receive his eighth-degree black belt, Allen trained four hours a week for eight years on top of the training he had completed to reach that level.

When Beghtol died, Allen had to find someone with a ninth-degree black belt who could test him to receive his eighth-degree belt. He sought out Grand Master Sun Hwan Chung of Kalamazoo, who agreed to test Allen on March 17. After meeting and confirming that Chung would test him, Allen started training every day and has continued since.

Allen starts his day with a glass of water followed by a shot of lemon juice. He touches his toes for two minutes, does the splits for six minutes and does push-ups during that time. He also does a trunk rotation.

During the test for his eighth-degree black belt, Allen was tested on the number of sit-ups and push-ups he could do in 30 seconds, how far beyond his toes he could reach, and 31 forms. He also had to do a one-on-one fight followed by fighting four people at the same time.

Some of Allen’s students watched the test.

“That was pretty cool,” Allen said.

Allen has been teaching a martial arts course at Grand Valley State University for the past 19 years. He also taught classes for the recreation department for 27 years and taught at Muskegon Community College.

Allen started teaching an outdoor class once a week in Grand Haven about eight years ago. That class plans to work out at East Grand River Park, he said.

By studying and learning taekwondo, Allen said people learn how to control their hands and feet, and learn about physics of motion and angles. Allen said it also helps people change their habits.

“It strengthens your mind,” he said.

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