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At 72, South Tampa woman earns black belt


Mark Dingle tries to goad his 72-year-old mother into hitting him. He jabs at her. She blocks him and jabs back. They dance around, throwing and landing punches and kicks. When the master calls time, Alice Dingle laughs. They give each other a "good job" hug, and switch partners.

When Alice takes off her sparring helmet, she's sweating. She quickly catches her breath and lines up for the next challenge.

It's all part of her training at Martial Arts Advantage, a family martial arts center in South Tampa. Dingle has been training here for nearly three years alongside family members and other students young and old.

"I've done aerobics. I walk a lot," Dingle said. "I used to do weights and Pilates, but this is so interesting."

Dingle, of Palma Ceia, is like many retirees. She volunteers, travels, plays golf with her husband, reads and spends time with her grandchildren. But unlike many women her age, she recently earned her black belt in tae kwon do.

A few years ago, Mark and his kids signed up for a family tae kwon do class. They urged "Nana" to come try it.

Dingle not only signed up for the family class, she also joined the women's Muay Thai kickboxing class two mornings a week. Pretty soon, she started personal training with owner Anthony Kuntz a few times a week.

"You use almost every part of your body," Dingle said of kickboxing. "You work out really hard. Then you get rewarded with the belt."

Kuntz says he blasts Josh Groban to motivate her during their personal training sessions.

"Going for a black belt at any age is a huge accomplishment, but to be doing so at 72, it's amazing," he said.

At her recent black belt testing, several other students tested for various levels, including Alice's two sons, Mark and Jim, and three grandchildren, Hannah, Abby and Nick.

From 8 to 72, they stood at attention. The group varied from men who looked like serious martial artists to an 8-year-old girl with green bows in her hair and green toe polish to match her belt color. They started with a series of warm up kicks and punches.

For her black belt testing, Dingle was required to perform a series of techniques that she had learned over the course of her training. Timing is part of that technique, being able to perform simultaneously and stay together. As a gesture of support, family members joined Dingle and another student, Bella Barrera, 10, also testing for her black belt, in doing the patterns together.

Though she was a bit tentative at times, Dingle made it through her assessment. With the testing complete, family members tied the new belts around Dingle and Barrera.

"I still get nervous every time I have to get up there. I feel good, but I'm glad it's over," said Dingle, surrounded by her husband and family members.

"I'm so proud," Mark Dingle said. "She has more energy than any of her sons and grandkids put together."

Dingle's training is far from over.

"The black belt means you've dedicated your time and heart, you fulfilled your requirements and completed the curriculum," Kuntz said. "It's like building a tool bag. At black belt, you continue to sharpen those tools and refine the techniques."

Dingle said she's ready to start working toward the next level.

"I thought retirement would be boring," she said. "But I've never been so busy."

Elizabeth Miller can be reached at

At 72, South Tampa woman earns black belt 07/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:10pm]
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