Len Baran of North Ridgeville gets a kick out of life.
The 79-year-old tae kwon do expert is a third-degree black belt, and he shares his active life with many people, young and old, throughout the community. Baran is the oldest black belt at S.M. Smith Martial Arts school. He continues to perfect the Korean art of self defense through the leadership of Master Scott Smith.
It was a young family member, however, who led him to the sport.
“My granddaughter, Emily, was in karate in Cincinnati,” Baran recalled during an Aug. 10 interview. “We went down there and visited with my son. He told me to go with Emily, so I went there and watched her perform to get her yellow belt. And guess what? Emily stopped after she got her yellow belt, but I kept going. I was 65-and-a-half-years old when I started.”
Some people might think that’s a bit late to be learning an intense physical activity like tae kwon do. Baran said the instructors back in 1997 made him wait a week before taking a class.
“The very first class, they wanted to see if I was physically fit,” he said. “(That first class) wasn’t easy. But I will spar with anybody. This one (much younger) black belt was really giving it to me one time when I was a green belt … but I got him.”
Baran was asked if other senior adults can, or should, undertake tae kwon do.
“I don’t see why they couldn’t,” he replied. “If you’re thinking you’re too old, you’re defeated. Next year I’ll be 80, and I’ll be doing power lifting (with weights) at nationals.”
He has participated in the Senior Olympics and holds numerous records in track and field, including shot put. He instructs classes in self defense at the Senior Center and has led aerobics and weight programs as well. His seemingly boundless energy through the years has not gone unnoticed by his family.
“I guess I was an inspiration because my kids and my grandkids all work out,” he said, urging people of any age to select an activity to do “because of the exercise.”
“A lot of people don’t understand martial arts in general,” he said. “They think you go there, put on gloves and break pieces of wood. When you go to class, we warm up with stretching and maybe some jogging. The limbering up, the stretching (is the best part). Once you stretch, you feel so good you don’t care what’s next. It’s true.”
Sharing his knowledge with others ranks high on his list of favorite things.
“I like the teaching the best right now,” Baran said, “because I can get directly to the students. Whenever I walk in … it seems like the class lights up. It’s probably because of my age. When I need to bark, though, I bark.”
He is living proof, he added, that “you’re never too old to exercise.”
“Just do something,” he urged. “Just don’t sit around. You have to keep the blood moving.”
For more information about tae kwon do classes or other programs, contact Master Scott Smith, S.M. Smith Martial Arts, at 440-327-5425.