Chris Brown had been nervous.
He’d felt it eight months ago when he first decided to step into a taekwondo class, and he felt it again as he took his place on a red mat inside Grand Wayne Center.
His dobak cinched together by his green belt, Brown proceeded to whip a pair of nun-chucks around his body while thrusting out a few kicks and other moves for a squadron of judges seated before him.
The American Taekwondo Association’s regional tournament decidedly belonged to children Saturday.
But amid the gobs of kids and teens practicing kick and punch routines or toting around ominous-looking practice weapons, there was a smattering of the Chris Browns of the world.
They are adults who for whatever reason – family, exercise, direction – have signed up to learn the ancient Korean martial art that has long been popular in this country.
“I needed to lose weight,” said Brown, who had begun taking classes eight months ago. “I spent 20 years sitting on my ... doing nothing.”
This year, the Wall Street Journal reported that instructors at many of the roughly 30,000 commercial martial-arts schools in the U.S. increasingly are now tailoring programs to older students.
The same article noted that AARP is reporting a rise in taekwondo classes at community recreation centers, YMCAs and wellness facilities, showing that the sport isn’t just for young kids anymore.
“My son talked me into this,” said Debby Nash, who began taking classes two years ago and came to Saturday’s tournament from Michigan.
“I had to get a heart stent, and he just told me it’s time for me to exercise,” Nash said.
Nash’s 33-year-old son, Matt Ticconi, has been practicing the martial art since he was 15 and now runs several classes in Michigan.
He even created a low-impact class for adults who may be older, suffering from injuries or who may be looking to get back into the martial art after a lengthy absence, she said.
“Today, I feel pretty good,” said Nash, a blue belt who was preparing to show off several routines in different forms and with different weapons.
For Angela Ford, the attraction to the martial art stemmed from constantly taking her three foster children and son to a gym where they were taking classes.
She noticed the martial art produced a change in behavior for her children, and then she decided to sign up herself.
“It’s fun, but it’s challenging in that I have to set up goals and keep moving toward them,” Ford said. “I never did sports, and this is making me more goal-oriented.”
The classes have also helped Ford mentally, and she said she even needed to use some of what she learned for self-defense in a recent situation where someone grabbed her arm.
Brown, Nash and Ford each admitted to being nervous when they first signed up, and all three said that nervousness never really goes away.
Nash, who takes classes in Suttons Bay in Michigan, said the number of adults taking classes seems to be growing, while Brown said many times he is the only person above drinking age in a class.
But, like Nash and Ford, Brown had an extra incentive in taking the class.
His daughter, Jessica, was off to the side of the mat as he performed his routine Saturday, and she was there to give him high-fives afterward, though he was disappointed with his performance.
She had signed up for taekwondo classes long before her father, and she was integral in getting him to follow her into the gym, overcome his nervousness and to finally get into shape.
“It was one of the hardest workouts in my life,” Brown said of his first class. “But I’m glad I’m doing it.”