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George Hoover: Practicing a martial arts despite old age and physical limitations


George Hoover


Mr. George Hoover is a gray haired, pot bellied gentleman with a pulmonary disease called Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Despite the fact that he had approximately 37% lung function left, is 100% disabled and can't work in a normal fashion, he managed to train in the art of arnis and with time, even became assistant instructor of a Special Force located in Fort Lewis. Here is his story...

What did you do before training in arnis?
I am a former CEO of family home-building company, building hundreds of homes in the Tacoma, WA area. I now administrate and my wife manages our accumulated Real Estate portfolio.

What did modern Arnis training give you?
When I was nearly 52 years old, I was failing physically fast and realized if I didn't do something, I wasn't going to be physically functional soon. I had just became 100% disabled and was very concerned for my future health. 

Can you specify what you mean by being 100% disabled?
My disability is loss of lung function due to Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Asthma, and Emphysema. I have 37% lung function. My pulmonary Doc tells me most his patients at that level are in wheel chairs and on oxygen, I refuse to let that happen!
Oxygen Concentrator, used by to supply oxygen to patients whose pulmonary functions are lacking
Photograph taken from wikimedia commons

Why did you choose arnis in particular?
The thing about Modern Arnis is that it is suitable for all ages. Modern Arnis allows for the different physical shaped, conditioned, or aged bodies to perform and improve their coordination, muscle tone, strength and overall mental and physical health. It is easy to adapt Modern Arnis techniques to your own fluidity and body movements. Within the first year of training with Datu Kelly Worden my lung function stopped decreasing and after a couple of years actually increased slightly. I never told anyone for the first four years that I was 100% disabled although they suspected something was up, I didn't want to be differed to. I always received the utmost respect from the instructors and fellow students as it is what is in your heart that counts in this club. 
A pair of rattan arnis stick 
Photograph taken from Jpogi / wikimedia commons

I am an outdoors person, and this art has giving me the physical being to continue fishing and hunting. In fact my wing shooting has improved phenomenally due the vastly increased eye-hand coordination and the ability to slow down an event or happening to slow motion giving me lots of time to coordinate the shot. That is a hard one to explain, but the bottom line is I shoot far better instinctively than before and usually shoot much better than my companions!

From the fact that you didn't tell anyone of your condition at the beginning, can I assume that you were feeling insecure about what others thought of you?
I didn't tell them about the severity of my handicap because I didn't want to treated different or special favors, admittedly I was still treated somewhat differently due to my age which I appreciated.

If you practiced any other sport, do you think your physical condition would have improved as much?
I believe any sport would be helpful. Team or highly competitive sports would be difficult as I still have to go at my own speed. I am able to do the drills, forms, and techniques at my own pace. The thing is I am very capable high bursts of energy for a short period of time like in a combative situation where it is all over in 30 seconds or less, but to sustain any team type endurance would not be possible. 

Would you have gotten the same result from another system of martial art?
Who knows? But I doubt it, too many of the other clubs stress to much boot camp and Asian mystic. Could you imagine some late teenager student instructor trying to boot camp me around? Or trying to give me some mystic BS philosophy? I would walked and never gone back. The same holds true that I would have never fit in with the Gold's Gym groupies with all their beautiful young hard-bodies doing their thing.
Perhaps Arnis is a better idea for seniors
Photograph taken from Lin Mei / Wikimedia commons

Can you describe a little bit a training session? 
Again that is the beauty of the Filipino Martial Arts, it allows you to adapt the techniques to your physical body abilities. I have always been able to follow, just getting muscle memory on the right tract after all the years of functioning differently. Now, show me the technique and I can mimic it, understand it, interpret and apply the same movements to several different weapons. 

My biggest problem is endurance, I will run out of oxygen quickly. I have learned to be fast and very efficient in my movements. Typically I am training with other students that are much younger than I am, both experience and inexperienced. 

Three mornings a week I am an Assistant Combative Arts Instructor for the First Group Special Forces (Green Berets) at Fort Lewis assisting Datu Kelly Worden. That is one of the greatest honors of my life! I further have my own training center teaching students in the 40s and 50s Personal Defense Tactics, an abbreviated Modern Arnis program sanctioned and certified by Datu Kelly Worden.
Datu Kelly Worden

Would you consider yourself as good as a late teen that trained for the same amount of time as you did? 
Bottom line is I have not found a late teen who I can't take out yet, no matter their skill level, maybe its the stealth of the gray hair, or they just don't react instinctively yet. I am sure somewhere there is a late teen who can take me. Now when you are training with 30 to 40 year olds that is a whole different story. They can be ruthless and are peaking in their skills.

My disability is not such a big factor in the art that I have learned, I would like to believe the respect I receive from my peers is not just my age but my skill levels, I hold my own, even with the Special Forces troops that we are training.

Did you know a couple of months ago the Special Forces First Group here at Fort Lewis gave me and 3 others a plaque affirming us as lifelong members in the brotherhood and linage of the 1st Special Forces Group

For me it was the greatest honor I could receive and a highlight of my life! I am very honored to be able to serve my country in a time of need. I sincerely hope the training the SF receive from us saves a life or makes a situation favorable.

If you had started to train earlier, what would your life be right now?
I have always been active in the outdoors world such as hunting and fishing. What I regret is not having enough lifetime left to become a high ranking practitioner, cross training in several of the arts, JKD concept.

What would you suggest to elders when choosing a martial arts school?
Look for a good friendly relaxed atmosphere, non rigid rules, allowed to work at your own pace. Instructors with lots of patience. Have a lot of tenacity, don't give up and you will earn their respect. Just don't overdo and hurt yourself, it takes to long to heal.

We asked Mr. Worden what he thought about his student Mr. Hoover and this is what he had to say:
George has done a great job working around his physical disabilities and coming out on the positive end. Truly an inspiration to most of the younger practitioners who occasionally piss and moan about injuries or limitations.

Its interesting that George has modified his training to benifit others around him, few realize that he has established the "Red Shirt" Backyard Modern Arnis/JKD Renegades over "50" club. I wouldn't want to be the person that thought these 'Old Farts" were an easy target for financial gain on a late night or a rest area along the freeway. It seems that driving his expensive Motorhome would make him an ideal target during all the travelling he does and we have addressed that fact to become more aware of the immediate threat of possible robbery or assaults occurring. 

Currently we are working on a project to open the door for Modern Arnis to become a vehicle for physical rehabilitation to a larger audience of individuals needing just this sort of program. One that offers physical and mental training to enhance elderly and physically limited individuals establish a more vibrant feeling for life. 

I discussed this project with Professor and shared some of the training ideas prior to his passing and he became very excited about the benefits it would provide. George is a classic example of why I have decided to continue the effort, and the video project will feature "him" and some of his students! 

Datu Kelly S. Worden
Interview done by Hao Wong
Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved
Last Updated on Monday, 31 January 2011 22:13  

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