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30 October 2019
By Lotte Reiter
People have been telling Percy Walsh to retire since the day he turned 50.
The Crescendo Walsh Dojos teacher, who instructs weekly classes at Horsham and Stawell, has trained martial artists for 40 years.
He has broken countless bones, spent time practicing six hours a day at a world-leading martial arts school in Thailand, and, as an eighth-degree black belt, holds the fourth-highest rank in his organisation.
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Now, at 77, he’s admittedly starting to slow his pace.
“But why stop doing something you love?” he said.
“When I turned 50 people started telling me to retire. And I’ve been told this year too, but whether it’s going to happen is another thing. It’s too much fun.”
Percy went into the sport later than most.
He practised judo for a few years but it was cut short when he had an accident, landing on the back of his neck on a concrete floor and braking five vertebrae.
“So that was the end of that,” he said.
About eight years later however, living in Maryborough and aged 36, he came across an advertisement for a karate demonstration at the town hall.
“I found it too late, the demonstration had already started, so I put a jumper on over my work clothes and shot up to the town hall and watched. I thought it was really good,” he said.
“They said they’d be back in a month to start up classes. So, I went along.
“As soon as I walked in I saw young kids lined up and I thought ‘oh no, why am I here?’ But six months later they were all gone, and I was still going.
“That was 40-something years ago, so I must have done alright.”
Percy, who gained his black belt in six years, has since taught a combined 1500 students in Horsham and Stawell, over 40 years.
He said the Horsham school had about 140 students enrolled at one stage.
“I love it. I do six lessons a week now – four in Horsham and two in Stawell. They’re great kids. They’ve kept me young.”
Percy said people often had a misconception that martial arts training was brutal and dangerous.
He admitted while the practice was ‘rough as guts in the early days’, karate now had significantly fewer injuries and accidents than more popular sports such as netball or basketball.
“Forty years ago, when I first started, martial arts were on the blood-sport list,” he said.
“When we talk about blood-sport lists, we’re not talking about killing one another, we’re talking about who is having all the accidents. At the moment, top of the list is ballet. Second place is netball, there are knees and ankles going all the time.
“There are 20 sports on the list and karate went right off.”
In fact, maybe the toughest part of training in karate is the mental side.
Percy said he taught under the idea of ‘tough love’ – a harsh tone, healthy criticism and the occasional, and completely bogus, threat.
“When we do what we call sparring, they need to learn four rules,” he said, counting them off on his fingers: “No touching. No touching. No touching. And no talking.
“They all have to call it out before they start fighting, and if anybody doesn’t, they go and sit out. Why? By not saying the rules you’ve not followed the rules.
“I get them to show a lot of respect, make them do their bows, say yes and no and talk properly.
“You need to treat them like they’re your best friend and you have to growl at them if they do something wrong. Only then they know that they’ve done something wrong and they won’t do it again.”
Percy said a rewarding part of teaching was being able to see his students grow interpersonal skills as a result.
“The kids change. They come out of their habits,” he said.
“My top boy at the moment in the junior class is 15. It took him three years before he spoke to me. It was really, really bad. You couldn’t have a conversation with him.
“He came up to me one day and he was stuttering away, and I was very harsh on him. I said, ‘if you’re going to learn how to talk to me, go and learn how to speak without stuttering’, and he went into shock.
“Three years later he was talking to me like I was his best buddy. Now, I get him to take the class. He’s out the front, and you’d think he’d been doing it for 100 years.”
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