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Phyllis Rowley becomes UK’s oldest (female) 1st Dan Black Belt in Karate at 78

By - June 26, 2015
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Real-life Super-Gran Phyllis Rowley never imagined she’d be packing a punch as a pensioner.

But at the grand age of 78-years-old, the retired wages clerk from Dudley in the north of England has just successfully been graded to 1st Dan Black Belt level in the sport of Karate.



Phyllis, who took up the classes initially for self-defence as she recognised it was something that could be useful in her older age told us:

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I absolutely love it! I attend three to four classes every week and it’s got to the point where it has now become a way of life.” she says with a real bright spark in her eye.

She is clearly passionate about what she does, and immensely proud that she has achieved something many others felt was impossible.

“Some of my friends still think I’m completely barmy to do karate, but others are amazed!” she said.

Her instructor Daniel Eastman, of GKR Karate UK, said:

“What Phyllis has achieved is truly remarkable. The grading is two-and-half hours long for a start and it’s really incredible that she can remember and perform all the moves the way she does. And she is a very tough lady in every way!”



When talking about teaching Phyllis… Dan also added:

“Already Phyllis is becoming something of a mini celebrity. I’ve been involved in karate for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it, she’s fantastic! I often speak with 30 to 40-year-olds who believe they are too old to take up karate so I tell them about Phyllis who proves that the only limit is what you put upon yourself.”

Phyllis recalled to us that she was drawn to martial arts by a chance call one day, and the rest as they say is history based on a decision she made:

“A nice gentleman knocked on the door and asked if I would be interested in learning self-defence and I just thought why not. I attend a lot of meetings in my role as a volunteer and director with Dudley Federation of Council Tenants and Residents Association. Sometimes the car parks are quite a long way from the venues, so I thought a little bit of self-defence might come in handy and so decided to give it a go.” she said.



“After attending the classes I was impressed by what they did and everyone is so friendly and supportive. I didn’t feel embarrassed at all, but at first I did think that I may suffer for it the next day. Luckily I had no aches or pains and decided to continue with it and have done ever since!”

Phyllis took within 6 years to work her way through yellow, orange, green, blue, red and brown belts, plus the various tags that go with them.

She then had to train for a whole year before obtaining her 1st dan black belt and it will now take at least another two years before she’ll reach the next level to 2nd Dan.

And widowed Phyllis certainly has no plans to slow down just yet:

“I never expected it to go this far. But I feel much safer and have no problems going out at night on my own. I love it so much and hopefully I’ll be able to achieve my next goal of going for my 2nd Dan in 2 years. It certainly beats sitting around moping about, or watching tv all day and so I’d encourage everyone my age and older to get active and take up self defence too.” she advises.



Before leaving Phyllis to her moves during the Karate session, we asked her if she’d ever had to use her Karate skills in real-life, and also how she feels being described as an inspiration for everyone. She told us:

“Luckily I’ve never had to use my Karate training for real, and hopefully I never will. And regarding being called an inspiration… I love it! After all, I’ve got a number of medical conditions that are now always going to be there, and I refuse to use any excuses. If I can do it, then anyone can do it I say!”



Phyllis has just been invited to the world karate championships as a special guest by Club GKR with who she trains to spectate and soak up the celebrity attention she is likely going to receive by everyone. The event is being held over 3 days at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, UK from July 3rd and full details of the event and more can be found via:

And from our side… see you at the 2nd Dan grading in 2 years Phyllis!!!

Special thanks to Matt H in Dudley for his help and also to Dan Eastman at GKR Karate in Dudley.

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