Andover woman wins lifetime karate career award


November 3 – Rebecca Kenney-Olofsson fends off one attack after another with a flurry of hand movements.

She is surrounded by four others as the rest of the dojo falls silent and all eyes turn to the demonstration. One by one, the four surrounding him advance and then retreat.

The 84-year-old Andover resident has been practicing karate since the 1980s, specifically a style called Uechi-Ryu, named after its founder Kanbun Uechi.

Distinguishing her from the others that day was a red sash around her waist. She recently received this belt from the Uechi-Ryu Butokukai Karate Association of Okinawa and won the belt along with a lifetime achievement award. Kenney-Olofsson is the second person to receive the award and the first woman to do so.

Kenney-Olofsson was a physical education teacher at Landmark School in Beverly, Massachusetts when she began studying karate. Landmark School is a school for students with language-related learning disabilities, including dyslexia.

“I was looking for something to do at night,” Kenney-Olofsson said. “So I just started and progressed bit by bit.”

“Once I got my black belt, I started teaching Uechi-Ryu at Landmark,” Kenney-Olofsson said.

Kenney-Olofsson said his students loved it.

It also helped them with some skills. Kenney-Olofsson said some of his students struggled to cross the midline – making moves that reach an arm or leg on the other side of the body. She said students would go so far as to turn their paper sideways so they could write up and down to avoid this motion. Uechi-Ryu forces students to get used to these moves, Kenney-Olofsson said.

Karate has also helped his students become spatially aware and socialize.

The studio she trains in is called the Buzz Durkin Karate School and is located in Atkinson, New Hampshire.

Durkin opened the dojo in 1974.

“She was one of our first students and has been studying ever since,” Durkin said. “It is wonderful to see a student grow physically, mentally and spiritually through their practice.”

Durkin points around the dojo showing a significant number of participants who are over 70 years old.

“Karate is an exercise habit for life,” Durkin said. “It keeps a student healthy.”

Besides the physical aspects, Durkin said the true value of karate lies in the principles developed there and then applying them in the real world. principles like trust and patience.

“The real value of what we do translates outside of those four walls,” Durkin said.

Durkin said the Uechi-Ryu style is a “comprehensive discipline”, which encourages physical defense, high personal standards and respect for others. Although he said that all styles of karate have the same overall goal, which is to be a better person.

Durkin added that the training is not dangerous.

“The procedures are done in a very safe way and everything is done gradually,” Durkin said.

Durkin said Kenney-Olofsson has been involved with the studio not just as a student, but helping house people at a martial arts camp over the years, where at one point family members Uechi stayed.

Kenney-Olofsson continues to train with her husband twice a week.

“Receiving this award was absolutely unexpected,” Kenney-Olofsson said. “And I’m still up, I can still come to class.”

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