72-Year-Old Earns 3rd Degree Black Belt

At 72, Pam Neil becomes the oldest person so honored by the National Karate Schools of Chicago

By Andrew Greiner
|  Tuesday, Jan 19, 2010  |  Updated 8:14 AM PDT
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Pam Neil Tests for Her Belt

Pam Neil

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Pam Neil isn’t exactly an imposing figure.

At 72, she probably won’t have you quaking in your boots if you meet her in a dark alley.  But be warned: Neil is one tough grandma.

“I’ve always had this dream that an attacker tries to grab my daughter and granddaughter,” Neil said. “Now when I have that dream, I fight back. I tell him: you messed with the wrong house.”

That’s because Neil has just earned a 3rd degree Karate black belt from the National Karate Schools of Chicago.

After enduring nearly two hours of qualifying drills -- board breaking, Bo-form katas, defending herself against three attackers at once -- the high-kicking septuagenarian received her belt this weekend at the Schaumburg Sports Center.

“I broke all the boards on the first strike and came away with a nice bruise on my hand,” Neil said. “That’s a good thing. If you don’t have a bruise you haven’t done you’re best.”

Even better -- butt kicking runs in the family.

Neil’s daughter, Jacky Ormsby, 46, also received her 3rd degree black belt during the review.

“My mom and I have tested for all of our black belts together,” Ormsby said. “I don’t even see her as a 72-year-old. She does everything step for step with us. I think she’s just amazing.”


Jacky’s daughter, Morgan, is also a Karate kid. The 12-year-old recently received her Karate brown belt, and she couldn't be prouder of her grandma.

"It's really fun because I know a lot of people at school and I get to tell them that my grandma can beat them up," Morgan said.

Morgan plans to test for her first-degree black belt next fall. By then, says Neil, the family will boast three generations of female black belts.

Pity that imaginary attacker; this is a butt-kicking clan.

But Neil wasn't always a Karate master. Neil says she was playing racquetball at her local gym when she noticed a Karate class practicing nearby. The class was for beginners, so Neil joined up.

Her first instructor, J.R. Hutson, says he always knew she was something special.

“I was her instructor for seven years and it was always clear that Pam was a remarkable lady,” Hutson said. “She is a role model not only for seniors, but for all women.”

Neil thinks so, too. She encourages women of all ages to get in some kicks, if only for kicks, because it’s so good for one’s health. She calls keeping in shape her own anti-aging serum.

“You don’t need cream," Neil says. "You just need Karate.”

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