Inspired by the accomplishments of a 7-year-old boy, who in spite of his disabilities earned a black belt, Williamsville resident James Wild decided to take up karate.
"I thought at the time, if he could do it, so can I," he told The Buffalo News.
Almost 20 years later, the 71-year-old retired carpenter has achieved a significant goal himself: a fourth-degree black belt.
Not that the journey has been without obstacles. About 10 years ago, Wild suffered a heart attack and had to undergo triple bypass surgery. After that he was told to give up karate, on doctor's orders, for at least a year. He did, but returned to class as soon as he could.
His wife, Virginia, was not surprised that he went right back to it.
"He really loves it," she said. "He always said if he died on the karate floor he'd die happy."
While she thinks that he spends too much time at the karate center, she acknowledges the rigorous training has tremendous benefits.
"It helped him healthwise," she said. "I like that he's gotten his black belt. I just don't like the time he devotes to it. I miss him at home. He's in tiptop share and people tell him all the time that he doesn't look 71."
"It's like a big family," Wild said of the Western New York Karate Center in Clarence where he trains. "I keep going because there so much more to learn."
"This is the beauty of the martial arts," said Jim Cvetkovski, owner and master instructor at the center. "This can be a lifelong thing. It never ends. There's always room for improvement."
Cvetkovski remembers when Wild first came to the center.
"He was a smoker, and I told him right there and then it was either smoking or karate," Cvetkovski said. "I told him: You cannot do both. Slowly and surely he gave up smoking. He will tell you to this day he feels much better, and he's in better shape than when he was 25 years old."
Cvetkovski said martial arts is more than just the physical.
"We're very big on self-defense," he said. "With kids we're extremely big on character education, self-discipline, self-control. We teach them to never be abusive or offensive, to stay healthy. No drugs or alcohol. We have a 'word of the week': honesty, respect, perseverance. It's the same for the adults. The perseverance, the indomitable spirit."
Cvetkovski said age really doesn't matter.
"It doesn't matter if you're 5, 15, or 50. You can start at any time and do it for the rest of your life."
Wild apparently agrees. Although he feels "pretty good" about reaching his most recent belt, he says there are a "few more" after this one.
"I'm going for the fifth," he said.