Denver Bar Association
July 2000
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A Great Way to Kick Stress

by Karen Bries

Litigator wins national Tae Kwon Do championships; sets sights on internationals.
by Karen Bries

Kathy Ford remembers looking out in the crowd, trying to pick who might be her opponent in the U.S. National Tae Kwon Do Championships, held in May in Colorado Springs.

"You never know in competitions, but the trick is to not psych yourself out," she says. "Sometimes you have to wait four or five hours before sparring."

So she waited. She lay down with headphones, closed her eyes and tried to ignore the six different competition rings bursting with roundhouse kicks and punches. But then, it came time for the final round. A 240-pound woman was staring at her from across the ring.

"I've learned never to expect anything from someone's size. Everyone has their strengths."

After some swift kicks and a few punches, the six-foot and nowhere-near-240-pound Kathy Ford had won the National Championship in the senior blackbelt division.

Tae Kwon Do is scored by points, and both competitors are fully padded. When a competitor delivers a precise and powerful kick to their opponent's midsection or head, they are awarded points. If a kick knocks an opponent out, the kicker is the winner.

Up until a five years ago, this 34-year-old US West regulatory litigator stayed out of the ring, and in front of public utilities boards.

When she came home from work in 1995, she found her son Jacob watching the ninja-like Power Rangers, and remembered her college days when she took Tae Kwon Do as an elective. Kathy thought the martial art might be a good sport for him.

Jacob, now 10, has long abandoned Tae Kwon Do for roller hockey, but Kathy has taken over his spot at the gym.

"At first, I liked it for the self-defense skills and the fitness, but now I enjoy the competition. There's also nothing like kicking a heavy bag or someone else for stress relief."

Of course, stress relief was not the martial art's original intent. Nearly 2000 years ago, Koreans used Tae Kwon Do as a martial and cultural fighting style. Up until the 2000 Olympic Games, this summer, it has been considered an exhibition sport.

Kathy is now a second-degree blackbelt (out of nine degrees), called a Second Dan, and plans on trying for the U.S. national team, where she would compete internationally next year.

"It's easy to convince yourself that when you get older, you can't be competitive physically, but now that I've won this tournament, I know I have competitive bones."

Since her big win, her coworkers have taken to oh-so-gentle kidding.

"They say, 'And you thought Kathy was just aggressive in the courtroom'," she jokes.

She says her skills in the courtroom easily translate into Tae Kwon Do and vice versa.

"They are analogous. Litigation is a challenge. You have to think on your feet and know how to react quickly. But you also have to have strategy. Tae Kwon Do is the same. You can be prepared, but you must be ready for the unexpected."

Kathy spends three or four nights a week training at Strantz Tae Kwon Do, in Littleton. There are few women her age at her school with blackbelts, so she spars with men and teenagers.

"I don't think the men go all out on me," she says.

Her favorite sparring partner is her husband, Barry Orrel. She also gets to kick around her fellow US West attorney and fifth-degree blackbelt Bob McKenna. Besides Jacob, her two other sons, Sam, 6, and Corey, 16, cheer for her from the sidelines. "Everyone at home and work are so supportive. It makes it really exciting just to compete."

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