Warren native earns karate black belt at 62 years old

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 7/10/24

You could have hardly blamed Andy Arruda if he chose to quit on his journey towards earning the coveted black belt in karate — in fact, it seems like the universe was screaming at him to do so.

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Warren native earns karate black belt at 62 years old


You could have hardly blamed Andy Arruda if he chose to quit on his journey towards earning the coveted black belt in karate — in fact, based on his telling of the story, it seems like the universe was screaming at him to do so.

Arruda, a Warren native who is in line to be the next Chairperson of the East Bay Chamber of Commerce and the owner of Warren-based property management company, TDR Properties, LLC, began his karate quest as a supportive endeavor for his son, Tom, who was interested in learning the self-defense-focused martial art as a means to bolster his interest in joining the Rhode Island State Police. They found Montella’s Karate Academy in Swansea, and found them to be a good fit.

“My son took it for a few years and then changed direction and went into the medical field, and is now a paramedic in North Carolina. When he quit, my younger son joined us for a year and a half, then he quit,” Arruda recalled. “I decided to keep going.”

At the start, Arruda said he was around 48 years old. He said that he found the practice of karate to be beneficial for multiple reasons.

“It kept me active. It’s a lot of exercise. Also it’s based on self defense, it’s not meant to be aggressive,” he said. “Like a lot of kids, being bullied a little bit when you were a kid, the feeling of not being in control and being at the mercy of people if they’re more physical and they get aggressive — it’s about being more comfortable in your own skin.”

Arruda began rising in rank, which in karate is marked by colored belts. But after he attained his third-degree brown belt (which is one removed from a black belt) Montella’s owner, Chris, closed down the academy to pursue occupational therapy. Not enjoying the ownership that took his place, Arruda decided to pause his own karate practice around the age of 51 on the precipice of his goal.

But fate had different ideas, as Arruda ran into Montella several years later and learned he had re-established ownership of the academy. He started back up again at age 58, which was no small task.

“It was brutal, because you’re older, you don’t remembers all the kata combinations and self defense techniques because it’s been seven years,” he said. You feel like you’re starting from scratch because your flexibility isn’t what it once was. I might have been a brown belt in title, but in a way it was starting from the beginning with consistency and muscle memory.”

Along with the forgotten muscle memory, Arruda’s body had also taken a physical beating in the years during his hiatus through the course of doing maintenance on the properties he manages. He’s had two partial knee replacements, one of them eventually requiring a total replacement, lower back surgery to treat sciatica, abdominal surgery, foot surgery, shoulder surgery, and had two discs removed from his neck.

Despite all the challenges, at 62 years old (nearing 63, he emphasizes), Arruda tested for his black belt, which includes a nearly three-hour demonstration before a panel of black belts that tests the student on dozens of different self defense techniques, which need to be known by name and performed in a proper order. The test also includes sparring, which for Arruda meant going up against people half his age.

“It was brutal,” Arruda said. “You go through everything. Never mind the physical part of it, the flexibility, the memory, it’s an endurance test.”

Once the exam is over, students are instructed to kneel and close their eyes. If they pass, they’ll open their eyes to see their coveted black belt laid before them. When Arruda opened his eyes, it was the culmination of an estimated 700 classes over the course of seven dedicated years in practice, with another seven years of down time during his hiatus.

“I didn’t start out thinking I was going to do this,” Arruda said. “I grew up in Warren and didn’t come from a lot. Everything I do, whether it’s family or business or getting involved in the community…I see things to the end, I’m a pretty determined person.”

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