Constable: Karate instructor for all ages still among world's best

When a 54-year-old has one foot on the ground and the other about a foot above her head, people generally call the paramedics.

For Linda Donner of Barrington, that's just one of the moves she has mastered as a sixth-degree black belt in karate.

Last month, Donner, owner of the Traditional Karate Organization, a martial arts and fitness studio in Lake Zurich, brought home a bronze medal for the United States in the World Union of Karate-Do Federations in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She finished third behind Malene Kirkeby of Denmark and fellow American Yukiko Hakozak in the 51-60 age bracket for kata, an event in which the participants perform individual routines before judges, who score their proficiency in a combination of movements in a manner similar to gymnastics competitions.

That performance is more impressive when you consider Donner's busy schedule. A coach for the U.S. national team with 750 athletes, Donner also is a senior karate referee and coordinates the other referees in her role on the International and USA National referee councils.

"I'm walking all day, trying to take care of programs," Donner says of her routine before her own competitions.

In two other competitions against dozens of athletes aged 21-35, Donner placed 8th and 6th. "I made it to the semifinals," she says. "I missed the finals by one-tenth of a point."

One of her students, 20-year-old Erick Leska, won a gold in his beginner weapons competition and a bronze in an overall competition.

Donner can be bothered by pain in her hip and bouts of sciatica, where pain radiates along the sciatic nerve from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks and down each leg.

"At my age, it's pretty common," Donner says.

At 5-foot-1, 134 pounds, Donner doesn't look intimidating. But her roundhouse kicks, where her foot delivers a blow to the punching bag above her head, are impressive. So is her speed.

"I like to do more body," she says, delivering blows to the bag with either hand in rapid succession. "Combinations usually surprise people."

Growing up in Hawaii, Donner started karate training at age 5. "I basically grew up in the karate life," she says.

As a girl, she was a member of the U.S. national team and also competed with the Amateur Athletic Union, traveled around the globe and won national championships, world championship titles and a Pan-American title. She successfully represented the USA as an athlete until she took a break during her years at the University of Central Florida, where she got a bachelor's degree in computer science. But teaching karate, other martial arts and general fitness soon became her career.

Donner studied under the direction of Jo Mirza, who is vice president of the World Union of Karate-Do Federations and national karate chairman for the Amateur Athletic Union, and ran karate programs for the Lake Zurich Park District before operating her own studio.

Donner, who teaches a variety of self-defense classes, says the whole body comes into play. "Learning how to coordinate your bottom half with your top half," she says. "It's important to get in, and get away."

Her students include 12-year-old kids, students heading off to college for the first time, a retired Marine, an interior designer, a former police chief and grandmothers.

"I teach all ages, and give them tools they can easily use if they need to protect themselves," Donner says.

She says students need to get used to being grabbed so they don't panic when they are attacked.

"It you really want to learn self-defense, you need to practice," Donner says. "If you practice over and over and over, and someone attacks you, it's an instinct. One day it will probably save their life if it happens."

But she says her martial arts and physical fitness training always has a bigger goal: teaching students about life.

"You want to be," Donner says, "a good person."

  Owner and instructor at Traditional Karate Organization Nisei Dojo in Lake Zurich, Linda Donner used moves such as this one to bring home a bronze medal in a recent international competition. John Starks/
  Flying kicks are effective and look spectacular, but Linda Donner, owner and instructor at Traditional Karate Organization Nisei Dojo in Lake Zurich, says a big part of her self-defense classes include learning how to avoid trouble and how to escape quickly. John Starks/
  She gave up karate briefly while earning a bachelor's degree in computer science, but Linda Donner returned to her roots as a competitor and instructor. John Starks/
  Linda Donner posts her six black belt certificates on the walls of her Traditional Karate Organization Nisei Dojo studio in Lake Zurich. John Starks/
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