Deacon rolls with the punches

Deacon rolls with the punches

Kim Deacon, who recently earned her seventh-degree black belt, stands in her Lincoln studio. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)
Hard work pays off for 69-year-old martial artist

LINCOLN – Just shy of 70 years old, Kim Deacon’s dedication to the martial arts has grown from a hobby to her life’s passion.

A rare feat, Deacon recently earned her 7th-degree black belt. Less than 2 percent of people studying the martial arts earn their black belt, the color associated with expertise.

Her journey began as the owner of a Woonsocket nightclub in the 1970s and 1980s, where Deacon said fists flew more often than at her martial arts studio. When Deacon was assaulted at her club, her friend Sharon gave her a three-month gift certificate to learn self-defense.

Uneasy, Deacon gave it a go. She hasn’t stopped learning since earning her first belt.

“I thought purple would look nice on a black uniform, so I earned my purple. Then I thought: a brown belt sounds impressive. Then: well, I’m so close to the black belt I’ll work for that,” she said.

In 28 years, she has earned black belts in three systems including Shaolin Kenpo Karate, Nick Cerio Kenpo and American Kenpo.

She described the American Kenpo system, in which she earned her most recent black belt this month, as far more “sensible and street smart.”

“There aren’t kicks to the head,” she explained. “It’s based on typical reactions that the human body would have in an actual fight.”

Instead of very exaggerated forms with big, wide stances, she learned that space is time.

“If you’re taking up too much space with your motion, you’re taking up too much time,” said Deacon, who lives in Woonsocket.

Deacon grasped an important lesson around her third or fourth black belt.

“I realized that it’s not the goal, it’s the journey I was in love with,” she said. “That changed my attitude about studying the art.”

She opened her own studio on Winter Street in Manville called Designed Defense and began teaching classes to children and adults.

“Every student comes in looking for something. Be it confidence, the ability to accept, coordination, the ability to interact with others … to look you in the eye. They may not know it, but I see it,” she said, adding that her goal is to help unlock the potential in her students. “It’s about personal growth,” she said.

Even Deacon is forever learning. “I’m humble enough now to realize that the more I know, the more there is to know,” she said.

Although Deacon was given a shiny new belt upon earning her 7th-degree black belt, she said she’ll continue to use her original black belt.

After decades of practice, the belt that started off black has since faded into a shade of white – the color students earn first. Deacon said it’s a physical sign of her practice coming full circle, remembering her foundations while expanding on her base.

“It’s been a journey that I’ve been so blessed to have been placed on and a path I wouldn’t change,” she said. Over the years Deacon has survived six heart attacks and four stints, but she’s still punching.

Decades after the assault at her club, Deacon said her feelings toward her attacker have faded from hatred to “deep and sincere appreciation.”

If not for him, and for her friend encouraging her to try, Deacon said she wouldn’t be where she is.

“For a few years I saw his face every time I threw a punch,” she said of her assailant. “I can’t remember his face now, but if I saw him again I’d take him to dinner and say thank you.”


Congrats Sensei on your seventh degree. I first met Kim when my wife and daughter we're her students. She truly is a classy lady and a great role model. I wish you many years of continual success.