Alive and kicking: Mable leaves an impact
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. ” All is serious in a basement room of the Hotel Colorado as karate instructor Brian Mable counts off from one to 10 as his students move through a form, or prescribed series of martial arts movements.
Their crisp white uniforms make a whooshing sound each time they unleash a kick or swing an arm knife-like through the air. Faces intent, they drill with military precision rather than in the ragtag fashion that might be expected from youths.
“You’re on fire today,” Mable calls out to 10-year-old Kyle Davis of Glenwood Springs.
Later Mable asks, “What’s the first thing we do before we turn?”
“Look, sir,” comes back the answer.
“Sirs” and bows abound during the class, but the respect between teacher and students is mutual.
“They like to do things well. You can see it in their eyes,” Mable says during a break in the class.
Kyle says having to call a teacher “sir” was an adjustment when he first started taking karate. But the word reflects a sincere admiration for Mable.
“He knows what he’s doing and teaches a lot about what’s wrong and right,” Kyle said.
Kyle began taking karate to learn to protect himself. It’s something Mable has been teaching people of all ages for decades now in Glenwood Springs.
Through all that time, Mable’s emphasis has been to try to teach his students self-restraint, and ways to avoid having to use the skills he teaches them. Kicks and punches, even self-defensive blocks and dodges, are considered last resorts in karate.
“It teaches us not to fight,” said Glenwood resident Cole Newton, 13, another student of Mable’s.
Said Mable, “We’re actually learning this to try to avoid situations. … We’re trying to find nonviolent solutions to potentially violent situations.”
“I’ve been in one or two situations like that myself years ago and it worked. My heart was thumping a little bit but nobody got hurt and that was a good outcome,” he said.
Mable is mild-mannered and speaks softly, with the quiet confidence of someone who knows he can summon a blow powerful enough to break a brick if necessary. He had to break two to get his black belt.
“It made you focus. It was a real test of your mental abilities to take on something very challenging and be successful at it,” he said.
To Mable, karate is less about being able to break a brick or board than about gaining confidence and self esteem, building character and integrity, and developing the awareness that can help in avoiding dangerous situations or being prepared to react to them.
Mable is a seventh-degree black belt in the karate discipline of Tang Soo Do, and will be testing for the eighth of 10 degrees in March.
“It’s a very honorable degree but to some point it’s a number. I tell my kids I’m a seventh-degree white belt, and that means I’m still learning too.”
“What I teach is a process, not an event. That means we’re not in it to get to a black belt as fast as we can. … I like to think my people are getting more out of their training than getting their black belt.”
Mable’s own martial arts journey began back in 1968, when he began studying judo.
He was born in New Jersey but he is a dual U.S/Canadian citizen. His family is from Ontario, as is suggested even today by Mable’s slight Canadian accent. When Mable moved to Maryland he took up judo for exercise and self-defense reasons.
“It taught you a lot about self-discipline and self-respect. It taught you to stay focused, as karate does too.”
Mable switched to karate in 1970 after he went to watch a friend test for his gold belt in the discipline.
He came out west to attend Colorado Mountain College, starting out studying business and then switching to recreation. He began teaching a women’s self-defense class for extra credit, and liked it enough that he kept doing it on a part-time basis for about 10 years after graduating in 1976. He then started Brian Mable Karate about 20 years ago.
Mable also used to work as a river guide, and long taught skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort, and then at Beaver Creek. He also enjoys horseback riding and scenic drives through Colorado’s mountains. In college he did some acting, including in musicals and operas. His acting and skiing experience all paid off when he was working at Sunlight and appeared in the background in a bit scene in the 1980 movie “A Change of Seasons,” starring Bo Derek.
“That was my 15- or 10-second claim to fame,” he recalls with a smile.
Yet for Mable it has been karate, not acting, that has been “almost like a calling” since he first was exposed to it. Today he is president of the Western Tang So Doo Federation, a multistate organization.
“I’ve had a successful life teaching karate and I’m willing to help people who want to learn. It’s almost something like I was destined to do, at least for this time in my life anyway.”
That time has turned into quite a long time.
“I enjoyed it so much I just kept doing it,” he said. “Now I’ve got a great following, I’ve got a great group of people.”
Mable teaches about 50 students now, and has taught thousands over the years. Longtime student Ken Newton ” Cole’s father ” marvels at Mable’s reach over the years.
“What Mr. Mable has done to touch so many people’s lives … I can’t imagine it can be anything but positive,” Newton said.
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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