It took martial arts school owner Michael Evans a while to coax Jerry Newcomb to take a rather giant leap.
Months of encouragement from Evans led Newcomb to don a Kukkiwon robe and give it a whirl. He showed up one evening five months ago and stayed for three classes before calling it a night.
"He'd been finding all sorts of excuses, but after three classes he was drenched in sweat," Evans said. "He came back and said he lost 5 pounds."
The 53-year-old Newcomb has swapped more pounds for confidence and discipline in the intervening months as he's worked his way through white, yellow and orange belts to green.
What separated Newcomb from the dozen students testing at the Master Evans Martial Arts Studio on Crater Lake Avenue Saturday morning, however, wasn't age or gender. Newcomb lost his right leg below the knee as the result of a cycling accident two-and-a-half years ago.
His prosthetic leg proved little hindrance, however, as he reeled off the jabs and kicks required to earn his green belt.
When it came time to bust boards with his hands and feet, his thrusts produced a nice collection of kindling.
"I just like to challenge myself, physically, mentally and spiritually," he said. "If you challenge yourself, it builds character."
After losing his leg, the 25-year UPS retiree set new challenges.
"I was laid up for a year, I was pretty much mush," he said.
He's always been a competitor.
As a teenager, Newcomb played high school basketball at Mark Morris High School in Longview, Wash., and went on to Lower Columbia Community College.
"Athletics pretty much saved me, because I came from a really bad background," Newcomb said. "If it wasn't for sports — the discipline and everything, and keeping you busy, I couldn't imagine where I'd be. It's kind of like paying homage to it, what you get out of it over the years. It's something you want to keep up and keep focus and carry it over into life."
Evans saw there was opportunity to convert that focus on another platform.
"He's pretty strong and confident," Evans said. "He's very fit, it's just amazing what he's learning and developing a huge amount of confidence.
"When you lose a leg, your balance is going to be different and his balance has really improved."
In a gym where some of his peers could be his grandkids, Newcomb's presence is felt even by more advanced students.
"It kind of pushes them harder, because I'm kind of a competitor," Newcomb said. "When I compete I've got to raise the standard a little bit. I like to be pushed, so when I get here I like to raise the bar and challenge myself with people that are more skilled than I am."
And he inspires older participants as well.
"He's got a great spirit," said Terry Toner, 52, who was also pursuing his green belt. "He just goes for it. He's overcome a lot of challenges and has been quite an inspiration."
Newcomb's basketball skills transferred to daughter Brittney, who earned Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors her senior season at South Medford before going on to Weber State University. But after spending a few months in the gym, Newcomb admits wishing all three of his adult daughters could have taken up martial arts when they were younger.
"If I had to do it all over again," he said, "I would have had them do it, just for the discipline. What I like especially for kids is the discipline, the etiquette, the mannerism and work ethic."
It takes four to five years for adults to earn a Kukkiwon black belt, Evans said. Newcomb admitted he hasn't looked that far ahead.
"There isn't a long-term goal," he said. "I just relish the journey, it's just a challenge at the moment."