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Age (73) is no barrier to mastery...


Age (73) is no barrier to mastery for Joe Amrhein

Joe Amrhein gets a real kick out of his favorite pastime.

Perhaps all karate instructors do, but how many are teaching the martial arts at age 73?

"I'm one of the oldest in the country, probably," he says. "That means I can't compete with the 20-year-old ballerinas."

But he can (and does) command respect at Jim Lashley's Tek Chang Wa Karate Club in East Baltimore, where his disciplined teaching style has earned him the nickname of "the Sergeant."

A retired industrial engineer who is active in the American Association of Retired Persons and the Knights of Columbus, he didn't take up karate to pass the time. Instead, he tried it because he wanted more exercise than "cut-the-lawn-and-hedge stuff."

Known for being a perfectionist, he attained his second-degree black belt status in three years and now outperforms students young enough to be his grandchildren.

Friends tell him he's crazy. "A lot of old people don't appreciate what I get out of karate. They say, 'What's an old guy like you doing that for?' I don't try to convert the world. If you want to watch television, that's up to you," says the grandfather who lives in Gardenville.

He also disagrees with those who claim the sport makes a man more macho.

"An outcome of knowing karate is that you don't have to walk around like a John Wayne character," he says. "You don't have to prove anything to anybody."

"I guess," begins Kay Lawal, "I'm a wild, raunchy, funny woman."

No need to guess. The 35-year-old comedian-actress, who will perform at School 33's Lotta Art Benefit on Saturday, is the real thing. She can find almost anything worthy of a laugh, even her own recovery from drug addiction.

As the founder of Actors Against Drugs, she has shared her painful past with thousands since giving up cocaine six years ago.

At schools, churches, corporations and state agencies, she and her troupe of 15 "look at what would happen if drugs could talk and share their tempting qualities."

The group, which lost a member to AIDS several years ago, has recently added an AIDS piece to its repertoire. And next month Ms. Lawal plans to perform in a two-woman show at the Maryland Institute.

Low self-esteem and peer pressure contributed to her own drug use as a teen-ager. Fourteen years later, it reached a crisis point when she could barely participate in the Edinburgh Festival. Encouraged by her then-partner Joyce Scott (together they made up the successful Thunder Thigh Revue), she found help.

"Laughter had a healing, therapeutic quality," she says. And even while seeking treatment, the former class clown -- who credits nuns who taught her in Catholic school with nurturing her creativity -- never gave up on performing.

Although she has toyed with the idea of doing stand-up comedy, the mother of two, who lives in Northeast Baltimore, is satisfied with her life right now.

"This thing about one day at a time is really important to me." she says. "I'm working on keeping still."

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