The schoolyard debate of “my dad can beat your dad” is a hard one to settle, but Connor and Cole Astaire can say their grandmother could probably beat any of their friends’.
This week, Gale Trumbeaux received her third-degree black belt, which she tested for as a celebration of her 80th birthday.
The Agoura Hills resident has been practicing karate for 25 years. A former dancer, Trumbeaux took up karate as a way to stay fit and also found it empowering.
“Growing up in the (1940s and ’50s), we were taught ‘you can’t make a fist, that’s what boys do. You can’t fight back, that’s being a boy,’” Trumbeaux said. “When I first started karate it was just for exercise, but I had a big ‘lights on’ moment one time in class where I looked at all the ladies that were there and I thought if I started to take it seriously I could shake off this victim idea that I’ve had all my life, and that’s what I did.”
She practices at Premier Martial Arts in Westlake Village, which teaches karate. Trumbeaux didn’t pick that style over other martial arts. She used to pass by the studio when she was driving around town. One day she walked in and signed up for a class. She said it was more appealing than aerobics, which she found boring.
Trumbeaux said her age makes it impossible for her to perform some moves, like flying kicks, but her instructor, Roger Lacombe, works around her limitations.
“She goes at a slower pace than everyone else. I don’t push her beyond what she’s capable of doing,” Lacombe said. “I think it’s a real inspiration for people her age, that you can be active and train, you can start things at any age. She’s an amazing lady.”
Lacombe taught Trumbeaux to use her elbows in a fight because those joints are stronger than the wrists, so for her it’s more effective than throwing a punch. She doesn’t spar with the other students, but she’s vital enough to break boards, which was part of her exam.
“The whole idea is self-defense,” Trumbeaux said. “If somebody does something to me, what can I do, the quickest, the fastest move for me at my age, that will be the most effective (to stop them). It’s wonderful because we get practical for me.”
When she’s not practicing karate, Trumbeaux writes children’s books. In nine years she’s self-published 30, which she also illustrated. She started writing kids’ books for her two grandsons because she wanted to get them interested in science, one of the predominant themes of her work. Trumbeaux said she wants to make the subject fun for kids and encourage them to study it.
The grandsons, now in their 20s, remain Trumbeaux’s biggest fan, and introduce her as their black-belt grandmother whenever the opportunity arises.
Trumbeaux used to operate the Stage Door Theatre in Agoura Hills, which closed its doors in 2008. She opened the venue in 1980 with her sons. It was through working there that she met her third husband, to whom she’s been married for 25 years.
In her younger days she was a dancer and was married to Fred Astaire Jr., with whom she had one son. She said her history as a dancer is part of what led her to practice martial arts.
“This particular style has lots of forms, so it’s very much like a dance routine and they expect you to do it very correctly. Every step is precisely done,” she said.