Staying focused in her sixties.
ormer Tennessee Chief Justice Janice Holder, a fourth-degree black belt in American combative martial arts, has always used the precepts of her martial arts practice to help her pursue her goals. “Focus, concentration, and proper breathing,” she says. “Those are the three things we learn the first day of martial arts class.” The retired judge maintains that anything is possible with a combination of physical and mental discipline, traits she has gleaned from 26 years of martial arts training.
Despite her career successes, Judge Holder didn’t always know she wanted to go into law. The Pennsylvania native originally thought she might be a flight attendant or a paralegal. “I applied to one law school,” she says. “I decided I would go on more of a lark than anything.” Even when she began work as a lawyer, she was unsure whether she belonged in the field. But after clerking for a federal judge, her mind changed. “I decided that’s the job I wanted.”
When Holder ran for office in 1990, after a year of martial arts training and a decade practicing civil and family law in Shelby County, she was encouraged and inspired by a story that her teacher, Patrick Wrenn, had told her about a time when he had neglected to complete a part of a martial arts routine. “What he did in the routine was good. But with what he left out it would have been better,” she remembers. “It just hit me. I thought: What’s going to happen 10 years down the road if I don’t run for office?”
Holder went on to win her first election to become a Circuit Court Judge in Shelby County. Six years later, she joined the Tennessee Supreme Court, eventually becoming the first female Chief Justice ever to serve in Tennessee. Today, the 66-year-old (who retired in September of 2014, after 18 years of service) is as active as ever. She works out every day and takes classes several times a week. “People say, ‘Haven’t you taken enough lessons?’” she says. “The answer is no. I haven’t taken enough lessons.”
The American Combative System is a form designed and taught by Wrenn, a Memphian and a tenth-degree black belt. The system is designed to emphasize self defense and self reliance. Holder, who has studied with Wrenn since the beginning, now helps teach junior martial arts classes. “The things that you build your martial arts around, you can build your life around as well,” she says.
The former Justice is also encouraging those who are newly curious about martial arts, or how to maintain their health in general. Though she has maintained a consistent schedule of fitness over the years, she believes it is never too late to start. She also believes that people should have fun with their exercise. “I love it when I see people out riding bicycles or walking,” she says. “It is never too late to become excellent at something you enjoy. If it is something you enjoy, you’ll do it. If it is not something you enjoy, you won’t do it. So pick something you enjoy and follow through.”
“I think martial arts is the way to go,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not only a way to improve physical health but a way to improve mental health.”