One of my favorite social media platforms is Quora, where I access numerous facts and opinions on topics relating to martial arts as well as other fields of interest. For the few years that I have frequented the website, I have more than once come across questions by members on whether they are too old to get into some sort of martial arts program.
These members usually indicate that they are within the age ranges of 45-54, or 35-44, and surprisingly at times even within the range of 25-34. While I understand the consensus that it can be beneficial to begin practicing martial arts in one’s youth, I am still often puzzled by the fact that many people throw in the towel if they have not achieved something that they want in life all because of some sort of self- imposed limitation.
With that being said, I am not going to produce a cliché inspirational piece on age being just a number and/or state of mind, as in my view, while this positive way of thinking may prove to be physically and mentally beneficial for some, the reality is that with age, cognitive, social, emotional and physical changes are constantly taking place, and as a result of these changes many of us begin to feel less able and/or inclined to pursue activities that we would have during youth.
Regardless of this, the world of martial arts has evolved (and continues to evolve) into one of countless styles and/or systems, and within the wide range of styles there is something for everyone. Therefore, age should not be an inhibiting factor when it comes to learning a martial art, but what should be considered is how one approaches learning when adopting a practice as a middle or older aged person, as it cannot be denied that the experience in doing so can be vastly different from that of a young person. Below are some pointers that I think should be considered when beginning a discipline as a mature adult.
CHECK WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE STARTING CLASSES
This is especially relevant for those who do not get routine physical examinations from a doctor. Starting any form of exercise program without at least having an idea of your state of health is akin to speeding at nighttime on an unlit road while half asleep at the wheel with no working headlights. In other words you are going at a fast pace while being oblivious of the reality of the situation, and are likely to crash at any given moment.
Modern medicine has long established that due to poor lifestyle habits such as poor diet, insufficient sleep, self neglect, stress, alcohol and substance abuse, it becomes more likely to develop chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension as we age. For some of us, genetics also play a roll, as these chronic diseases can be inherited, and as a result, such conditions can be acquired even during youth.
Symptoms such as dizziness, severe fatigue, and headaches during or after intense training sessions can be warning signs that you are doing yourself more harm than good, and that you may have a medical condition which needs to be attended to before continuing any sort of vigorous martial arts workout exercises. Despite suffering these indicators that all is not well, many of us remain obstinate and stay away from the doctor simply because we want to avoid the potential bad news of a diagnosis, or perhaps we deny that anything is wrong, and mistakenly believe that bravely bearing what may seem like minor physical pain or discomfort while pushing ourselves through training will make us physically and mentally tougher.
Learning to push through pain can be a useful and effective method of mental conditioning however, It is important to understand that participating in intense exercises which require constant recurring bursts of energy and pushing against resistance while suffering with a chronic disease such as untreated type 2 diabetes, or hypertension can potentially aggravate your condition as well as create complications. In severe cases high impact workouts may even cause death, thus defeating the purpose of training one’s body for health, well-being and physical toughness.
A thorough checkup prior to beginning a martial arts program can succeed in putting a person’s mind at ease by informing them of the status of their health, while educating them on what can be done in order to nurture themselves to better health, as most chronic conditions associated with aging can be treated and controlled. A qualified physician would be best suited to advise on the required pace of training for someone with a particular health condition.
IT’S OK TO LOSE TO OR BE OUTDONE BY CLASSMATES
Sometimes people tend to be competitive even when there is no real reason to compete. In my experience, I have noticed that younger students with aspirations of becoming professional fighters tend to be more aggressive and competitive during training. Some of them don’t ever seem to hear the words “keep it light”, and approach all sparring exercises as they would the last piece of chicken during a post apocalyptic food crisis, in that they attack you ravenously without allowing you to think or breath for a millisecond. The intention is almost always to dominate, and in some instances there is hardly ever consideration for the classmate. The idea of light sparring as a mutual learning exercise nearly almost always goes out the window.
This may not necessarily be a bad thing, as sparring with different classmates who offer different levels of resistance will no doubt benefit a practitioner in the long run, and as long as the teacher in charge of the class maintains control of the sparring sessions, while ensuring that the rules of safety are always adhered to, all should be well. That being said, in the early stages of training, it may be daunting for an older student to get into a martial arts program, only to have to be constantly beaten by the younger, better conditioned and more experienced students.
For some people, this experience alone can be intimidating and/or humiliating, and enough to have them never come back to class after the first day of training. In circumstances such as this, it is important for an older student to keep an open mind, and to understand that in the world of martial arts there will be those who are more skilled than yourself, just as there will be those who are less skilled than yourself. The objective should be to take the opportunity to learn from your classmates , regardless of the classmate’s age, gender or attitude. Whether sparring always results in you losing and your classmate having his/her hand raised in victory at the end ultimately does not matter.
Staying with a good martial arts school in order to get the maximum benefit out of the training offered is better than pointlessly comparing yourself to others and allowing insecurity and self-doubt to rob you of the opportunity to learn. In most instances if you stick with training long enough, you will find that with time, old students may leave while new one’s continue to enroll in classes, and as a result, you will eventually join the ranks of the more experienced students while perhaps even gaining an opportunity to assist with teaching others.
CHOOSE A MARTIAL ART THAT SUITS YOU
You may love Taekwondo, and you may have always dreamed of learning the discipline, however, you are now in your 50s and suffer with osteoarthritis. Unless there is a Taekwondo school in your area which caters to adults who suffer from such chronic disabling conditions, it may be a bad idea to attempt to jump into a Taekwondo class which focuses mostly on competitive sparring at a high level. In instances such as this one, physical rehabilitation should take priority over the preference of style and the longing to overwhelm an opponent or wow an audience with lightning fast kick combinations.
Not being able to practice a physically demanding style of martial arts does not mean that you are to give up and sit on the sidelines. There are styles of fighting that revolve around the principle of motion economy, in that they are designed to be combat effective by being simple and direct, while reducing what can be deemed as unnecessary movements. The objective when practicing these styles is that energy is conserved, and there is less stress on the body during practice.
Most styles which revolve around this principle are not sports, but are practiced for self-defence, or perhaps simply as hobbies, and therefore, each practitioner can be allowed to learn at his/her own pace, while adjusting the movements to suit his/her strengths and weaknesses. Fighting styles such as Wing Chun, a number of empty hand and weapon based Filipino martial arts, various styles of Koryu Jujitsu (Traditional Japanese Ju-Jitsu), and many other contemporary styles of self-defence all share this feature, in that they operate primarily on the principle of leverage and well-trained sensitivity.
For an adult who is not physically capable of engaging in the strenuous exercises required for body conditioning, systems of fighting which adhere strongly to the principle of skill over muscular force may be a better option. It should be clarified that there are physical requirements in every fighting style, however some styles of combat such as Greco Roman wrestling and Western boxing fully require the development of dynamic and isometric strength along and endurance, and from the very beginning can be more physically demanding on the body than many other existing practices.
Classical styles which advocate internal training have also been known to aid rehabilitation and may better suit the older beginner who suffers from a chronic condition. Meditative arts which focus on harmonizing the mind and breath such as Taijiquan, Yiquan, and Baguazhang, as well as classic Okinawan styles of Karate such as Gōjū-Ryū and Uechi-Ryū (both of which “Sanchin” or training exercises which contain breathing along with muscular tension and relaxation, is an integral part of practice), and southern Chinese styles such as Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors Fist, and Hung Gar, are a handful of classical martial arts which are known to strengthen the body from the inside out, and are suitable practices for all age groups and all ability levels.
ENJOY PRACTICE AND MAKE IT PART OF YOUR LIFESTYLE
Even as an adult, the idea of joining a martial arts program for the first time can be exciting, and the initial stages of training may succeed in arousing enthusiasm and wide-eyed excitement for a short while. The world of pop culture has glamorized martial arts for decades, and therefore, adults and children alike sometimes tend to associate the practice with what is portrayed in movies, video games and similar works of fiction where the success of mastering a discipline always seems to happen fast.
With enough classes it will eventually become apparent that the only way to excel is through the hard work of performing constant repetition drills, and that it can take years of practice in order to truly become a very skillful martial artist. With time, a practitioner will also find that no matter how skillful he/she has become, refinement of skill is a lifelong process. For some people, training to win competitions may succeed in holding their attention for a while, however unless a person is very passionate about the discipline that he/she competes in, or competes in a discipline on a professional level, the enthusiasm for competing will eventually wear off.
Once the honeymoon phase is over, there may be a desire to quit, and once this desire is acted upon, the opportunity to learn a skill which can potentially become a lifelong asset is gone. In my opinion, setting aside a small amount of time ( at least an hour every day) in order to train, while enjoying the slow but sure process of sharpening the mind and body can be a better path to take as an adult beginner than attempting to make up for all the previous years of no training in a short period. While reasons for training and the amount of hours put in per day are totally at the discretion of the practitioner, I think that ingraining your practice into your lifestyle even in the smallest way is far more beneficial than starting with a bang and fizzling out quickly.
Apart from consulting a doctor and simply taking time to enjoy training, It is also important for a person who is getting into martial arts or any other form of physical activity later in life to eat well and rest. There are times that fatigue may set in, not because of illness, but possibly because of the lack of proper nutrients and/or the required amount of sleep necessary for the muscles, organs, and cells to repair themselves. Taking vitamin supplements along with ensuring that you get the required 7 to 9 hours of sleep are also important factors in your performance as a martial artist, and your overall health and wellness.
In the world of martial arts practice, training responsibly in order to prevent injury to yourself and to others should always be adhered to. This rule applies to everyone, and should be paid attention to even moreso by older practitioners, as the body takes time to health with age. Due care should be taken in order to prevent disastrous injuries such as severely torn muscles and broken bones.
In short, as long as a person takes the necessary steps in order to maintain his/her health, then martial arts training is accessible to that person at any age. If you are over 25 and you wish to get into a martial arts program, I fully encourage you to follow your passion. In my opinion it is only too late when you decide that it is. Thank you or taking the time to read, and please feel free to ask any questions or offer any comments and/or criticisms below.