Are You Too Old for Martial Arts?
By Jack Tuberville
One of the mega trends we’ve been hearing about for years now is the aging of the American population, due mostly to the huge number of “baby boomers” facing retirement. One of the features of this group is that they tend to be more health conscious than some of the earlier generations. That combined with the skyrocketing interest in martial arts has led many of us older folks to consider some type of martial arts training as a way to maintain physical condition.
As we age we find our bodies are not as flexible, our muscles not as strong, and our endurance not what it once was. Further, our short term memory begins to fail us. As a result, we can feel more frail and generally less competent (and confident) that we used to.
As it turns out, these are exactly the concerns most martial arts directly address. The workouts and training promote strength, flexibility and endurance. You will learn better balance and, conversely, how to fall correctly. In real life this means you are less likely to have a fall, but if you do, you are less likely to be injured.
Martial arts training also addresses some of the mental and emotional concerns of older students. It’s pretty well agreed that the best way to preserve memory is to use it. In most martial arts there is so much material to learn that you are constantly challenged to absorb new techniques – and execute them – sometimes without much time to think about it. This is true whether you choose one of the grappling arts like Jiu Jitsu, or standup arts such as Kenpo. Even though it may take you longer to master and perform these techniques, you will learn them. And that will pay big dividends in your physical competence and mental confidence. This is likely to translate into all aspects of your daily life.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a perfect physical specimen to engage in martial arts. For example, I’m 62 and have significant osteoarthritis in one knee, along with limited range of motion due to an old surgery. I have some arthritis in both big toes and occasional flare-ups of gout. But several of the younger students also have various joint problems. The thing is, you adapt and learn to work around these limitations.
So, are you too old for martial arts? You will surely want to talk to your doctor before you take on any vigorous exercise program; and, you’ll want to discuss it with your martial arts instructor. But my answer would be that if you are in reasonable physical health, with no serious chronic medical conditions, you are probably not too old. If you can play racket ball or a little tennis you are probably not too old. If you can ride a horse or jog a little you are probably not too old. Another way to look at it is that if you are well enough and able bodied enough to be considering martial arts you will probably be alright.
The biggest hurdle to getting started is just that – getting started. It’s very much like jumping into cool water on a hot day. It takes awhile to work up the nerve, but once you do your system rises to the occasion and you find yourself swimming free. So come on in. The water’s fine.
Jack is a 72 year old Kenpo Black Belt and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt. Jack has trained for 15 years.