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Age in the Martial Arts: When is "Old" too Old?

The old guy (or gal) on the mountain top who answers your question of “Where is the bathroom?” with “In your mind, you will find all answers.”  is the pinnacle of martial arts masters, according to movies.  S/he has probably been training since s/he could walk.  But, what about those of us that start martial arts as adults, and not as limber kids at a Shaolin monastery?  Is there any hope that we will gain any proficiency?  Absolutely. 

The road is difficult for everyone.  Age is irrelevant.  Think back to a time when, as a child/teenager, you thought you had such a hard life.  Looking back on those “struggles” they seem silly.  It’s essentially the same way with our martial arts journey.  The important thing is to not let struggles blind us from the value they provide.  They are what season us, weather us, make us stronger.  Starting martial training later in life just means you’re pre-seasoned. 

Here’s the way I look at it:

Option 1: You start martial arts at a young age.  With exceptions, most of the physical training comes a bit easier for the younger than it does for a person starting later.  The hard part for the younger is the mental training.  The external practice (exercise, flexibility, self-defense techniques) is quicker to take hold than the internal (discipline, responsibility, will power, humbleness).  That’s why many martial arts programs for kids often involve encouragement for kids that do well in school and show responsibility at home.

Option 2: You start martial arts as an adult.  Flip option 1 around.  As adults, we’ve already (hopefully) learned many of the internal practices just by being adults.  Our jobs, schooling, and life experiences likely taught us discipline, responsibility, respect, will power, and humbleness.  Some of those qualities still may need work, regardless of age, but the foundation and understanding of them is already present as adults.  The hard part is the physical component.  What I can tell you is that the physical component will enhance your life.  Learning a new skill is great for your body and can increase longevity.  Through the process of learning a new physical skill, especially one that focuses on coordinating the brain with the body, like martial arts, you are helping yourself prevent dementia-related diseases, increasing the strength of your immune response, improving the health of most (possibly all) major body systems, and increasing survivability in a self-defense situation.    Here’s a statistic for you: Hip fractures, among the most serious consequences of falls in the elderly, don’t have to be the trauma that they often are.  After five 45-minute martial art-inspired fall classes, held weekly, fall performance improved significantly in participants.  Participants learned techniques that greatly decreased the impact energy placed on the hip during falls, thereby decreasing the risk of fractures (click here for more information).  We can’t neglect that physical exercise is also shown to improve moods through the release of endorphins (click here for more information).  The “runner’s high” isn’t limited to runners.

In short, never say “I’m X years old, I’m too old to start martial arts.”  The beginning is the beginning, no matter the age.  The challenges don’t necessarily increase when you start at a later age.  Rather, the challenges change in type.  Don’t let a number be an excuse.

Sifu Caleb Hood is a martial arts instructor at Hood's Martial Arts Academy in Salem, Oregon. He currently offers classes in Kajukenbo Tum Pai and Yang style Tai Chi. He has experience training people from all age groups and ability levels. He is always eager to share the arts he practices with anyone that has a good attitude and a willingness to work hard. In addition to teaching self-defense through martial arts, Sifu Hood also promotes a healthy lifestyle, emphasizing healthy physical habits, as well as healthy mental habits. To learn more about the classes offered by Sifu Hood, or about the art of Kajukenbo Tum Pai or Tai Chi, visit the Hood's Martial Arts Academy website here