Your resident AWMA blogger recently had quite the soul-searching trip down memory lane this week. Facebook’s On This Day feature recently reminded me that it was the anniversary of my last Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament. The 8th anniversary of my last tournament, to be precise.
I’ve continued to study and write about martial arts in those 8 years, and I’ve taken the occasional class in a number of different disciplines in that time, but I haven’t seriously and regularly trained since then. And while I had my reasons for taking a break back then, interviewing martial artists – especially the young and talented AWMA crew – and reporting on their fascinating lives and accomplishments is making me realize that I do miss training. And that has made me realize that it might be time to consider getting back in the saddle. Or back in the gi.
There’s one big thing holding me back right now, though: I’m not a kid anymore. Getting back into training is going to be a challenge to both my body and my mind. And, I’ll admit, I’m a little intimidated about it. What if I get injured? What if my ego gets bruised?
I’m also aware of the benefits of lifelong martial arts training – including better health, flexibility, self-defense skills, and focus, among many other amazing things – and I do want to grow up to be at least as half as this boxing senior:
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So I’ve been spending some time talking to old training partners of mine and reading up on tips to help me get back into the swing of things. We’ve talked about how to stay healthy when you’re an older martial artist, but we haven’t addressed how to start – or restart – your practice if you’re not exactly a young whippersnapper anymore. So here’s some things I’ve learned in case any other martial arts enthusiasts are in a similar situation right now:
1. Choose Wisely
If you’re a martial arts rookie and you don’t already have a discipline that you want to return to, consider what type of martial arts training will be best for you at your age and current fitness level. Even if you’re not in peak shape, you don’t necessarily have to shy away from harder impact martial arts – studies show that they can be great for the older athlete when approached properly – you just have to be aware of what kind of lessons will be both the healthiest and the most interesting option for you.
In their 2015 post Over 40? – What Martial Art should you choose? blogger Don’t Make Me Angry McGee recommends Tai Chi, Aikido, Shito Ryu Karate, Judo, and Wing Chun as good choices for older aspiring martial artists, with sound arguments for the benefits of each style.
McGee also has some advice for people interested in Karate that’s can be helpful for anyone researching what kind of classes they want to take in any art: “Some advice for those looking at Karate as an Over 40’s person is to be aware that classes are often full of teenagers and young adults and it’s not unreasonable to feel uncomfortable training in this environment initially. My advice is that this is a case, where you are better off not to contact the Dojo directly but rather the organization that the Dojo belongs to and to speak with them about joining either a class for Over 40’s, or if that is not available if they know of specific clubs where older people train that you may fit in with better. The contact there will be likely more than happy to assist you to find the right club, which geographically may not be the closest club, but will give you the start into Karate that you are looking for.”
2. Pace Yourself
Once you reach a certain age, you don’t always heal as quickly as you used to. Which means that whatever course of training you take on – or return to – is going to have to be a little more carefully measured than it might have been or used to be.
Natasha Spearman-Isip, who took up Karate at 43, sings the praises of her responsible training in the Healthy Woman article Martial Arts at Midlife: How it Changed My Life.
“Karate, taught well, provides a gradual mastery of techniques and consequently, fitness. Regular class instruction is sprinkled with calisthenics and, to my delight, meditation. As I progressed through the belt system, the total package of stretching, upper body technique drills, push-ups, stomach crunches, leg raises, lower body techniques and meditation started to spill over into other activities.”
And don’t forget the importance of proper rest and recovery, which we covered in greater detail in a post earlier this year.
3. Be Humble
If you’re just starting, there are going to be people much, much younger than you who are running circles around you. And if you’re returning, there might be people with far less experience in total than you who have more regular training on their side. Respect your limits and take care of your brain and body.
“Make sure your goals are realistic and ask yourself the question if you’re in it to improve your quality of life, or are you doing it as a sport and compete,” Sensei Luciano Paparella writes in Am I Too Old to Start Karate Training? “If you are of a certain age, e.g. over 35 and you are just starting, than competition should not be your main goal. Your goal is to build a flexible and strong body and mind in a progressive manner that will allow you to age successfully and enjoy life pain free.”
“Not all of your training needs to be hard,” Coach Andrew Read points out in For Older Guys Doing Martial Arts. “I know it seems counterintuitive, especially when you start to think that you’ve already given up years of time to all those younger guys around you, but if you start going all out all the time you’re going to quickly wind up hurt. Martial arts is a lifelong journey, not a sprint for the next two months. Display the kind of maturity you’re supposed to have and accept that you are in this for the long haul. Giving up a session this week to make sure you can train the next four is well worth it. That extra session you’re thinking about right now could wind up being twelve you end up missing. It’s hardly worth the cost.”
4. Be Brave and Have Fun!
Martial arts are hard work. You’ll get tired. You’ll probably get sore. Your self-esteem might take a few blows in the early going. But it’s also packed with benefits for your body and soul. And it’s a lot of fun! So be responsible, but also don’t psych yourself out. You’ll be so glad you tried it… or tried it again!
5. Treat Yourself To Some New Gear.
Like maybe something from the AWMA website!
Have you been thinking about starting or returning training? Do you have any tips for someone who is? Let us know in the comments!