Senior Martial Arts: How To Fight Safely Into Your Golden Years

0 Posted by - August 1, 2023 - Uncategorized
81-year-old Sensei Dot Naylor in 2015, Source: 10 Downing Street’s Official Twitter

Martial arts have never been just a young person’s game. Sure, the high-end competition and full contact sparring is usually saved for more youthful fighters. It’s the wisdom and teachings of people who have dedicated their entire lives to the practice that make martial arts what they are, though. And make us all better martial artists. 

You don’t have to be an old master to participate in martial arts well into your golden years, either. As lifespans increase and active lifestyles become more popular among senior citizens, we’re seeing more people keep up their recreational martial arts practices much longer. Like the 94-year-old 6th degree Taekwondo black belt and 76-year-old Kalaripayattu master we profiled back in 2016. And the 84-year-old Karate black belt who was sharing her teachings with the other residents of her care home that we covered in 2018. Heck, even the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio, is now the Karate Senior. 

And if you don’t have a background in martial arts? It’s never too late to start, either. There are an increasing number of programs and resources available for seniors who are interested in trying Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, and even Boxing for the very first time.

Let’s look at the benefits of martial arts training for seniors, as well as some things to watch out for. 

The Benefits of Martial Arts For Seniors

Fall Prevention: Falls can be dangerous and even deadly for older adults. Martial arts training helps people develop the balance, agility, and body awareness necessary for keeping you upright. And if you’re able to learn break falls — and comfortable trying them — martial arts can also teach you to learn how to land as safely as possible if you do fall. 

Muscle Tone and Bone Density: As you get older, you can start to lose muscle tone and bone density, which can make daily tasks harder to perform and put you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Martial arts training provides strength and conditioning exercises that can help you fight back against this loss so you can feel and look better for longer. 

Heart and Lung Health: Martial arts training is an excellent way to increase your cardiovascular capacity, keeping your heart and lungs healthy and making day-to-day activities easier and more comfortable. 

Brain Health: As we get older, it’s important to keep your brains as healthy and agile as our bodies. The mental component of martial arts training is an excellent way to do that, keeping everything from symptoms of dementia to boredom at bay. 

Community: The golden years can be lonely for some people, and new opportunities to socialize and engage with other people aren’t always easy to find. Martial arts classes can help make your world and social life a little bigger and make you feel like a part of something again. 

The Risks of Martial Arts Training For Older Adults — And How To Avoid Them

All martial arts come with a degree of risk. Even non-contact martial arts training can result in injuries due to distraction, carelessness, or even a complete fluke. And that risk does increase as you get older and your body doesn’t quite function the way it used to. 

But that’s no reason to avoid martial arts training altogether. Here are some simple steps you can take to mitigate those risks and maximize the benefits of martial arts training for seniors. 

Train Smart: Knowing and respecting your limits is an important skill in martial arts training. And it only becomes more important with age. This isn’t to say that you can’t gradually challenge those limits, but you have you know where they are and how to responsibly push past them before you can try. Otherwise you’ll end up injured and frustrated — and potentially more limited than when you started. 

Check You Ego: The impulse to keep up with your younger counterparts is totally understandable. No one wants to get shown up by some young whippersnapper! But respecting where you are in life and celebrating what you can do and what you bring to the table will be better for you and your training partners in the long run. “Martial arts is a lifelong journey, not a sprint for the next two months,” Coach Andrew Read writes in For Older Guys Doing Martial Arts.“ 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 for the next four is well worth it. That extra session you’re thinking about right now could wind up being 12 you end up missing. It’s hardly worth the cost.”

Rest and Recover: Here’s some more wisdom from Coach Read: “You need more rest to recover from your training than your younger classmates. In your head you may think you’re the second coming of Randy Couture, but you’re not. Unless you’ve spent your entire life as a professional athlete before taking up martial arts you are going to suffer. […]Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need more recovery. Ice is your friend, contrast showers may be your best friend, and you most certainly need weekly massage. Massage is absolutely vital for older athletes who are still trying to push hard.”