Martial Arts Musings – Aging Well in the Martial Arts

Fraser2013
photo of Master Jon Fraser and grandchildren – USKF Member New Hampshire

by GM Jeff Helaney
One of the most important aspects of healthy living is learning to age well. This might sound like an odd piece of advice, but the truth is we all get older and unless we learn to recognize our body’s changing needs we end up doing more harm than good. As we grow older our bodies begins to change. For each of us the change is a little different and the age of onset may occur at different points in our life.

As young martial artists we are invincible. We work out for untold hours on complicated forms, flashy high kicks, and spar until we can’t move any longer. The next day we wake up with some slight aches and pains then we do it again. What seems like punishment to others seems fun to us. Unfortunately, youth is truly fleeting.

One day we wake up and the aches and pains don’t go away as quickly. Our kicks aren’t quite as high or as fast as they used to be and working on forms seems more like ‘work’. It can be frustrating, but it is all part of our body maturing. Often as young as the late thirties or early forties we begin to lose more muscle mass each year than is created, muscle elasticity lessens, and our joints begin to show signs of wear. This doesn’t mean it is time to hang up the black belt or even the white belt, but it does mean that more attention needs to be paid to what your body tells you.

It is important at any age to watch your diet, exercise regularly, and to keep your mind agile. It becomes even more important as you enter middle age and old age. Most of us tend to lead sedentary life styles during the work week and play warrior on the weekend or evenings. After only a couple of martial arts classes each week we wonder why our body hurts.

One of the easiest ways to avoid this cycle of pain is to take a few moments each morning to focus on your physical and mental well being. Qigong (Ki Gong) or Tai Chi exercises can be used to loosen and strengthen your muscles, as well as, help center your mind for a busy day at work. The slow deliberate movements promote health by breathing appropriately and by channeling internal energy. Moreover, most workouts can be completed in under 20 minutes.

As we age it is important to eat healthier. An easy way to start taking control of your diet is to take your lunch to work with you when you can. Monitor what type of foods you are eating and even pay attention to the amount. Most of us say we would like to eat healthier, but we live in a busy world that demands every thing now and fast food is easy. Unfortunately, that same need for instant gratification has caused us to become one of the most obese countries in the world.

Finally, stop trying to be the person you were when you were 20 years old. Embrace that age that you are at this moment. It will never come again. Make your workouts age appropriate and take the time you need to warm up before beginning a class. You may not kick as high as you did when you were younger, but that isn’t what being a martial artist is about. When take a class for the first time we start a journey that, if we are lucky, will last our entire lives. There is no race to get to the end first; there is only the path we take on that journey. What matters is that you recognize the obstacles along the way and compensate for them.

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