Research as shown that moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later improves cognitive function (memory, learning, and brain health or staying “mentally sharp”) by 30-40%, You watched Kung Fu, Green Hornet, The Avengers, and Batman when you were young and always wanted to try martial arts, but life happened. Now you’re settled and ready to start a new chapter, get in shape, and learn to defend yourself, but where do you start?
First, figure out your goals. If your goals are to become more flexible, disciplined, get in shape, and earn belts (an outward reflection of how you are progressing), then you want a more “traditional” martial arts be it Karate, Mixed Martial Arts (many follow traditional belt rankings), Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Yes, you will learn self-defense techniques as well albeit often more traditional techniques.
If your goals are to defend yourself and get in shape while learning practical (i.e., modern) defense techniques, look for a self-defense system. Look for a system which incorporates stand up (punch/kick), ground (wresting/grappling/throws) and weapons (knife, sticks, gun). Krav Maga is a popular system. Krav Maga is a self-defense system developed for the military in Israel that consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from Aikido, Boxing, Judo and Wrestling along with realistic fight training. Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extremely efficient and brutal counter-attacks.
You probably don’t want to start with a high energy, acrobatic art like Capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music, and is sometimes referred to as a game. Judo as it is practiced nowadays in most dojos (a school or practice hall where martial arts are taught), is a combat sport, focusing on competition, which is obviously more appropriate for younger people. As a martial art, Judo can be practiced at any age. Look for a Judo dojo that still maintains its essence as a traditional martial art rather than just a sport. That doesn’t mean that your only option is T’ai Chi which consists of slow, smooth, gentle movements and can be practiced seated or standing. Ultimately, it depends on your end goals.
You’re never too old. You must, however, know your limits and learn to put your ego in your back pocket. Even if you’ve been physically active, if you’re training with a 20 something and you’re not 20 something, do not compete with them on their level. Their level – you remember what it was to be 20 something or how you felt in high school. For most people, you’re in your physical prime. You’re fast, you’re strong, you heal quickly. You can run all night and play all day. If you try to compete with them on their level, it won’t happen. Know your limits or your body will tell you your limits and then you are sidelined (read that hurt), and your martial arts goals may end there. Many people get so down on themselves when they get hurt, they never come back to class. Their ego is hurt more than their body, but now they have an excuse to quit.
Be smart. If everyone is doing falls and your back hurts that day, heck, you could’ve even slept wrong, don’t do them. If the instructor pushes you to kick higher and you feel extra tight that day, do your best given how you feel, but don’t push it that extra bit. You can let the instructor know after class if you feel you must. Take extra time to warm up if you need it. Your body will tell you. You have to listen to your body.
No matter what age you start, you will have aches and pains. You’re using muscles you haven’t used before or in a long time. You’re stretching out ligaments and tendons that have become used to not being stretched.
Remember, the benefits far outweigh any negatives. You will become more flexible, lose weight, gain muscle, lower blood pressure, reduce stress – even sleep better at night!
Bottom line, have fun on your new journey. You’ll meet like-minded people, make new friends, rediscover or discover what your body can do, and you’ll have fun. Enjoy!