Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Martial Arts - Enjoy it because you can!

This post is inspired by Michele's latest post: Tuesay Tip: Repost: Enjoy at 'Just a Thought'. In this post Michele implores us to enjoy our martial arts.

I replied to Michele that I enjoy the physicality of doing martial arts - I appreciate the fact that I can actually do it! I will confess something to you: I am 47; I took up martial arts at the relatively late age of 45. I feel lucky that I am healthy, fit and flexible enough to participate in such a physical and vigorous pursuit and I do not take it for granted. There is great pleasure in being able to move your body about freely, without pain or discomfort; to explore the limits of what you can do and stretch yourself beyond those limits.

You know what? I hate being called middle-aged. I would never refer to myself as middle-aged. Middle-age is a concept not a number; it’s a state of mind. Middle-age is for people who think it is time to take things a bit easy, to plateau, to coast into old age, to stop setting goals, to stop learning new things – to just sit back and let life pass you by. ‘Middle-age’ can strike you at any age and you should guard against it. I’ve met people in their twenty’s who are ‘middle-aged’ and I’ve met people in their senior years who have still yet to reach ‘middle-age’!

When my husband was younger he worked for a few months in Newfoundland in Canada. He was walking past a lake one day where people were sailing and windsurfing. When he looked a little closer he realised that all the people on the lake were senior citizens – some very senior! He was astounded – it was the first time he realised that older people could still participate in vigorous physical activity and he was impressed.

We have all recently heard the news about the 72 year old judoka from Edinburgh receiving his 10th dan. This is an amazing achievement and what is most amazing is that he still runs his club. He is still active, still involved and still enthusiastic. He has not yet reached ‘middle-age’! Stories like this inspire me; they make all things still seem possible, regardless of age. I once read a comment from a martial arts blogger in which he felt too old to become an instructor – he took up martial arts in his thirties and got his black belt round about 40. He was now 42. Too old! I would have thought this was the perfect age – old enough to be wise and mature, young enough to have the required physical fitness.

‘Youth is wasted on the young!’ is a well known saying. It’s true – at least for many young people. They just don’t realise what advantages their youth brings them – fitness, flexibility, energy. We have several teenagers in our karate club who just don’t realise what they have! They pay lip service to the warm up and stretching exercises; give about 50% to their karate training and complain if they feel tired! They are not all like this, some do show more dedication and work hard every lesson, but the lazy ones frustrate me! I sometimes feel like shaking them and saying ‘wake up, you won’t always be young you know – try harder while you can!’ Of course I don’t actually say anything but they do make me feel quite mad sometimes.

The most frustrating thing about the ‘lazy’ teenagers is that they can pull it off when it matters, i.e. for a grading or competition – this is another advantage of youth! If I did not work hard all the time I would not be able to ‘pull it off’ for my grading. In my last karate grading one of our young 2nd kyu’s graded for 1st kyu and really pulled it off – she was amazing, it was like watching a different person! If only she worked like that all the time, who knows what she could achieve.

Whatever age we are we should appreciate our physicality and enjoy the freedom it brings us. Who knows what is around the corner. When I worked as a nurse I saw many people cut down in their prime by chronic illness or accident – their physicality or sometimes their lives taken away from them. We currently know some family friends whose 21 year old son is battling cancer – he is not responding to chemotherapy and his future balances on a knife edge. He may not get the chance to fulfil his dreams, experience the joy of life or rejoice in his physicality until old age takes him.

So forget what age you are, resist the decline of ‘middle-age’ and ENJOY your martial arts simply BECAUSE YOU CAN. Continue to push your own boundaries, continue to learn new things and continue to make every minute of it count.

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Anonymous said...

While age does affect performance to a certain extent (muscle-mass and agility decreases, it’s harder to recuperate from strenuous activity, injuries are more likely etcet.), martial arts training will always be possible as long as you’re physically healthy and don’t overdo it. Of course this doesn’t apply to people starting at a fairly advanced age but the upside of getting older as a martial artist is that you have much more experience than younger people meaning you can compensate for diminished strength and speed. I’ve heard of a ninety-year old man beating a young karate-champion in his twenties, obviously not because he was faster, stronger or more agile but because he had been training all his life (in Japan they tend to start at a much younger age than in the west, especially if you happen to be born in a martial arts/samurai family) and could see attacks coming a mile away. He even invited the young champion to grab a bo and attack him full speed with it, naturally the guy was rather hesitant (hitting a ninety-year old with a bo tends to be pretty lethal) but he did as he was told, the end result was him getting tossed all over the dojo. Another story: Dan Inosanto, the world-renowned Filipino master and protégé to the late Bruce Lee recently got his black belt in Machado jiu-jitsu. The guy’s seventy years old! This just goes to show you should never underestimate older martial-artists, nor ever give up on training yourself. Especially if you’re getting on in years yourself. You'll only get better and practicing martial arts consistently & safely is a good way to extend your health well into old age.

Btw: are you really 47? You look more like someone aged 35 – 40 to me.

PS: as to kids being lazy, I think what they lack most is the maturity that is needed to keep working hard, even without a tangible reward. That and a laxe, soft upbringing that is so prevalent these days. Children and teenagers really are overprotected and spoiled rotten. No wonder alot of them lack backbone and get involved with drugs and criminal activities.

Felicia said...

I totally hear you about being able to freely move about without pain. I started my karate training at age 37 and now at 43, I'm amazed at folks my age who have joint issues and can't walk a flight of stairs without getting winded. Still, I wish I'd started training at 27 or so!

My "other" discipline, LOL, was track and field (the high jump was my event). I trained and competed from age 14 until I was 36, but I realized one day (ironically while tying my running shoes and preparing to train) that I physically wouldn't be able to train/compete forever as the physical aspects of the event are really hard on the knees and lower back. Made me really, really sad...

But with karate, that isn't necessarily the case. Sure agility and physical muscle mass may decrease, but I imagine that I'll be able to throw a front snap kick or reverse punch as long as I'm able to still stand. Perhaps karateka are like fine wines and cheeses: we get better as we age :-)

About the lax attitudes of some of the younger folks in the dojo: I often wonder about that, too. Makes me want to shake them as well - especially when they half-step through class but turn up the ferocity level at gradings and tournaments. But that attitude isn't unfortunately just limited to the young; I actually trained with a female black belt for a while who thought that in a "situation" she'd become so enraged and adrenalin-filled that she'd easily be able to handle anyone bigger, faster, stronger than she is, doing all the techniques she can't quite muster in class - and she's 50...

So I guess the old adage holds true: get busy living or...

Thanks for the great post, Sue (and Michele :-)

Sue C said...

Hi Anonymous - those stories almost make me look forward to old age!LOL. Seriously though, I intend to train for as long and as hard as possible. At the moment I feel that my fitness,strength and flexibility are still on the increase and I have not yet reached a peak. The ony way in which younger people out match me (and not all of them)is on speed during sparring and the height of their kicks - but I'm working on it.

And yes, I really am 47 but thanks for the compliment :-)

Hi Felicia - sounds like you've been sporty all your life and you clearly don't let age get in the way of anything you do - good for you gal! I definitely think that 'middle-age' is something in the mind and not the body - we must resist, we must resist.......

Mathieu said...

Since my knee injury, you have no idea how much I appreciate my 85% knee.

I have stood by kumite for 3 years and I'm finally taking part in it.

Youth is indeed wasted on the young. :)

It is great that you reflect that way.

Hey, enjoy KARATE!

Sue C said...

Hi Mat - I'm sure many people with empathise with your knee problem - its seems like a common injury in martial arts. I'm glad you're really back into your karate now and back into the 'zone' :-)

Anonymous said...

You’re certainly right about enjoying life and physical activity for as long as you can. My grandmother got a brain-hemorrhage a few years back which left her left side completely paralyzed, as a result she can’t walk anymore (not by herself anyway), or cut her own food, she can’t even go to the bathroom by herself anymore. She lives in a retirement-home and there are people there that are actually worse of than her: one lady (she’s about 50 so very young to be in an old folks home) had a very severe accident years ago (she got hit by a car while cycling) and she’s almost completely paralyzed: she literally can’t do anything anymore… she lives on liquid food, can’t talk and depends on others for every little aspect of her life. Every time we pass her in the hallway it breaks my heart to see her like this, no-one should live like that and I do hope that if I’m ever in such a severe accident I’ll die right away instead of vegetating for years. I don’t know how aware she is of this whole situation but by god I hope she really is a plant otherwise she’s living in hell. Which reminds me to go fill out my last will, thank god this country is advanced enough to actually allow euthanasia.

Anyway, with that in mind I sure as hell am glad I’m still healthy and actually able to perform strenuous activity such as a heavy warm-up (especially when sensei’s in the mood for some serious abs-conditioning) and some serious training. I can actually do all those things while some people cannot even lift a finger on their own accord. While it’s hard the moment you’re doing it (it’s supposed to be of course) it feels great afterwards, as long as it’s not too bad I actually enjoy some muscle-ache after a decent workout: makes you feel alive and you’ve actually got something to complain about 

About the age-thing: I am not that great at guessing someone’s age and a gi does take away 10 years doesn’t it? (lol) Nah, you look fine.

Sue C said...

Anonymous - What is it with men? Give a compliment with one hand and take it away with the other - thanks!

(Just joking!). I think gis make people look fatter than they are, not younger.

Prof. Guilherme Fauque said...

Wow, congratulations by this text!!!!

I love read your blog, it's very inspiring!

And, thank you by the post on my blog! Actualy, the "big brother" (really a terrible television program) is a success here in Brazil, and so I used it to talk about swastica. This was only a subterfuge to draw the attention - lol.

Sue C said...

Hi Guilherme, thank you for your kind words. I shall continue to follow your blog too.

Anonymous said...

Well, we don't want women to become too cocky, do we? ;-) Most women I know like a little teasing, especially since they know I've got nothing but respect for them. At least aslong as they respect me.

Good retort btw.

Mathieu said...

did I mention we have a 76 y.o. brown belt in our club?

he's an inspiration!

Sue C said...

Hi Mat - 76? That's amazing. I'm always inspired by older people who are still physically and mentally active.

Michele said...

Hi Sue: Great post.

I'm with you...I hate being called middle-aged! On my blog "about me" page, I recently removed my age. I think it was for the same reason you mentioned in your post..."middle-age is a concept not a number".

Thanks for the inspiring post!

Sue C said...

Thanks Michele - it was inspired by you. Stay young!


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