The idea of studying martial arts usually hits most people when they are watching their favorite action movie star, or when they are watching their favorite combat sporting event. I have certainly heard people say, “I would like to do that…but I’m too old.” If you are over 40 and have an interest in martial arts you can absolutely start studying, and you should, but there are some things to consider first about starting martial arts later in life that will help you get the most out of it.
I started studying martial arts when I was 21, and I am now 49. I plan to study martial arts for the rest of my life. In fact, I started studying Judo just a few years ago. Starting a new martial art in my 40’s was a different experience than starting Kung Fu when I was 21, but I am glad I did it, and it reminded me that you can always begin something new at any point in your life.
The first thing that anybody in their 40’s has to get out of their mind, are any of the preconceived ideas about what will be expected of them. I have spoken to some older people who think that if they start doing martial arts that they are going to have to climb into a cage and get bloodied up, or that they will have to do the splits. (Truthfully, I think that they were more afraid of the splits.) You don’t.
I once had someone tell me, “You know I can’t do the splits.” I told them “Good, either can I. It’s a good thing it won’t be necessary.” The first step is to remove any artificial stumbling blocks from your way. Get rid of the head trash that is based on what you have heard or what you think, but don’t actually know about starting to study a martial art.
What is a good martial art for an older person? That’s easy, the one you want to study. What do you want to do? What most interests you? Don’t choose something you think you can do. Choose what you want to do. If you are not interested in the martial art you choose, then you will quickly lose interest and quit. There are so many martial arts to choose from that it would be difficult if not impossible to list them all.
You may want to start by category such as striking, weapons, and grappling arts, or by country like China, Korea, or Japan. I chose Judo because I had always been interested in Judo, and after studying Chinese arts for so long, I wanted to try something different. Choose something that you have always wanted to do.
The next thing to consider is what you want to accomplish. What are your goals? I think that initially you should set some pretty important albeit seemingly modest goals. The first goal should be to participate regularly. Commit to studying for at least a year, and to attending classes regularly. Once you are a few months in, then you can revise your goals to be a little more of a stretch. Do you want to compete? Attain a higher belt rank? Be more physically fit? Whatever it is write it down and commit to it. You will start to focus your training more, and you will really start to make progress.
Obviously, my body is different now than it was at 21. It takes me longer to recover from a workout, and some soreness may linger a bit longer than it used to. However, I am in better overall shape now than I was at 21, and I am having fun and learning a new skill as well. When you start your martial arts program allow your body to acclimate to the activity. If you have been inactive for a while it will take time to adjust. You must acknowledge and accept this. Start where you are, and do what you can. Don’t fall into the bad habit of comparing yourself to others, or even your younger self. Judge your progress by what you have accomplished, and not in comparison to someone else or how things used to be.
Don’t neglect the needs of your body. Listen to it. Be sure to eat properly, drink a lot of water, get plenty of rest, and stretch. As I have aged, stretching has become more important. I use a couple of Yoga positions before I start class, and I do a few when I finish. This is something that I added recently, but I probably would have been well served to have started it sooner. Stretching will help prevent injuries and make you feel better overall.
On my off days I still do some of the Yoga poses. It doesn’t take very long, so it won’t add much time if you have a busy schedule, and it will help you adjust to your new activity. This is an easy step to skip, but don’t! Part of being older should be being wiser. While we are not defined by our age, we would be foolish not to acknowledge the needs of our changing bodies.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of consistency when starting a new martial arts program. You will do better in your new activity if you keep a regular schedule and adopt some healthy habits. Your fitness level will improve and you will enjoy martial arts more if you stay consistent. Don’t be surprised if you become completely obsessed, in a healthy way, with your new activity. It may end up being your lifelong passion if you give it a chance.