Saturday, July 13, 2013

Getting Older in the Martial Arts

It's been interesting to watch my perceptions of martial arts change over the years.  I used to read Gichin Funakoshi's autobiography with fascination, awed by somebody who would stand on the roof of his hut in a typhoon to strengthen his legs.  I loved watching demonstrations of huge, muscular guys smashing a pile of concrete bricks.  And I never tired of watching Master Killer (the very poor English renaming of the movie "The Thirty-Sixth Chamber") as the hero lifted a five pound weight at the end of a ten foot poll to strike a gong, using this unorthodox technique to develop invincible wrists.  Come to think of it, I still don't tire of watching it!

But then, something happened that would change my outlook forever.  Something I didn't expect, and could never have foreseen.

I turned thirty.

If you're under thirty, here's a secret that perhaps nobody has ever told you.  Your body starts needing maintenance after thirty.  All of a sudden, you can't eat whatever you want, whenever you want, with no consequences.  A workout you wouldn't have even thought about before suddenly makes its mark in ways you never expected.  And despite your best efforts, some of your physical abilities start to plateau.  Oh, sure, you can still exercise and get stronger.  You might even be able to stretch and increase your flexibility.  But it's much harder than before.  And it gets a little harder every year.

So I started to notice that my progress in sparring was slowing down.  For every two steps forward I made in skill, I took a step back in diminished abilities.  I wasn't getting worse.  I just wasn't getting better the way I wanted to.  I began to suspect that I'd never be the guy striking the gong with the ten foot hammer.  I was frustrated.

But if there's one thing I learned in the martial arts, it's to be fluid in my approach.  If one technique doesn't work on an opponent, try something different.  So I changed things up, focused on different areas.  Fewer hard blocks and high kicks, more blends and joint locks.  Less focus on movements that depend on power enhanced by technique, and more focus on those that depend on technique enhanced by power.

I still engage in intense workouts, and sometimes come home bruised and sore.  There's things I know now that I'll never be able to do, and I have limits I need to acknowledge and respect.  But I find there's a lot of flexibility within my style to find my own specialty, and adjust it to my own capabilities.  Which is a good thing, because I fully intend to still be practicing when I'm 80.  I may no longer be taking the same falls I'm taking now, but I'll be on the mat, refining my skills, and passing on what I know.

And probably still enjoying watching Master Killer, too.


  1. You ain't seen nothing yet. Wait till you turn seventy.


  2. You ain't seen nothing yet. Wait till you turn seventy.