As a kid, I was amazed to read about Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido. I was just starting out and I knew how tough it was for me to get a grip on sparring and randori when facing one opponent. But fifteen opponents or more like he did? And as a senior citizen?
Ueshiba wasn’t tall. His body didn’t surge with muscles. So how was he able to accomplish his magic? How was he able to weave his web and entangle everyone who attacked him?
I had a long time martial arts student (Karate, Judo, Aikido) who came to train in Tai Chi with me because he felt his strength waning while in his mid-50s. To him, his Karate and Jiu Jitsu just didn’t feel as strong anymore. He still ran through his basics and Kata but you knew he wasn’t expecting much more to happen in the arts he loved to train in.
Sad, I thought. But he was determined, obstinate even, that nothing was going to change. He was caught in the age trap.
What I wanted to tell him was that Karate and Judo are so extensive in their repertoire that you can keep on changing your approach – and continue to learn and develop – as you become older. I enjoy sitting at a restaurant table with elderly Kung Fu practitioners and listen to their excitement while they talk about different power delivery structures. They remain bold and confident. And sometimes, in class, they might have to put an uppity youngster in their place. They do this with a smile.
Karate, Judo, Kung Fu…you can accomplish great things right up to the day you meet St. Peter at the gate and he asks you to show him your favourite form.
Here are some random observations –
HIGH KICKS – they may not reach the altitude you once enjoyed. Discover the wide world of low kicks (speed, joint breaks, leg buckles, multiple kicks). Study pressure points…kidney points, spleen points, gall bladder points, the legs are covered with them. Study the structure of the hip, knee and ankle joints as primary targets. Study the small secondary kicks that arc out from the main kicks.
In other words, compensate for any so-called loss of physical speed and power with knowledge.
BREAKFALLS – stop slamming the mat hard; go soft. Tai Chi and Aikido do this. Land as though the mat was an extension of your skin. In fact those soft roll outs…front, side and backward…can act like a massage of the entire body. Rather than leave the Dojo spent from banging the mat, you’ll come away soothed.
MUSCLE RECOVERY TIME – truthfully, this may take longer. Vary the muscle groups, the training routines, etc. across several days so the recovery times are smoother. You’ll maintain strength from muscles that haven’t peaked. Change of muscle groups daily; one group recovers, the next receives a modified strength routine on that day, etc.
Less repetitions of one set of movements interspersed with gentle stretching within desirable stretch limits – and self-massage. Strength and stretching actually tear muscle fibre; as we age, it takes longer for muscle cells to either replenish or adapt. Stretch only slightly beyond established limits a few times a week, very carefully.
Listen to the body’s responses. Adapt either by reducing amount or the methods. You’ll maintain a high degree of flexibility.
HAND SPEED – you’ll lose none of this if you switch to relaxed striking in fact you’re your reflexes will actually speed up.
POWER – this will change, even increase, if you switch to internal and/or relaxed striking.
MEDITATION – lots of this. The mind compensates for the burst-through-the-wall type of bravado you showed in your 20s. Calm replaces fury.
HARD CORE TENSION EXERCISES – check your heart and blood pressure. Don’t perform tension every day. You can train in the Sanchin Kata for example in various ways without building up blood pressure or stress hormones. If you’re deeply committed to honouring and training in the Sanchin Kata, you should spend the next twenty years investigating the tremendous power, stamina, rootedness and fighting capabilities aside from hard core tension and hard core breathing. They exist.
I’ve seen martial artists in their 40s and 50s train themselves into a rut. The same thing, the same way every day. At that age, many leave the martial arts because of frustration and/or the inability to extract anything further from the path in training they’ve narrowly followed. The key is…you’re not supposed to train the way you did twenty years ago. Each movement in Judo, Karate, Tai Chi, is an expression of force, speed, health, longevity and of course fighting prowess. You’re not supposed to fight like you did in your 20s; you’re supposed to have expanded your training and gone further into the heart of your system to find a multitude of ways to express speed, power and fighting prowess.
Lastly, martial art training is for life. Write down all the possibilities that you think your art contains then set up a weekly training schedule to discover those possibilities. At your level of expertise, you should act as a researcher of your art.