Karate over the age of 50?

Sensei Glen here. Yesterday at the gym while I was stretching, one of the ladies also in the stretching area asked me if she was too old for starting karate. I assured her that she was not. She claimed to be 75 years old. I started my journey to black belt at the age of 51. I perform a kicking drill prior to stretching and she had previously asked me about that drill (what are you doing?) as well as the kata that I perform in the gym area in the mornings. This got me thinking about starting karate. I was not too old at the age of 51 to begin my journey to black belt. I told her she was not too old to learn how to defend herself and invited her to class.

Recently, one of our friends from the dojo published on Facebook her story of how she was never athletic and through consistent training took and passed the black belt test. She is six months older than I am and it is great to have a few others at the dojo who are my age and are still coming up through the ranks. I am excited for the company and the dedication shown.

I know as an “older” martial artist I need to pay attention to a proper warm up and stretching routine. Sometimes the kids do not understand why we spend some time warming up and stretching or why people like me often take time after class to ensure we have a proper stretch. When I warm up and stretch as well as cool down and stretch I work on preventing injuries and increasing my speed and flexibility.

Our dojo follows a set pattern on warming up and stretching. We could follow any pattern as long as we work to prevent injuries and promote strength and flexibility. The set pattern of light running (jogging) walking, jumping jacks, sit ups, pushups and squats are designed to engage our muscle groups and get the blood flowing to these areas.

Our Sensei has told us on several occasions that most karate injuries occur due to missed warm-ups and stretching. I have a set practice of including a warm-up for each activity. After the body is warm we can begin to stretch the body. Maximum flexibility comes from stretching. Our son, the black belt, wanted to see how long it would take him at the age of 19 to stretch his thumb to his arm. This is a stretch we often do prior to self-defense training to warm up the hands and wrist. It took him a month of daily work to obtain the stretching goal. It is great to be 19! I still cannot reach my thumb to my arm.

When I began my journey to black belt I did not even think about being “old” in class. We line up by belt and then by age. With my wife and two kids I was the oldest and the four of us sometimes were the only white or yellow belts in class. It was natural and several other students (young and old) were ahead of us in line at the start of class. When I became a black belt we line up by rank and age. I was surprised that I was an older student and jumped to the end of the line next to the second degrees. When our friend became a black belt last year I was no longer at the head of the line for first degrees. Good thing for me I passed my second degree test! Of course we do have a few active second degree students who are older than I am as well.

I did not think about age when I joined the karate classes. I was asked by my son and said yes immediately. I am sure that any other parent of a 15 year old would respond the same way. As we progressed, my age did not make a difference. Karate did work on my conditioning and force me to keep in shape. If we wait until we are in shape or “ready,” we will never join or be ready. Of course the person waiting to attack is not waiting for you to finish your next class.

To go back and answer my friend’s question from the gym, “Am I too old?” I would say, ”No! You are as young as you feel,” and we need to make the most out of the only life we have.

As I think about age, I now realize that I have friends and acquaintances that have Alzheimer’s. I am concerned that I should be doing something in my life to prevent or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association website has some ideas and no solid answers. Most of their ideas are that “Regular physical exercise may be a beneficial strategy to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.”  Karate checks the box for regular exercise. They also state “A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.” Again, karate checks the box by providing social activities in group classes and learning new skills that are a mentally active challenge for young and old alike.

The recommendation from the Alzheimer’s association in their “what can you do now section” says: “While research is not yet conclusive, certain lifestyle choices, such as physical activity and diet, may help support brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s. Many of these lifestyle changes have been shown to lower the risk of other diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s. With few drawbacks and plenty of known benefits, healthy lifestyle choices can improve your health and possibly protect your brain.”

I cannot think of a better endorsement for karate than from the Alzheimer’s Association’s own website. You are not too old to begin your journey to black belt as part of the healthy lifestyle that you want to enjoy.

When did you start your martial arts training? Please let us know in the comment section below. Yes, you should join your kids in karate class. I was glad that I did.  See you in class soon.

BB grad 7-15  _010198 (2)

Black Belt Family

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