Why martial arts for seniors?

self defence cane fightingWhy martial arts for seniors? Or, to pay lip service to being pc, why should boomers and old folks be interested in a martial art?  Simple answer: reversing or slowing the effects of age. Sorry, I can’t help with the grumpiness! Actually, exercise is a great stress reliever and mood elevator so, maybe I can…<grin>.

 When I googled effects of age +exercise,  I got  9,880,000 hits. It is a huge topic. Huge. And you’ll never find this article hidden under all that!

If your understanding of the martial arts comes from the movies as it does for most people, then you can be forgiven for thinking that only 20 year old hard bodies practice the traditional martial arts for fame and fortune. seniors self defence women's self defenceThe reality is that many folks over fifty train for health and relaxation and to prepare for later years.

One five time winner of the U.S. national grand championships won his division titles while in his sixties, having started his training in karate at forty-seven years old because he was double his health weight and had developed heart problems.

As the fitness generation edges up into their pre-senior years they have kept their commitment to fitness for health and have refused to go gently into muscle loss, frailty and balance problems. In their search for a stronger and healthier retirement they have the support of a number of university studies that have focused on identifying the process of ageing and methods to slow the process down.

Dalhousie University in Halifax reports that after the age of thirty the changes of ageing; loss of muscle mass and strength, brittle bones and tighter joints are inevitable.

Since these changes are exactly the same as the deterioration you suffer from an inactive lifestyle, if you do not exercise into your forties and fifties you are in effect doubling these detrimental body changes. This greatly impacts your quality of life during retirement.

The good news is that the ageing process can be drastically slowed down by exercise, which also reverses the losses attributed to an easy rider of the easy chair lifestyle.

“Active people decline at a far slower [rate]…that means that people who are physically fit can lead an actve life longer. They’ll be able to take care of themselves [better than] someone who is sedentary.”
     ~ I say: DUH


They also claim that it is never too late to gain the benefits of exercise whether you are looking for muscle tone, muscle building (size) or joint loosening. Emotional benefits of starting an active lifestyle at any age include feeling better from the release of stress and tension, decrease in depression and increase in self confidence. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) and balance problems also decrease.

While Victoria doctor Richard Backus, whose credits include the dramatic recovery of Olympic rower Silken Laumann, is mostly involved with the rehabilitation of injuries, he has found that his work translates well into the special problems of the elderly.

“Much of the ageing we see is not an inevitable process but rather a decline due to prolonged inactivity. We need to reactivate those people.”

Even if you are presently nursing an old injury, exercise and not rest is one recommended cure.

“Activity is the key to recovery from soft tissue back injuries, not extended bed rest,” says Dr. Kelly Flannigan of Victoria’s Summit Rehabilitation.

Dr. Flannigan is also known for prescribing martial arts techniques to help show clients how to use legs and hips properly, in order to save their back from extra stress.

But why a martial art?

Self Defence

Martial arts training is deeper than mere self defence although you may become prepared to defend your family in the training. I have seen a lot of improvement in my mature students over the years. My Raising Canes students are particularly quick to achieve confidence in self defence.  The oldest student I ever taught was eighty-four years old and had significant loss of eyesight. Not having an interest in working through the belt system or self defence, this gentleman started karate training to offset his personal fraility. He gained significantly in his joint looseness, flexibility and balance. His strength increased to the point where he started to feel that the self defence aspects of the art might not be outside the limit of his years. He only quit when his eyes failed totally.



I too am a bit of a late bloomer, not starting my training until I was in my mid-twenties. When I realized how old and out of shape I felt at twenty-five, I knew real old age would be a disaster. But I also realized that every day putting off the pain and other costs of working out would make my life that much more painful later. That started my martial arts career. Now at sixty years old, with thirty-five years of training behind me, I have never been as strong and balanced as I am now.

I relate the success of my mature students to the fact that I can structure the classes so that everyone only competes against himself and not others. I know that no person over the age of forty or fifty has the energy or stamina of a twenty year old and usually has different goals. If you do become interested in practicing a martial art, look for a club with the ability to accommodate a wide range of goals that has a proven record of providing service to a wide range of student ages.



While the typical club trains for head-banger tournaments and therefore concentrates on the few youngsters capable of bringing glory to the club, I feel that tournament training teaches people to be ego driven, not ego controlled and often brings out their worst side. My focus on non-competitiveness has enabled me to create a club of social support fuelled by friendship and fun rather than aggressiveness and win at all costs thinking. Such a club atmosphere helps to instill the active lifestyle and lifetime learning ideals that the experts have identified as the only way to attain long term goals.


Martial arts training is a great life time activity

It is ever changing and there is always something new to learn and something old to perfect. A sprained ankle sidelines a volleyball or badminton player but the karate-ka will merely switch to hand drills and the grappling arts for the duration of the injury. Those who play old-timer hockey or slow pitch have an off season and martial arts training can bridge the gap and ease season opening trauma. The training itself is a perfect complement to all other sports, especially those demanding coordination and balance.

Karate training has stayed fresh for me, even after thirty-five years of repetition because the amount of material is beyond anyone’s ability to digest (or perfect) in one lifetime. Karate teaches by means of choreographed forms called kata. The learning curve (and therefore the sustained-interest curve) rises steeply into the stratosphere as you become proficient with the basics and learn how to learn the kata. The kata can be done at home in any spare moment.

Cross training in Modern Arnis, Bagua Zhang and Chen Taiji has increased my understanding of how my body works and has helped keep me mentally active also.

Martial arts training is perfect for all those who hate the mindless repetition of jogging or aerobics classes. Add in the enjoyment of learning about the culture of origin of the style you choose, and another world of learning and opportunity for growth presents itself.

The list of physical improvements you can expect from most martial arts training include: increased anaerobic efficiency and aerobic fitness, increased strength and flexibility, increased endurance and stamina, and increased muscle tone. Increases in balance and coordination will be experienced relatively quickly. These changes will enhance your abilities in all your activities in your broader lifestyle. Though a dedicated exercise like running or weight lifting will show greater improvement in that exercise, martial arts training usually hits the full scope of related body needs: balance, agility, gracefulness, strength and flexibility.

Character improvements available in the training include: increased self esteem, self confidence and assertiveness, which is not to be confused with aggressiveness. Relief from the effects of stress are quickly reported. Also the classes themselves tend to teach the (younger) students emotional control, how to work co-operatively in a group, how to lead a group as well as initiative and independent learning. As you can imagine, quick thinking and problem solving become a way of life very quickly.

Fitness Advertising

Now that we all know the truth that the hard body ideal of weight lifting clubs and fitness centers is a genetic matter and not a matter of will power, martial arts works with who you really are and not some superimposed fantasy.

Another fantasy area that impedes training is movies which younger students see as reality, causing them to stall and quit when their dreams are dashed. The mature student has come through the fantasies and seeks real gains and achievable goals. This makes them the ideal student and a joy to teach.

Of course, if you have been inactive for a long time, I advise that you have a doctor’s check-up to ensure that whatever program you start will be safe for you.