In an online discussion a while back a person lamented to me, “I always wanted to study martial arts. Now it’s too late.” I asked him how old he was and he replied, “17!” Now, if you’re seventeen, you might not be able to see the humor in this but if you’re over forty, you do. Too old at 17!?
Although I was tempted, I didn’t mock him. I just told him, “That’s the perfect age to start.”
And the truth is, whatever age you are is the perfect age to start.
My first martial arts experience was in a rundown YMCA in Rock Island, IL in 1973. At twelve, I wanted to be Bruce Lee and so did everyone else. The class was taught by an earnest young brown belt named Maximillian. I didn’t have much back then so it meant a lot when Maximillian gave me one of his old uniforms. It even had his name embroidered on the lapel. I loved that gi and the embroidered Asian script that spelled his name.
The downside to the generous gift was that when I visited the main school, the Korean man instructing the class could not figure out if I was obstinate or just stupid when I would not respond to him when he repeatedly called, “Maxmeeon, Maxmeeon!”
I returned to a dojo for the first time in 1994 at thirty four with my son who had been given a gift certificate for classes as a Christmas gift from his grandparents. As I sat on the side watching the instructor work with my son in the dojo, repeatedly calling, “Ian, Ian,” something stirred inside. Could I return to the dojo? Could I train again? I wondered. Nah, who am I kidding? I’m too old!
Shortly after that, my son moved on to soccer and I signed up to take a class. I was psyched! I remember the instructor, Master Tom Duncan, encouraging me to take it easy. Yeah whatever, I thought. What does he know? As it turns out he knew a lot. I pulled my groin muscle in the first class. Now my groin and brain were both saying, “You’re too old!” Still, I decided to go back, limped through classes, dealt with soreness and injury, but continued. And over time, I’ve reaped the benefits.
The benefits of good martial arts training are available to anyone who is willing to step onto a polished wood dojo floor or the mats. Good training can increase fitness, balance and well being. It can help the participant set and work on personal goals as a member of a community. Some people will feel the desire to compete. Others will gain confidence from developing new skills. Some will focus on effective self-defense.
For me, the greatest benefits were a sense of increasing personal power and peace. There is a world of possibilities out there for would-be martial artists of all ages.
Currently, I’m in my 19th year of training and have been teaching since I was a brown belt, just like Maximillian. I’ve given away many uniforms, but none with embroidery. In a small dojo in my home and in a corporate fitness center, I train a handful of students. I have my young bucks, my twenty-somethings, but I also have my seniors, my sixty-somethings.
Each of my students is pushing him or herself, learning and growing at their own pace. All of them are living healthy vigorous lives and their training is part of that. I recently had the honor of presenting two of my students with black belt certificates and belts. They have been training with me for six years. Shelly is 66 and Joe is 62.
So are you still thinking you are too old to start? I won’t mock you. I think you are the perfect age to start. Start now. Whatever your age and enjoy the benefits. Increase your personal power and peace.
Mark “Oldman” Cook is a martial and visual artist and founder of the Corporate Karate program at Hallmark Cards Inc., “Ladies’ Night Ouch”, a self-defense course for women and girls and owner of Prairie Martial Arts in Prairie Village, Kansas. Mark is also the author of Oldman’s Bubishi: An Introduction to Bunkai from Karate’s Kata, which he’s shipped to sixteen countries around the world, each personalized with his own brand of cartoon humor. Currently a 4th Dan in Chung Do Kwan, Tae Kwon Do, often referred to as Korean Karate, Mark travels and shares his book and its principles through his Oldman’s Crash Course. Visit him at www.prairiemartialarts.com