When a martial artist reaches the age of 40, does everything really change that much?
I turned 42 last year. I don’t really feel all that different from how I felt even five years ago. So it is not really the actual number 40 that matters, but age happens and things do change as we age. In this article I am going to go over some of the changes that have happened for me, and how they have affected my training, my outlook, and my philosophy on martial arts and conflict.
When I practice now, I look more for injury prevention than I did when I was in my teens, 20s, and even early 30s. Through my teen years, we trained in garages and carports, on concrete. Our padding was plain ordinary cardboard (which, for the record, provides no padding at all; it just prevents the skin from splitting open on impacts as easily as it would on bare concrete). Even as a teenager, I got out of bed slowly, because as any old school martial artist can tell you – when you are true old school, something always hurts. Through my 20s, I remember beating my arms and legs with bundled wire, soaking my fists in herbs and water as hot as I could tolerate, and doing other stupid things. I am sure this type of masochistic training took its toll on me, but I really have no serious training injuries that plague me, except for the back pain, and that could just as easily have been caused by the years of working construction, or the years working as a pro wrestler as well, so I cannot be quick to blame that pain on old school martial arts.
I have met martial artists who claim that they never even bruised when they were in their 20s. I cannot make that claim, as I had bruises all of the time. But I can note that the bruises were gone in a couple of days, and that is far from the case now. When I get bruise now, they are there for days, and in some cases, more than a week. So this does cause me to space the higher impact workouts a little further apart. Or I could simply walk around as one big bruise…I do love being the center of attention.
The bruises, however, are not what bother me. The other injuries are my issue. Pulled and strained muscles are much more frequent, and my back gives me constant grief while my knees cry out for daily attention by swelling up to the point where after my hour-long drive home from work every day, they are swollen up to the point where it looks like I am smuggling coconuts in them.
This is the type of concern that causes me to tailor a workout around the idea of injury prevention, where before I used at most some simple caution when there was an activity that carried a little more risk. I have all but stopped working out in situations where there was someone else in charge of the class. This is not out of knowing better than they do, but more out of knowing that I am going to do whatever they ask the class to do, and more than likely they will ask the class to do something that is no longer part of my skill set, and I will get hurt in trying.
My latest issue is in how my low back pain stops some of my workouts before they get going. I have three disks in my lower back that are in varying stages of destruction, and the pain is typically at levels that would hurt rocks. I have to take it slower in the warm up stage of the workout, and the warm up has to be an extended warm up. I hate spending time on my least favorite part of a workout, but the choice is that or miss a few days trying to recover from another pulled muscle.
As a person ages their thoughts on many subjects do evolve. There are some things that were a foundation for my life that are no longer a part of my views. Other things have changed. As we are trying to stay on the topic of martial arts, I will focus strictly on that area.
When I was younger, I viewed all training as something that furthered the ability of the trainee. Not so anymore. As I see things now, the trainee must have a clear view of what they are training for, and must not delude themselves into thinking that the other fields of study in the martial arts are enhanced or even learned through study in your own preferred field or specialty.
An example is simple, when I was in my 20s, I was beyond convinced that my practice of Taekwondo sparring was enhancing my self-protection skills. Of course, at this stage of my life, I know it did nothing of the sort. I am quite thankful that I was never attacked by the criminal element during that stage of my life. But every day there are people who get the rude awakening. It is delusional to think that tightly controlled and rule bound tournament sparring is anything more than very remotely related to self-protection against a criminal attacker. There is absolutely nothing wrong with training for a sport karate tournament, or a judo tournament, as long as the instructor makes clear, and you fully understand that the skills you are learning only partially transfer into the setting of self-protection. When you factor in all that happens when the adrenaline hits, all of the techniques that require fine motor skills are gone, you had best have some training in something that is simple and strong.
When I practice now, I no longer have tournaments in mind. I stopped competing in tournament a long time ago, and have never looked back. Well, that isn’t true. I look back a lot. My tournament days were a lot of fun, and I got to meet and compete against some very talented and wonderful people. But I do not regret no longer training with the tournament perspective.
Another outlook that has changed is the ultimate warrior mindset. As a teen I bought into the entire line of BS about being able to be transformed into a super ultimate fighting machine if I trained in the right system and followed the right master. As a mature martial artist (read “old man”), I understand that we train to better ourselves and that the person matters more than the style. Most mature martial artists would agree on that though.
I was quite the hot-head when I was young. I had certain ideas that shaped a lot of my philosophy in martial arts for a very long time.
For example, I advocated for many years that every child should be taught martial arts, and still feel that way today. But I didn’t stop there. I wanted them to be taught the brutal, bone breaking and eye gouging stuff! Pretty strange for me to think about being where I am now and teaching what I teach, but in my younger days I was still closely tied to the severe incidents of bullying that warped my worldview for too long. While I was what one might call a “victim” of bullies in 7th and 8th grade, the antics of that crew was literally child’s play compared to what waited for me beyond. My life was a wide-awake nightmare for many years. It didn’t stop until my skills grew to the point where I was able to fight off a bully, get him in an arm bar and rip his shoulder out of joint. The group started leaving me alone and turned their attention elsewhere. This was what led me to believe that the key to ending bullying was to teach the kids to destroy the bully. As I have become more distant to the incident and much better educated on the legal aspects of such antics in our modern world, I teach kids to follow the rules. I teach them that fighting really isn’t going to help them, and I teach them how to take the heat out of a situation before it turns to fighting.
One last note, and I would like to hear from other over 40 martial artists on this. Is it strange to take comfort in the thought that the me today could easily tear apart the me at 25 years old?