I turned Fifty years old this week.
Holy crap, if I had been given any clue that I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. I have lived a pretty exciting life, from my perspective. I am going to present here my list of ten things every man should know by age fifty. Obviously, I know these things, so it is a biased list. Feel free to let me know what you would add or take out. And for you young’uns, the sooner you learn this, the better off you will be.
#5: There’s always someone better than you
I stood across the floor from him. Robert Lambert was to be my opponent at the Black Belt test. He wasn’t as tall as me, he stood maybe 6’2″ to my 6’5″. He outweighed me, I was a lean 225 lbs. back then. It is funny to think about this and remember how fat I thought I was then. God, I was quick. I wasn’t as strong as I had been before dropping weight from my previous 250 lbs., but I made up for it with training and drive. But Robert had a serious edge in experience and strength. His thigh measured the same as my waist did back then, 32″. All muscle. But I was THE Man, and I would not be denied. When the match started there was the typical give and take, but I was so sure I had this.
Then my block on his round kick was too high. My impeccable instincts were wrong and his shin met my ribs.
Bones knit. Time heals all, and some lessons hurt. It only takes one misstep to learn, if you are willing to listen.
#4: Your Dad was grouchy for a reason
When you are my age, if you listened when I told you to take care of your body, you will be better off than I am. But you probably won’t listen. I know I didn’t listen. Between fighting idiots, training in the martial arts, old school professional wrestling, and years working in construction, I piled up a number of injuries. Today, my knees are shot, my hips give me no end of grief, my back is complete toast. Torn ligaments, blown discs, dislocated bones, and on and on it goes.
My Dad was the same. He lived a full life, and got in a few too many fights, and let’s not forget that he fought in World War II! Old guys get grouchy, but we have our reasons. You’ll understand someday.
#3: The “older you get, the better you used to be” delusion
Sometimes I catch myself remembering myself as if I had at one time been one of the best in the world. I was good, do not doubt. But I was nowhere near the best at anything I have ever put my hand to. It is fun, and it does seem to be a man’s thing. I could be wrong on that, but I don’t know.
We do want to put a shine on our memories of the past because the here and now tends to suck. But this is mostly because getting old ain’t for babies. If we can refocus, however, now is not only the best, it is all that there really is. You are better right now than you ever have been because you know more than you did before.
#2: You can’t get wasted days back
I didn’t go out with friends, didn’t go to parties, and really went past introversion and ended up in isolation. What I spent my time on was important to me at the time. I wanted to become the best martial artist ever. I studied every aspect, and read everything I could get my hands on. There was a disturbingly long period of time where I got up at 3:00 AM, did a morning workout, ate breakfast and drank a pot and a half of coffee, went to work, got home, drank the remaining half pot of coffee, went to the martial arts school, worked out until 9:00 PM, went home, and read until midnight or 1:00 AM, went to sleep, and repeated this the next day.
I never became the best. I still talk to people every day who know so much more than I do, and sometimes wish I had given more time to friends back then. I was a demon when it came to studying and training, but I did become more socially awkward as a result. Balance your days, make time for the people in your life.
#1: Sometimes violence is the answer, but most often it is the wrong answer
In the martial arts, and more so in the RBSD (Reality-Based Self-Defense) crowd, there is hyperfocus on the times in which violence is *the* answer. Often, this is done to a point where people stop seeing that *most* of the time, violence isn’t the answer at all. Most fights have several opportunities in the prelude where you have the option of walking away. And because anything can happen in a fight, and anyone can be killed accidentally, and the other fighter can be sent to prison for causing the death, violence is best avoided when it can be avoided.
There it is, my list of five things you should know by the time you are 50. If I missed something, feel free to let me know!