It’s never too late to get into the best shape of your life and martial arts can be a fun way to keep you fit while feeding your mind and soul at the same time. Yes, immersing yourself in martial arts will give you the necessary skills to protect yourself and your loved ones (in case you ever have to), and it will also train you to keep calm when the situation calls for it.
If you haven’t exercised much before, your 40s is a great time to kick start a martial arts training regime. Many studies have shown that practising these disciplines provides various physiological benefits such as improving cardiorespiratory function, flexibility, balance, muscle strength and endurance, decreasing body mass. But most of all martial arts will fortify your mind.
In fact, these disciplines are the ones of the few remaining traditions that still depend on courage as a practical experience: you need the courage to step forth and try something new, to reach physical goals. By being brave enough to try something new or to practice what is not comfortable or familiar, you slowly overcome self-doubt and fears. Once you realise that you have that kind of courage, you can apply it to other aspects of life. Mental courage increases as you learn a martial art because you eventually let go of your mental barriers and instead start to embrace and implement new beliefs about yourself and the world.
Martial artists often get better, not worse, with age – writes Sang H. Kim in his book ‘Martial Arts After 40‘-. Perhaps you are not as fast or flexible as the younger students in a class. Perhaps you don’t recover as quickly from your workouts or you are bothered by new aches and pains that you easily shook off when you were younger. These are minor obstacles when you consider the benefits that come with age. The wisdom to slow down, to see the lessons in every class, to mentor younger students, to laugh at the macho posturing and go your own way, to discover yourself from the inside out. That is what martial arts after 40 is about; a journey of the self, a discovery of the boundlessness of your mind and body, working as one, expressing your inner joy and wisdom.
There are many forms of martial arts, originating from different countries such as Japan, Korea, and China. Although they contain similar features, they each emphasise different systems of actions. Judo uses gripping and throwing techniques, Kung fu and tai chi use slow, purposeful, circular movements, which characterise it as a soft style. Karate and tae kwon do incorporate straight line powerful blocking, kicking, punching techniques as a major component, which characterise it as hardstyle. Soo bahk do (also known as tang soo do) emphasises a combination of the hard styles of karate and tae kwon do with the soft style of the Chinese martial arts.
Whatever you choose, martial arts can be a life-changing experience for any dedicated student.
I have been practising karate for the past 5 years – says Laura C., 46, from Birmingham-. What I love about it is the fact that it is an individual discipline that centres on continuously improving yourself. I also like the fact that there are a partnership, camaraderie and respect in class that motivates you to do better each time. You will learn to defend yourself; you will become more flexible than you ever dreamed, and your overall level of physical fitness will increase dramatically. And, you will likely experience a significant decrease in your overall stress level.
In the end, if you are in your 40s, the competition will not be your goal. Your goal is to build additional flexibility and strengthen the body and mind in a progressive manner that will allow you to age successfully and enjoy life pain-free. And if you are concerned about the physical aspects of the training (after all you are entering into an activity that will teach you how to punch, kick and move properly) just remember that a good instructor will develop each student at his current physical level, and challenge them at the same time without injury. The training method is to gradually increase that person’s level each time they train in a class.
The benefits of good martial arts training are available to anyone who is willing to step onto a polished wood floor or the mats – says Kirsty M., 52, from London.- 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-defence. 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.
Above all, take up the challenge to step out and take the first step and give Martial Arts a go. Your only regret may be realising that this is something you should have done years ago!