Saturday, March 29, 2008

Martial arts for older adults

Interested in a martial art that you can practice effectively until you’re 80 or older?

Let’s face it - It’s probably not going to be karate. Sure there have been a few notable geriatric supermen who have been effective karate guys into their grey years. But as a general rule, striking arts require about 1-2% more practice, effort, skill, and athleticism each year after age 30 just to maintain. And that’s not talking about skill improvement!

Then there are grappling arts, like jiujitsu or wrestling, but again, let’s face it. Those are young men’s sports. Again, there are a few middle-aged and older practitioners of judo and jiujitsu who are very effective, but you don’t see many of those older guys rolling with the young competitors because they just get too busted up and it takes too long to heal.

This brings us to aikido. If you are looking for a martial art that will provide a little reasonable exercise, that will reliably improve your chances of surviving an attack or accident, and that you can practice for the rest of your life, aikido is the right art for you.

If you live in southwest Mississippi and are interested in participating in an aikido class for adults, drop me a line at and I’ll get you set up. Or if you don’t live conveniently close, send me an email and I’ll see what I can suggest to help you.


  1. I'd grant a lot of your point of view when it comes to modern systems of karate, but the older systems, the ryukyu kempo to-te jutsu stuff, aren't really like that.

    Seiyu Oyata's about eighty now, and if anything, his karate is keeping him vigorous. And it's interesting to note that he met his first two instructors when they were well into their nineties--and in his first lesson, the first thing that happened was that he got dumped on his butt.

    Like I said, I'd grant your point for the most part regarding the modern systems. But even with the strikes (let alone the constant joint manipulations and kyusho) my 58-year-old, oxygen-patient, skinny-old-man instructor will be the first to tell you that if you have to use muscle, you ain't doin' it right.

    On the other hand, considering that there's a paucity of places in the United States to learn those older Okinawan systems, and there are--for example--at least three places in Tulsa to learn Aikido, from the practical standpoint of locating an instructor, Aikido may have the edge for most people.

  2. You're right, Dan - and I knew you'd be my exception. But as I was talking in generalities for prospective beginners - particularly in southwest Mississippi, I'd say my generalizations hold.

    When you get down to it, the only thing that people have known by the term "karate" is what you call modern karate. Funakoshi distilled some of the older Okinawan stuff into Shotokan and popularized it throughout the world. TKD and TSD and a bunch of other Karates spun off of Shotokan. You also have modern forms of the Okinawan stuff, like Isshinryu Karate, which I consider the toughest, most practical guys in town, but they are still a far cry from the old Okinawan tode that you are talking about.

    I really liked your article on How to find a martial arts school in Tulsa (but I couldn't find it this morning, so you ought to post a plug for it here.) If you want to talk in specifics, in southwest Mississippi there are the following choices:
    ...Aikido, judo, or jodo with me
    ...hapkido/jiujitsu with the guy in downtown McComb
    ...TKD with another very good instructor in McComb
    ...there may be an Isshinryu karate guy still teaching in McComb.

    That's about it, so for my area, my recommendations stand. Karate as it is mostly practiced in modern times and especially in McComb, is not a young guy's activity. Neither is TKD, hapkido, or jiujitsu.

    If there are mature adults in southwest Mississippi looking for a martial art - I'm the only guy I can recommend. ;-)

  3. Gawd I feel 80 already..

  4. Gawd I feel 80 already..

  5. I was talking in generalities for prospective beginners - particularly in southwest Mississippi, I'd say my generalizations hold.

    Oh, agreed, absolutely. To the best of my knowledge, in all the world, there are only about five thousand people in our association, and probably most of those are in the Southern and Eastern United States. While I could certainly be wrong, I'd hazard a guess that the numbers are no better for other more classical Okinawan systems, so yes, absolutely, when you talk about "karate" to most people, they are just not going to think of anything except Taekwon-do, or Shotokan, or Goju Ryu--or perhaps, in some places, Isshin Ryu.

    Only God knows what I'd be doing if my instructor, through a weird quirk of fate, wasn't available to me. I'm very much inclined toward the Okinawan and Japanese systems, so more than likely I'd be with the JKA club at First Baptist (and probably trying to reverse-engineer some of the bunkai), or maybe with the Tomiki Ryu guy out further south.

    I really liked your article on How to find a martial arts school in Tulsa...

    Thanks! ought to post a plug for it here.

    Well, you know I can be awfully shy :), but since you ask, here it is.

  6. Let’s face it - It’s probably not going to be karate.

    I'm going to take it that that refers to all hard style and traditional systems.

    Similar to Dan Paden, I'd have to play the devil's advocate on this one. The more I soak in what the hard styles have to offer, the more confident that I am able to continue my practice through my old age. Not, with as much athleticism as you say, but that is because I have to cater towards my needs.

    I have fyi just started a 'veterans' group consisting of two older gentlemen (one mid 40s and the other over 60s). I've put together a very different syllabus for them -- and they are loving the training!

    Of course they started off with some apprehension, but my argument to them is that if I cannot cater to their needs, that's my failing as an instructor, not theirs as a student.

    Karate or taekwondo only makes you the best you can be - it's not a magic bullet. But figure out some simple secrets, and you've got some very powerful weapons. Even my youngest student - a slight 14yo can move me back 1 foot with a simple punch. Amazing!

    I recently laughed at a new student who visited us. He has quite a few years of training under his belt. Our veterans were away but he apologised and was embarassed for being 'old' - he was only 30yo.

    My 60yo, on the other hand, is just rearing to go. Don't stop him yet!


  7. Do you propose that 80-year-olds can do Aikido with, or without ukemi?

  8. No, most everyone with any sense slows way down on the ukemi after about 40 or 45 and stops almost entirely sometime soon after that. This is simple self-protection. Fortunately, you don't have to fall down to do aikido.

    You can see in my latest post:

    ...that I have run a decent-sized cohort of beginners this age and they did great. There was a 100% attrition rate but that's par for the course with any age group. These octogenerians did aikido just like everyone else and worked on the same stuff.

    The only other training tool common in aikido that I'd dispense with for 80 year olds is suwari - but that is an after-black-belt thing anyway. sort of a neat little bit of historical preservation, and not really a core training menhod of aikido. I have seen people with bad knees perform suwari seated in chairs. works great.

    So, in summary, yes, 80 year olds can do all the same aikido that the youngsters do - except ukemi and kneeling suwariwaza.

  9. Sorry I'm late guys,
    I lost the request to participate.

    My wife left her black belt in judo/ju jitsu (Danzan Ryu) behind to train karate because as a 50 year old she could not take the falls any longer.

    She easily gained her black belt.

    What can't an older person do as a beginner in karate? Sparring perhaps but sparring is a small side part of karate and if left out is no loss.

    Tournaments? Most tournaments have age divisions and non-fighting divisions.

    The rest of the class is stand up kick and punch.

    AND learning how to use structure, balance and weight transfer instead of muscle strength.

    Any one who can walk and wave their hands about will get a work out safely in a karate class.

    But I;m biased, neh? :)

  10. Aikido is defensive ... Don't you think it will require the person to be faster (reaction time and execution of technique)? So if your attacker is fast -- you need to be faster. Do you think a geriatric is faster than his younger attacker?

    On the other hand, for a Karate-ka all you need to do is disengage but then YOU can initiate the counter attack. You need not be faster. But your strike has to be strong. IMHO when you're old the last thing to go is strength.

    What do you think sensei?


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