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Starting a Martial Art in Mid-Life? Pick One That Fits You

Starting a Martial Art in Mid-Life? Pick One That Fits You
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By Carol Wiley

Studying a martial art has many benefits, including improving your physical condition, helping develop concentration and focus, and increasing self-confidence.

I enjoyed the benefits of martial arts for nearly 20 years, mostly Tae Kwon Do and Aikido, though I dabbled in a few others as well. I heartily recommend martial arts training to anyone in mid-life who has an interest. With the number of available martial arts numbering at least in the hundreds, how do you go about picking the best martial art for you?

Know What You Want

Martial arts cover a wide range, from the slow, gentle movements of Tai Chi to the grueling training of kickboxing and other competitive martial arts. Start by evaluating your current physical capabilities and your goals. From a physical standpoint, jumping into kickboxing training may not be the best choice if you haven’t exercised in 20 years, but may be a great choice if you’re a former athlete who wants some intense training.

What are your goals? Do you want a sport, to learn self-defense, to challenge yourself with intense training, to do some fun exercise, or something else?

What are your personal preferences about teaching and training style? Some instructors run their classes like a boot-camp drill sergeant, while others have a much softer and more informal approach.

To get started, visit a few martial arts schools, watch a class, and talk to the instructor. If the instructor won’t let you watch a class, leave and keep looking. Observe the instructor’s teaching style and interactions with students. Does he or she provide clear, knowledgeable instructions? Do they maintain a safe class environment?

Find out about the instructor’s training and teaching background and the person’s martial arts philosophy. If you have a physical limitation, discuss it with the instructor, and if that person doesn’t seem to know how to knowledgeably and cheerfully work around your limitation, keep looking.

Are you comfortable with the class atmosphere? To get an even better feel for the class, ask about taking a free trial class. If you decide to sign up, does the school operate on a contract or pay-as-you-go basis? If there’s a contract, make sure you understand the terms.

Styles of Martial Arts

Now that you know what you want from a martial art and what to look for in a martial arts school/class and in an instructor, you can think about choosing a style. Don’t get hung up on the specifics of a particular style. Find what feels best for you with an instructor you like. And if your first choice doesn’t work out, go find another martial arts school or class.

Tai Chi is commonly recommended for older adults because of its slow, flowing, gentle movements and focus on breathing. If you are completely out-of-shape, recovering from illness or injury, and/or prefer a gentle, meditative approach to exercise, Tai Chi is a great choice. In China, people traditionally practice Tai Chi well into old age. Tai Chi is mostly a solo practice, except for a few exercises such as push hands.

In contrast, Aikido is all about working with a partner. Your partner attacks, you defend; you attack, your partner defends. Aikido teaches you to redirect the momentum of your partner and rarely uses punches and kicks. Aikido also teaches you how to fall without getting hurt, a potentially useful skill outside of class. Judo also involves working with a partner and falling but has a more competitive approach than Aikido.

If you want to learn to punch and kick, there are many choices. The Korean martial arts of Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do are known for their fancy, high kicks. But just because a martial art is known for something doesn’t mean you have to be able to do that something. For example, when I studied Tae Kwon Do, one of the other students had post-polio syndrome and couldn’t even kick to waist level. His goal, with the support of the instructor, was to keep his body’s abilities from further deteriorating.

Karate and Kung Fu both come in many styles, ranging from a focus on punches and kicks (sometimes called a “hard” style) to a focus on circular and flowing movements (sometimes called a “soft” style). Examples of Karate styles include Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-Ryu. Examples of Kung Fu styles include Choy Li Fut, Hung Ga, Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Shaolin Kung Fu, and Wing Chun.

Want something competitive? Some schools of Karate and Tae Kwon Do offer competitive opportunities. Other competitive martial arts include Judo and kickboxing.

Want to practice with weapons? Eskrima, Arnis, and Kali are Filipino martial arts focused on stick fighting. Kendo is a Japanese martial art of sword fighting. Kobudo trains with a variety of weapons. Other weapon-focused styles include Bojutsu (long staff) and Jojutsu (short staff).

Want to know more about martial arts styles? Check out the Black Belt Wiki. And enjoy your martial arts training

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