Advice for People Starting a Martial Art Later in Life

Advice for Older Students Taking Up a Martial ArtThere are a lot of people who harbour a secret desire to train in a martial art, but don’t pursue it in earlier in life for whatever reason. As they age, after years of watching action movies or professional fighting, the notion creeps back into their minds in their 30s, 40s, 50s, even 60s. Most let themselves be talked themselves out of it, citing various reasons like “I’m too old to start an activity like that as a complete beginner,” or “My body just can’t take what it used to,” or “I’m just so out of shape, what’s the point?” Well, I’m here to say, it’s never too late if you approach it correctly.

The thing is that there is some truth behind the cited reasons above, but it can be worked around. Here are 3 tips for on how to approach taking up martial training later in life:

1. Take it slow. You may be tempted to push as hard as you can when you first enter the dojo, to try to keep up with younger, more experienced students, to prove to yourself that you still have it in you. This is especially true for older students going back to martial arts training after having been away from it for years. Don’t do this. Let your body an mind adjust to the new routine gradually, doing less reps, moving more slowly, or taking breaks when necessary. Gradually build on your strength and stamina, pushing your self a little more each week as you feel comfortable so you don’t burn yourself out right at the start.

2. Listen to your body. You may have certain limitations as to what your body can do as compared to younger people with whom you might be training. Don’t expect to be able to do everything the same as other students. Regardless of age or experience, different people have different pain tolerances, ranges of motion, and different histories of injury. If something feels painful or uncomfortable in any way, stop and ask the instructor for feedback. It could be something that your partner is doing wrong, something you’re doing wrong, or it could be the unique limitations of your body. Your instructor should be the best person to make the call, but even then, if you still don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason, remember that you have the last say when it comes to your body and should exercise it as you see fit.

3. Be patient. You may notice other younger students progressing faster than you over time. It can be frustrating. The truth is that muscle memory generally takes longer to develop as we age, as discussed in 4 Factors that Affect Muscle Memory, so you may have to spend more time training to make up for it. Try to focus on enjoying your training at the level you’re at without comparing yourself to others needlessly. With time and a good, patient instructor who’s willing to keep working with you, you will progress. And when you do, you will have earned it.

If you’d like further inspiration on training in the martial arts later in life, read “Can Older People Do Martial Arts? Just Ask Rick!” to hear the story of a 63-year-old who came to our dojo out of shape, overweight and with minimal martial arts experience (he still trains with us now recently having turned 67).

Did you take up martial arts training later in life or have a student who did? What advice would you offer to students in a similar situation? Please share your thoughts in the comments. :)

Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “Advice for People Starting a Martial Art Later in Life

  1. I began studying kenpo seven years ago at the age of 39, when my children’s karate school piloted a program for parents.

    I agree with all the points you’ve made above. Patience is truly the key. It seems to me that making real progress in the martial arts is hard to rush anyway. We just don’t seem to find that as surprising if the student starts at the age of 7.

    One thing I would add is that collegiality helps a lot. If you have the opportunity to train at least part of the time with partners who are also not kids, you will feel a lot better! A sense of humor about your own struggles is pretty helpful too.

    I wish I’d started when I was young . . . but that was unlikely for quite a few reasons. This is definitely a case of better late than never! I cannot do everything that my children can do, but I can sure do a lot of things I never thought were possible.

    And everyone is different: who knows what your potential is? One of the founders of our school started as an adult, yet became a true master, not just an incredible martial artist (although he is), but a revered teacher and mentor as well.

  2. I started Jujitsu training at 50. My parents wouldn’t permit it as a child because “girls don’t fight” and I might get hurt. Later in life I got busy with other things. But when my ex turned physically abusive, I knew I had to learn to defend myself.

    With no martial arts background, it was really hard at first. I hadn’t done a forward roll since I was 14, so learning to breakfall was a challenge. I had a desk job, so I was in poor condition. After 4 knee surgeries from years of skiing, I thought I should just give up, but I kept at it. I was lucky to find a top rate dojo where Sensei was open to teaching everyone, and my younger classmates were very patient with me. I had to pace myself, and still do. I didn’t let myself get down about what I couldn’t do, but focused on the little bits of progress I made here and there.

    After a couple hard months, it began to get easier. I got used to the moves. I finally learned to block a punch. And then one day I suddenly wasn’t a white belt anymore! I had lost 10 lbs, made new friends, and I was on my way to really learning to protect myself. It’s now 18 months later, and I have earned my 2nd promotion. I’m SO GLAD I DIDN’T GIVE UP. I’ve learned to love going to class and it’s much easier to keep up with the teenagers.

    The next time some jerk slams me into a wall, I’m going to make it the sorriest day of his life.

  3. Val & Katherine,

    Thanks for sharing your stories. It’s really great as an instructor to hear more success stories of older people starting martial arts. It helps encourage those who think they are too old to begin to step into the dojo and try it.

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