Martial Arts, Yes you can!

Everyone is looking for a healthy lifestyle these days. Personal trainers, aerobics, CrossFit, yoga and the like are all booming. Martial arts too are on the rise but are often not the first option and for easily apparent reasons. Based on the movies and media, it takes a high degree of flexibility to perform in the martial arts. High kicks are the norm and deep splits are an absolute necessity, if film and TV are to be believed. Thankfully this is not the case. Few martial artists over the age of 40 can achieve anything like full splits or kick to head height. Neither is necessary anyway and whilst good flexibility is developed through proper martial arts study, if you can’t perform a full-splits, it will never be an issue. Low kicks are better anyway in terms of self-defence.

Martial Arts Develops Great Flexibility

However, as I said before proper martial arts training should develop good flexibility. A problem with most people is that through normal life we don’t use our flexibility much. We spend our days sitting in front of screens, bent in half as we sit, hips fully flexed for so long that they become like rusty hinges. By the time we’re in our 30’s we’re all as stiff as boards. This might put prospective black belts off stepping over the threshold of a martial arts academy, but it shouldn’t.

Unlike many other sports (I hate linking the martial arts to sport. They are not a sport, they are a way of life) and activities which fail in the area of flexibility, the martial arts do not. Dynamic warm ups and static cooldowns are the norm in dojos across the world, which accounts for the lower levels of sprains and strains in the martial arts than in other physical activities.

There are very good reasons too, to be more flexible, for one, they help to keep us looking and feeling younger. The standard image of old people is one of stiffness in muscle and joint but that needn’t be the case. The martial arts will build better ranges of motion than most hobbies that you’ll come across.

On top of that, the combat arts also build muscle and cardio fitness at high levels too. When you add in the skill element, that keeps people practicing for years, you have a real winner in terms of holistic health.

The Key to Maintaining Life Long Health & Fitness

The key to maintaining life long health and fitness is twofold; the first reason is the skill element which is far more motivating in the martial arts than simply humping iron around or the monotonous demands of a Step class. Resistance training is essential for building strong muscles which improve posture and help carrying on our tasks of daily living, such as carrying the shopping, but lifting weights, for the most part doesn’t interest many for very long. A skill on the other hand keeps us challenged and whilst I fully acknowledge that there is a good degree of skill in lifting weights, especially, as they get heavier, for the average punter however, that skill is hardly necessary when you’re swinging an 8kg kettlebell. Those activities that develop skill keep us motivated for much longer. The martial arts obviously have that covered in spades, yoga, dance and those sports that are lower impact are good too. The problem with most sports is they tend to be high impact and competitive which is an invitation to injury and long lay-offs as we age.

The second reason is the ability to adjust your training load to suit your body’s capabilities as you get older. CrossFit is great as are gymnastics and the like, but as you age there demands become too much for the aging frame. I never take on any activity that I can’t imagine doing when I’m 80, and while I’m nearly 60 now, and still able to train at a good level, my motivation for the kind of wipe out workout of my 20’s and 30’s is dropping rapidly. High impact and high intensity sports are difficult as you get older, partly because we can’t be bothered and partly because the effort level required is just too much.

If You Can’t Imagine Doing  the Exercise at 80 – Why Bother?

The intensity of martial arts training however, can be adjusted to both your age and motivation. The image of the sage-like master is a true one. Gichin Funakoshi, Morihei Ueshiba and Jigoro Kano all trained throughout their 70’s, which was when they passed.

So, if your level of flexibility and or fitness level is putting you off getting involved in the martial arts, then set those fears aside. If you’re looking for lifelong fitness that is not a chore or requires placing twice your bodyweight above your head, then seek out a reputable martial arts academy and give it a go. A good academy will offer a free 121 lesson with a trained and qualified instructor in nice surroundings that you’re sure to find much friendlier, than you’d probably expect. Go on, give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

Tony Higo January 2019.


Tony Higo is an 8th degree black belt master of the martial arts and founder of the AEGIS system. He has written several books on the martial arts and works with many of the top martial artists and instructors in the UK. For more details on the AEGIS system go to

Martial Arts – Not for Old People…?

There are two types of old people; those who think they are old and those who think they’re not. Nearing my 60’s myself, I count myself in the second group. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still only 28. I hit that age, decided it was a good fit, and decided to stay there.

I can maintain this self-image if I don’t go near any mirrors. Mirrors are tricky and try to break my delusion. Also, I tend to blame any injuries or conditions that I suffer from on old age. It’s funny but when I suffered from the same injuries and conditions in my 20’s, I blamed them on the activity or genetics or just bad luck. But now I blame my age. Funny isn’t it?

I know that I can still hold my own with the young ones but for those not already practicing the martial arts it must be quite daunting and off-putting to consider martial arts for getting fit. The media and the movies only have two images of martial artists; Bruce Lee types, young fresh and tough or Mr. Miyagi’s, older sage like types. The problem in their portrayal is that to become a Mr. Miyagi, you first must be a Bruce Lee. You must pass the Bruce Lee phase before you become a Miyagi, and that takes years. Basically, start when you’re young. This doesn’t help more mature athletes turning to martial arts.

What do I mean when I refer to mature people?

Good question, I would say that the rot sets in during our 40’s kids and careers take precedence during our 20’s and 30’s and keeping fit often has to take a back seat. By the time we hit our 40’s those years of no exercise make getting back into condition look like an uphill struggle and any injuries that weren’t resolved at the time start to make us feel a little creaky in the joints.

The truth is, being in our 40’s can be a great time physically once we get started. After a few weeks we realize that we’re not that old and our vigor is still with us. Even in our 50’s, the same is true. The most difficult thing is to get started. Once we do, we again, realize that peak fitness is still within our grasp. Muscles get firmer, lungs get stronger and joints get nice and flexible. We might be a bit older, but we’re far from finished.

I like teaching older people, or shall I re-phrase that and say, people in their prime? Because they try hard, have the maturity to not expect too much and best of all they have a ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude that younger people could benefit from.

Something else that can put ‘prime timers’ off is the image of the martial arts. In the media it’s either blood, snot, shaved heads and huge tattoos (and the men are no better – ha ha) or serene sages throwing attackers about without touching them. Neither of which is reality. The good news is that most martial arts academies take great care of everyone who trains with them irrespective of age, sex or creed. Even the most hard-nosed cage fighting club will be friendly and look after you. There are only those on the fringes who won’t and in my experience they are rare.

Obviously, if you want to be sure, you can visit a few clubs and see whether they fit your bill. If not go elsewhere. Look for places with a written curriculum, trained instructors and a good reputation.

‘But I don’t want to fight or be hit!’

I hear you say and quite rightly too. Whilst many people would rather not fight, that’s ok because martial arts academies probably don’t fight any where like as much as you think. Only about 10% of any class is based on free-sparring and good academies will never force you to fight if you don’t want to. What often happens though is that even the meekest of students at the outset eventually want to test out their skills through sparring. Still, if you never want to, you don’t have to.

Most of what we see portrayed as martial arts, shows the most extreme elements, so don’t let that put you off. It’s a safe activity and in fact, cricket, aerobics and football are much riskier when it comes down to it.

What benefits have martial arts versus gym or a yoga class?

The simple that for old and young alike, the martial arts provides balance in fitness. There are basically 4 parts to fitness; stamina, strength, suppleness and skill. Stamina is cardio endurance. The ability to run for a bus for instance without blowing a gasket. Strength deals with the muscles. Staying strong enough to be able to easily carry bags of shopping to the car. Suppleness is joint health. The image of old people is there stiffness of joints and slow movement. Good joint health is essential as we age. Nobody wants their range of movement to be limited or painful. Skill of course is key to the interest that the study brings, an activity that challenges motor skills and coordination keeps us motivated to continue longer.

Most sports and physical activities bring only some of these benefits, and some require a competitiveness that we can do without. So, the martial arts are not just for the young, they are for everyone. Sure, we will perform them to the level that we can physically, but the mental challenges are often more suited to the older student.

You’re not old, you’re in your prime

If you’re in your prime, 40, 50 and more, the martial arts should be explored as a way to stay the effects of old age. It’s safer than most other sports and activities, brings new friendships that will last a lifetime.

The key is, are you going to set as ide the number that is your age and recognise that it is just a number? Age is just a number, so if you’re in your prime maybe it’s the time to expand your horizons and consider the Martial Arts.

Thanks for reading.

Tony Higo January 2019.


Tony Higo is an 8th degree black belt master of the martial arts and founder of the AEGIS system. He has written several books on the martial arts and works with many of the top martial artists and instructors in the UK. For more details on the AEGIS system go to

Martial Arts Make Kids More Violent? Part 2

In answering this question last time, I focused on what we try to achieve with children in terms of physical and mental outcomes; confidence and athletic ability. Today, I’d like to focus directly on the question ‘Does martial arts training make children more violent?’

The short answer is no, but obviously you’d expect me to say that, being a lifelong martial arts instructor, but I want to go into this question more thoroughly for those of you who may not find that answer convincing.

Here it is. It’s easy to think that an army is prepared for war and violence and soldiers train to fight and kill. On one level this is correct, they are always ready to fight but fighting is the last resort and never the first. The purpose of an army is to be ready to defend the country against threats to the population, but they avoid fighting for several entirely valid reasons.:

For one, war is expensive, it causes lots of damage to people and property and for years after trauma to those affected by it. Secondly, there is no guarantee that your army will win and losing might mean you lose your country. To counter this armies, instead of jumping into a risky and expensive war, use threats instead. They train their soldiers and show off their weapons, marching them around and doing maneuvers to show how tough they are as a deterrent to other nations.

A martial artist, like an army, too must consider the risks in fighting. It’s not like the movies, fights rarely have outright winners and the winner is often the one who is the least hurt, not the completely unhurt. No injuries at all would be very rare. So just as for armies, martial artists make combat the last resort and never the first. These are strategic reasons for avoiding violence, now let’s have a look at some emotional reasons.

My experience is that martial arts training makes one calmer, not more violent. Once again, let me justify this:

What kinds of people are violent? Often it is those who are afraid. Look at those men who walk as if they are very tough, swaggering as they go to prove they are tough and that others should keep out of their way. Why? Because they don’t feel tough. In fact, they feel fearful and threatened so they act tough to put people off from being threatening to them. It’s what we in AEGIS call a Toughness strategy. Acting tougher than you are to put others off, much like the doormen on night club doors, they employ the biggest and ugliest guys they can get as a deterrent to trouble makers. Are the doormen tough? Hopefully, their mean looks mean they don’t have to show how tough they really are.

On the other hand, people who are not fearful don’t need to do this because, well, they’re not afraid. Martial artists are like this. They burn off all their aggression in the dojo and when they are finished their emotions are quiet and calmed. You could think about it like with children. When it’s raining, they stay inside but after too long thy get stir crazy and must burn off their excess energy. In fact, parents use this as a strategy to calm their children down. It’s the same with martial arts, but more so, because in the martial arts we burn off our energy through combat.

We know what we are capable of and this brings a sense of responsibility toward the safety of others. Furthermore, in the martial arts we teach a higher than normal level of courtesy and respect and that training which is sadly lacking in other sports and activities, makes all the difference. Instructors, also, live by this high level of respect which reinforces the message because students learn, not just by being taught, but by copying the actions and modelling the behavior of their instructor.

So, the answer to the question ‘Does the martial arts make children more violent?’ is No, and now you know why. Thanks for reading.

Tony Higo January 2019.


Tony Higo is an 8th degree black belt master of the martial arts and founder of the AEGIS system. He has written several books on the martial arts and works with many of the top martial artists and instructors in the UK. For more details on the AEGIS system go to


Martial Arts – Teaching Kids How to Be Violent?

Many people appreciate what the martial arts offers children but many more don’t. Does the martial arts teach people to be more violent? If it doesn’t what does it teach children? How does it compare with other activities such as football or dance?

Sometimes I speak to the mums of a bullied child fearful that we’ll teach their child how to be as violent as their bully. Sometimes I speak to parents who want me to teach their child how to beat up their bully!

Neither way is either the right way or true. The martial arts do focus on what on the face of it is violence and we do teach children how to fight back but how we do it and how it expresses itself is quite different from what you might expect. Here’s what happens…

Consider the biggest thing that separates people; difference, kids who are bullied are different. It could be race, religion, looks, intelligence or ability, but what marks them from their bully is that they are different. Being different can cause us to lack confidence because we are different, rather than to embrace our difference, we fear it and our confidence suffers for it.

So how do the martial arts help to stop a child being bullied without violence?

First, we focus on ability and communication. We teach children how to be courteous and respectful. Sometimes shyness, which is a lack of confidence, expresses itself in poor communication. They break the first rule of socialization which is to not speak or make pleasant eye contact. This immediately sets them apart and it’s easy to upset a sensitive person by showing them what at first glance may look like disrespect. And yes, bullies are often very sensitive and easily offended. They have a different kind of communication issue.

We teach children to show everyone a high level of respect even though they may find this uncomfortable at first. Uncomfortable because they must set aside their discomfort and step into the discomfort zone. By doing this the child becomes less of a target, their body language changes and they become less ‘small’ like they’re trying to hide and assume a more comfortable way of moving because they are more comfortable socially. The way that children move often marks them as different. Confident kids have confident posture, smile more and fear less.

Next, we teach them how to move

Some kids have great natural, physical intelligence and they are usually strong, fast and coordinated. Because they are physical, they tend to be more physical and that gets them stronger and better coordinated. They can run, jump, throw, roll, climb and lift. All these things are basic skills and abilities that we all need, and which develop in us when we are very young. When we are babies the first thing we learn to do is roll from our back to our side to our front. When we eventually learn to roll, we then start to push up with our arms, then crawl, then stand and eventually walk and run.

These are not only physical skills, they also affect our mental development too. They must be learned in the right order too or the child’s development can be retarded. A child that doesn’t learn these skills at a young age and at a good level can find sports and physical activities more challenging. Also, because they don’t get as fit and strong as their physically gifted counterparts, they fail to develop good posture because their muscles are weak. Poor posture and stance will set the child apart, making her more different and this exacerbates the problem.

In martial arts we seek to achieve balance, strength, timing, speed and spatial awareness. We teach children how to move with purpose and confidence (there’s that ‘C’ word again).  Good movement is an acquired skill. Therefore, we need to learn it early and well. But it’s more than that too good movement signifies good health, strength and presence.

Gradually, and sometimes, suddenly the child stops being bullied. Subconsciously, to the bullying mind he starts to become less visible. Bullies need kids who are different, obvious targets. They need others to support their abuse of the person who is so obviously different or less. They are like heat seeking missiles, only their seeking is not heat, its confidence, or lack of it. The martial arts taught properly, with a deliberate curriculum, delivered by highly trained professional instructors who know what their outcome is and how to achieve it. Sadly, not all martial arts instructors fit this description, so you may have to shop around till you find one.

Now, in some cases the bully still sees the child and carries on his bullying. In these circumstances the child can fall back on to using physical force using skills acquired through his martial arts training. There’s no guarantee that they will defeat their bully, but it’s amazing what a punch in the nose will do for an aggressor. Bullies want easy targets, not those that fight back.

So, look beyond the combative side of the martial arts through to the development side of skills and balance that the study of it brings; confidence, empowerment, skill, strength, stamina and suppleness. Don’t be afraid to put your child with a trained instructor, take that free lesson, watch that class and see your awkward duckling transform into the confident swan that lies within.

Tony Higo January 2019.


Tony Higo is an 8th degree black belt master of the martial arts and founder of the AEGIS system. He has written several books on the martial arts and works with many of the top martial artists and instructors in the UK. For more details on the AEGIS system go to