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 www.aegismartialarts.co.uk.