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