The aging warrior

At 20 you are doing an 8-foot height back spin-kick. At forty, you won’t jump and reach only 5-6foot, and at 60, you’re not kicking anymore. Why? Are you a better fighter or martial artist at 20, 40 or 60?

Well no doubt about this, at twenty you certainly have great stamina and will achieve feats that you will never do again as you grow older. Does that mean you are “finished”? No; be assured that if you train consistently, your strength and technical level at 40 will probably be better than ever. Experience shows -- I’m not talking for myself but about some great people I know – that the best time is around 30-35 years of age. Around this time, the warrior who has accumulated a lot of technique and experience and has still enough strength and stamina offers a perfect combination of power and technique. He can execute all kinds of combinations with a fantastic ease, and counter the energy of younger people with technical superiority.

Of course there are exceptions. One is the gifted kid who started at age four and trained with the best; he can reach a very early technical maturity, and be at his best in his twenties. The other is – as often illustrated in MMA rings or hexagons – the extreme physical fighter that has such energy and resistance that he barely needs any technique. If, extremely rarely, a fighter can have both of the above, then he is invincible, at least for a certain period of time.

But everyone ages. And with the burden of years, one has to replace the stamina with technique. A technically poor fighter will be very weak in his old age if counting only on his strength, while the one who develops and improves his technique over the years will palliate his lack of strength with thorough technical knowledge. This is even more obvious with weapons, as they do not require a lot of physical strength. Some very old masters can bat you on the head anytime. They’re weaker, slower, and still manage to whack you at will…What’s the secret? Knowledge, technique, feeling, and anticipation…Those masters have developed a fantastic array of techniques, opt for minimal moves (which in turn means they seem to be faster) and KNOW everyone of your intents, moves and weaknesses…

Now of course, we all try to avoid physical decay – or at least delay it as long as we can, since it is definitely unavoidable. What can we do to help?
My concept is: first and foremost, improve your technique and work in a very lithe way to avoid injury. If light injuries recover in a few days when you are young, they take a week at 30, and months at 50. Then maintain a regular workout with stretching and weight training. This keeps your muscles and tendons elasticity and tonicity. The main natural ailments that trouble a majority of ageing sportsmen or women are joint and spine problems. Third is to try to have a healthy lifestyle – avoiding excesses – and take extra nutrients and vitamin supplements (when the body ages, it’s producing less hormones, and it is also slower at transforming food intakes into useful nutritional elements). Last but not least, respect your body. Reduce the level of sparring – that should be easy unless you have an overdeveloped ego – or change art altogether. So get ready early. If you are into striking arts for example, you may consider taking up some grappling. As you are aging, your joints or spine may not be able to stand demanding kicks, or may refuse to get slammed hard on the floor. Take it easy. Adapt your practice to your physiological changes. Normally at this age, you should have young assistants to demonstrate more demanding techniques. If your condition is bad, and it often gets pretty weird between 45-55, you may altogether consider picking up taichi or chikung on the side, as this may help your mind and body considerably.

But please, don’t quit! Your aging warrior experience is valuable to all those younger generations of fighters. If you are a good teacher, they’ll respect you all the same. And remember where it hurts and why it hurts. Was it a specific technique in your discipline that did hurt you? If so consider changing the way it is done, so that younger people don’t get hurt in the same manner, and they may age better than you did. Respect traditions, but respect the human body first!

Copyright 2006 - GZ.

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