In this episode, we explore real-world strategies for continuing martial arts training as your body ages. Tips and mindset advice for the older martial artists, or those that hope to be.
Martial Arts Training As You Age – Episode 160
Hey, everybody. Welcome to Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio episode 160. Today, we’re going to talk about how your approach to martial arts may change, maybe even should change, as you age. This episode isn’t just for people that you might consider old or older. It’s for everybody. I’m going to give you some tips on how you can set yourself up when you’re younger for better martial arts when you’re aging as well as some suggestions for how to handle being an older person in the martial arts. If you’ve never heard my voice before, welcome to the show. My name is Jeremy Lesniak. I’m the founder here at Whistlekick Sparring Gear and Apparel. I’m also your host for this show. I thank you for your time and coming by.
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One quick thing that I will mention right here. We are starting to roll out ebooks. That’s right. We’ve had some requests for transcripts of some of the interview episodes and we’ve been working on that. We think we’ve got a pretty good process. By the time this comes out the first time, right, I mean this is releasing the day after I’m recording it. I’m recording it on February 8th, 2017. It’ll come out February 9th, 2017. We’ve already got one ebook up on Amazon in the Kindle store. We’ve got another one in process. We’ve got a whole bunch of other stuff planned. Stay tuned. It’s not just going to be interview episodes. It’s not just going to be topic episodes. There’s going to be a lot more content because some things work better when you can read it versus hear it. Check that out.
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How does martial arts change as you age? Well, it doesn’t. You change. Your body changes. Your mind changes. Those mental changes, as you age, really comes down a couple things. As we age, as we become older martial artists, we become more patient. Usually, hopefully, we become more humble. Those mental changes can lead to a whole bunch of other improved things, like better focus, being more precise with your movements, learning how to relax better, and different perspective, not just on yourself, on your training, on the world, but your ability to see what’s going on with your own training, with others’ training. That’s why older martial artists tend to come with increased rank.
The physical changes don’t tend to be as positive of a list. Your ability to build muscle is compromised. Your ability to recover from a difficult class or just physical exertion, in general, is diminished. Your body starts to break down. Now, while I will say very strongly that I disagree with how much importance people put on that, it still happens. It happens later in life than most of us want to believe, because that’s kind of an excuse. At least in America, we like to chalk things up to issues beyond our control. Well, that’s not quite what’s going on with most people’s bodies, but that’s a separate issue we’re going to dig into a little bit of that as we go on.
Let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do as you age as a martial artist. You should not stop doing things. You should not stop going to class. You should not stop sparring. You should not stop doing certain movements. There’s a difference between stopping something and finding another way or delaying it. If you stop doing something, that implies some permanence, right? I’m not going to spar anymore. Okay, well that means I’m not going to spar anymore. I’m never going to spar again. That’s another way of saying it. The physical aspects of martial arts are very much a use it or lose it sort of discipline. We know that. We see what happens when we stop doing a certain form or a certain movement, regardless of our age. It gets worse. Sometimes, it goes away altogether.
If there’s something that you can no longer do physically in the martial arts that you once were able to do, that’s the thing I think you should work on the most. Here’s an example. Let’s say in your 20’s, you were able to kick over your head, big, beautiful front kicks, round kicks, roundhouse kicks, turning kicks, whatever you call those, right? You could kick over your head. It looked great. You had the flexibility to do so. Now, you’re maybe in your 40’s and you can’t do that anymore. A lot of people I see as I travel around the classes will say that they’re not going to do that anymore. I think it should be the exact opposite.
First off, the more versatile you are as a martial artist, the better a martial artist you are. We’ve talked about that on this show and it’s something that I don’t think you can really argue. The more stuff you can do, the more adaptable you are to whatever you are trying to accomplish, be it self-defense or personal development via training. When it comes to the physical part of it though, those muscles that you’re not using by not kicking overhead or more accurately, not using to their full capability are going to start to degrade. In this case, we’re talking about flexibility. If you’re no longer kicking overhead, those muscles aren’t going to hold onto that flexibility and quite often, it just becomes a slippery slope. Before you know it, people are kicking at their knee or their waist and those muscles don’t have the mobility that they once did. It doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s what you shouldn’t do. It’s a pretty small list. To sum it up, don’t change what you’re doing just because you’re older. If you’ve gotta put something on hold, figure it out. Figure out how you can get better at it. Maybe you’ve gotta dedicate more time to stretching. We’re going to talk about some more of that in a minute. What should you do though? You can complain, but why? That’s doesn’t accomplish anything. What you can do, what you really should do is set yourself up for success. A lot of these things may seem like they’re not martial arts related. Some of them really aren’t. Some of them are life-related.
First one: your nutrition and hydration become increasingly critical as you age. Learn which foods work for you and against you, because it’s not the same list for everybody. For example, I don’t do well on wheat. I don’t do well on anything derived from wheat, whether it’s beer or pizza or whatever. But I know plenty of other people, they’re just fine. They really are. We don’t have to sit here and have you listen to my list of foods that I try to avoid and the ones that I try to focus on, but I’m going to encourage you to develop your own. You likely know what foods treat your body well and what foods don’t. As you become older, spending more time with the foods that treat you well and less time with the foods that don’t is going to become more important. Most of us don’t drink enough water. How sick of hearing that, are you? We’re all sick of hearing, but you know what? We still don’t drink enough water. I’m not just talking about during class, after class, before class. I’m talking about every day.
Water is a critical part of every biological process in your body. If you don’t have enough of it, things don’t work right, things start to deteriorate. We’ve probably all heard the rule half your body weight in ounces. Tell you what: I’ll make it simple. When you wake up in the morning, have a big glass of water. With each meal or around each meal, have a big glass of water. Two other times during the day, have a big glass of water. That’s all most of us are going to need and that’s far simpler than trying to track ounces. If you have six big glasses of water a day as well as the other things you drink, most of us drink coffee and tea and whatever, you should be fine.
On top of learning what to eat and what not to eat and how much to drink, the when and the how much becomes important. How much you eat and the morning versus the night on a training day versus a non-training day, days you go to class versus not, that matters. I don’t eat breakfast. Lunch is my big meal of the day because I found that’s works well for me. I don’t eat three hours before I work out if I can help it. Sometimes, it’ll go to two, if I really need to, but I don’t eat a meal before I go into class, because that doesn’t work well for me. I know I have better classes when I’m doing them on an empty stomach.
How do you figure all this out? Well, there’s plenty of information online to research, but when it comes down to it, you really gotta test it out for yourself. You gotta try it. How does it work? You can’t just try something once. Try it half a dozen times. This month, before I go to class, I’m going to make sure that I haven’t eaten for two hours. How does it go? Take some notes. You kind of have to be a scientist about this. This isn’t something that you’re going to be able to afford a doctor to follow you around and track all this information, so you’ve gotta be your own doctor, your own experimental scientist. You’re doing research. If you’re trying to find the best possible outcome, which is setting yourself up for the best training possible.
Here’s another one: sleep. It’s really easy to just shave off sleep and think that it doesn’t matter, that if you get through the next day, that it’s okay. But sleep is when we recover the most. It’s how we repair our bodies. If you’re getting older and you’re finding that you’re not able to restore your body, that you can’t go into classes and go at the level that you think you should, sleep might be the first place to check out. I don’t care what anybody says, there are no hard and fast rules with how much sleep you need. Everybody’s different. If my body had its way, I would be sleeping nine to ten hours every night. When I’m starting to feel banged up, that’s what I do.
You can’t just catch up one night a week. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re used to getting six or seven hours and you’re finding that things just aren’t going the way you want, maybe it’s time to shift some stuff around, maybe you need seven, eight, nine hours of sleep. On top of the number of hours, it’s really more a factor of the quality of your sleep. There’s a book that I’ll recommend that you check out. It’s not a martial arts book, it’s not from a martial artist, but it’s called Sleep Smarter, and the author’s name is Shawn Stevenson. I’ve read it. It’s a great book. Some of the stuff that’s in there will be common sense. Some of it’s not. What I like about this book is that there’s a lot of actionable information, there’s a lot of do this, do this, do this, don’t do this, as well as why. It’s everything from the science up through the actions and it’s written in a very understandable way. It is, if I remember correctly, a New York Times bestseller, an international bestseller. It’s a great book that’s done very well. It was only released, I want to say, a year ago.
If you’ve got those other things lined up and something just still doesn’t quite feel right, you might want to have some blood work done. I recently had my blood work done, not everything, but I had a feeling that something was off with testosterone, cortisol, insulin, somewhere in that chain, we’ll call it. What came back: my testosterone was low. It wasn’t so low that it needed prescription help, but it was definitely on the lower end of average, and with my body type, my testosterone shouldn’t be on that low end. I’ve got some ideas of why this happened, most of them are around coffee in my early 20’s, but we’re not going to go there.
What am I doing for it? I did a bunch of research. I found an herbal supplement that has been shown to help increase testosterone levels and I’ve been on it for a few months. What’s been happening? I’ve been adding muscle, I’ve been losing body fat, slowly, but noticeably, and I find I’m able to recover easier. You may need more stretching before and after class. In very few martial arts classes that I participate or supervise or just visit do I see what I call an adequate warm up. We’ve talked about warm-ups here, but you probably need more. As you age, you’re definitely going to need more. When I go to a class, I will spend, depending on how my body’s feelings, anywhere from five to 15 minutes before class warming up on my own because I’m at class to get as much as I can out of it. I’m not there for a workout. I’m not there to warm up and stretch. I’m there to become a better martial artist.
Well, I’m going to do what I need to do before class and after class to get the most value out of that training time. For me, that’s a lot of moving around, stretching, moving my body, moving my heart rate up. After class, the same thing: making sure that I’m moving my joints through their full range of motion, how do things feel? Because when I go home and over the next couple days if there’s something that feels off, I’m going to attend to it. I’m not going to just put it in a sling or sit on the couch for three days and let it tense up and not heal because that doesn’t help me. That’s not what I’m looking for. In fact, I’m going to encourage you to move around, to stretch, to mobilize, whatever you want to call it, every single day, and not just stretching, but general movement. Go for a walk.
There are a lot of things that happen in the body, restorative things that happen, with movement that do not happen with staying still. Moving around every day, that suggestion, that applies even more so after you’ve had a really hard class. The instinct is to just kind of hole up and not doing anything and be lazy, but that’s the worse thing that you can do. If you’ve had a tough class, maybe you don’t go to class the next day, do something. Again, go for a walk, easy bike ride. I promise you, just a little bit of effort will help reduce that soreness and help get you back to training hard faster.
Remember that your journey in the martial arts is very personal. You’re walking your path, not somebody else’s, so you’ve gotta know when it’s appropriate to push yourself hard versus not. You need to know when to go to class, when not to go to class. You need to know when you’ve passed the breaking point, and I don’t mean the breaking point of your mind. I mean literally the breaking point of your body. There is a point and it becomes a finer line as you age, where going past it not only isn’t going to have benefit, but can actually have some detrimental effects.
I’m not really a big fan of country music, but there’s a song, a Toby Keith song, that I’ve heard on the radio a couple times. There’s a line in it that I really like. I think it’s very appropriate here. The line is “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was”. I think that’s really appropriate here. Maybe you can’t give 100% of your power to every single basic technique you throw. I’m sorry. Maybe your instructor disagrees, but I’m not out to break people. I’m looking at helping people stay in the martial arts as long as possible. I’m going to say that most of the people that are pushing all across the board to that breaking point, they’re probably on the younger end. They probably haven’t had a major injury or maybe they just have a really stubborn mindset.
As we get older, we’re not gifted with health as most children are, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still be healthy. It’s about your priorities. It’s about what you choose to spend your 24 hours a day doing. If being at your 100% level – notice that I said your 100% level – for each training class is a priority, it’s going to take an increasing amount of time and effort to get there as you get older. Over time, you’ll learn efficiencies, you’ll learn the things that are most important for you to help you feel better, train better, recover better, but it takes some experimentation. It’s never too early to start treating your body and your mind well. If you’re in your teens or your 20’s, start eating right now. Do all this stuff that you know you’re supposed to do, because it’s going to make aging easier, it’s going to make your training better as you get older.
If you’re overweight, regardless of your age, drop that weight, get healthy. That should be a priority because there’s no reason not to. There’s no downside to being healthier. Many of us have met or known someone in their 60’s, 70’s, maybe 80’s or older who still train and who can still do an amazing form. Maybe they can still spar well. I’ve seen some people in their 70’s and 80’s that can still spar incredibly well. They still do basics that put the rest of us to shame. Yeah, sure, genetics can help with that, but it’s about so much more. The people that age well in the martial arts, they take martial arts and they’re training seriously. They make it a priority. We’ve heard from some of them on this show.
Those are my thoughts. I want to know what you think. Hit me up. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can leave us a comment on social media or on the show notes page at whistlekickmartialartsradio.com. Remember we drop two episodes a week. Monday, we’ve got the interviews. Thursdays, we have these topic shows. Today’s topic was a suggestion from a guest. If you have a suggestion, if you have something that you want to hear about, let me know. If you’re not in the Facebook group, Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio Behind the Scene, jump in there, request approval. We don’t have it public, but we let everybody in, unless they seem like some scary spammer kind of person. We don’t want those folks in.
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