Sunday, July 22, 2007

Taking up martial arts in middle age

Martial arts have changed my life.

I took up karate in 2001, when I was 44 years old. A doctor cut off a patch of skin cancer on my ankle a few months earlier, and my once-slim waist was fast approaching 40 inches. The cancer showed me I wasn't exempt from illness; my poor condition made me realize I was cruising for a heart attack.

Since taking up martial arts, I lost enough weight (close to 30 pounds when I'm in fighting trim) to cut my pants size to 36. I've dropped cholesterol pills, as my bad cholesterol level dropped and the good cholesterol level rose. My wife, bless her heart, caused a stir at a family holiday in the past year when she said that my body is harder now than when we got married (I was 26 at the time).

Martial arts are a great stress reliever. They've also been, to reach for an overused word, empowering: in a prior job, I was being verbally cudgeled by a room of bosses for a mistake made by one of my subordinates, and it was extremely satisfying to look around and think, "I can knock anybody in this room down."

I've also made great friends at my school. It's amazing how close you can get to people when you're punching, kicking and wrasslin' with each other.

Now I'm facing my biggest challenge in martial arts. In November, at a black belt test, I was injured with only three minutes remaining. A black belt facing me in grappling swept my left leg, and instead of my foot moving, my knee moved sideways far enough to rip my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in half. I didn't get my belt.

It took me several months to realize how bad my injury was. After trying to strengthen my leg for a month and a half, I returned to class for a couple of weeks--and my left leg kept buckling every time I put my full weight on it. Reluctantly, I went to a new orthopedic doctor and got the bad news. I had my operation on March 27.

In early August, I'm going to talk with my doctor again to find out when I can return. His original prediction was that I could go back to non-contact martial arts six months after the operation. My recovery has been ahead of schedule, so I'm hoping he'll give me the green light earlier.

In later posts, I'll talk about what it's like recovering from ACL reconstruction--a very common surgery--and what I've been doing to try to keep in shape.

CORRECTION: Prior versions of this post said I started martial arts in 1991--I meant 2001.

9 comments:

brainfu said...

I find your blog inspiring! Thank you.

I'm 35 year old male in very bad cardio shape. 5.10" / 140lbs. I have no experience with any *sports* whatsoever. Yes, I've been a geek all my life.

I'm trying to find marital arts that have a good balance between 1) appropriate martial arts for my age, I'm looking for something that is not prone to injuries and that is easy on a beginner and 2) something that is offensively and defensively kick ass. What would you recommend? Thanks!

BobSpar said...

Hi, brainfu, I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

One of the books on the right of my blog, "Martial Arts After 40," might be good for you as well although you're not at the big 40 yet, since it talks about taking up martial arts and has suggestions of what to look for.

I think it's better to see what you respond to with interest rather than picking a particular type of martial art to pursue.

The key is to visit schools that you could actually attend--don't pick one far away, no matter how much you like it, since you will have a good excuse not to go! See if you enjoy the class and the sensei or whatever term that art uses. Some people enjoy traditional arts that feature things like kata, or forms; others like more sport- or combat-oriented schools. You also need to get a feel for how welcoming the school is to people who are out of shape. It's a business, they have an incentive to be welcoming, but you should still see what they are like.

Good luck, let me know what you do; taking up martial arts changed my life.

Martin said...

Good to see a few older young people getting into martial arts. I to started late I was 45 when I STARTED Hapkido. Now 49 and was able to pass my 1st dan grading in Nov 07 and will see how am going at end of 09 and if my Kwanjangnim thinks I am ready will go for my 2nd dan at age of 50. It has been great for my fitness, a bit punishing on my joints at times though :-). I am a bit past getting in a fight these days (thank god), but I think I would do alright if I had to lol.
It has been great for me on a personal and emotional level though and I hope I can stay motivated to continue for many years to come.

Mardy

BobSpar said...

Thanks, Mardy; It's changed my life as well.

elisamrose said...

Hi, I started Shotokan karate when I was 42, and stayed for 2 years. After a bad hamstring injury - we quit for 1-1/2 years. We tried yoga, which helped us become quite flexible, but it wasn't a helpful for weight management.

I'm back to trying a different martial art...Taekwondo. At the recommendation of our daughter's Sensei, my husband and I have both started. We took about 8 private classes with the Master before we decided to join.

Neither my husband or I have lost the same amount of weight we lost with shotokan, but we were going 4 times a week then. Our Master is very understanding of our middle-age issues: knee and back issues, and accommodates/differentiates training.

Sometimes I don't want to go....but once I am there, I feel awesome! I am experience some significant back issues right now (from previous injury), but I always feel really good after training. We do go about twice a week now.

BobSpar said...

Hi, Elisa,

I'm glad you've been able to find a martial arts in middle age after getting injured--and it's good to have an understanding sensei, to be sure.

Sometimes the days I least feel like going are the classes where I feel like I get the most out of it.

Best of luck!

मिहिरभोज said...

i am a dermatologist of 39 yrs started karate when my physian told me about the bad shape of my health,,cholestrol increaseD,wt108 kg..MY WIFE SUGGESTED me for karate.i had several injuries like spondylolysis of lumbar vertebra so having lot of back pain every time,injured knees (so i can not sress them ),rotator cuff injury of rt shoulder,but once i started at an age of 37 yrs...i feel never to leave this thing in future.still i learned a little due bodyaches and flexibility issuues but it changed my life as my wt is now 95(with a little tummy)with lot of stamina and lot of confidence....first time i am listenning that some one of my age is doing karate...i will definetly go for black belt.

BobSpar said...

Enjoy your journey!

Anonymus Never Forgive said...

utilac5tlvedshumuHi Bobspar...

I just visited your blog while surfing about martial arts age.I have a question in my mind which I would like to ask from you.

I started taekwando when I was 18 and just because of dirty club I had to leave.

Now I am 24 so my question for you is "do you think I am able to learn martial art in this age??"
I am very flexible guy and you can say somehow exceptional flexible so what do you suggest???

I am waiting for your answer......:)