A fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal last week was called, "Older, Wiser, Slower: After 50, Avid Athletes Find That to Stay Healthy, They Must Let Go of the Need to Win." (Note, this may be a subscription website.)
I felt relief from some unrealistic expectations after reading it.
The gist of the article is encapsulated in this quote from a 51-year-old famous triathlete: "If you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy."
It goes on to argue there are satisfactions and thrills to athletics in one's 50s that don't require more than an aging body can give.
These messages don't get a lot of air time in some corners of athletic culture. What I've heard more often is: "Age is only a number."
I find that, while I feel as competitive spirited as ever, I can't match the speed of a well-trained, athletic 20- or 30-something in sparring. It also takes me longer to recover my breath after sparring a round.
And if I make myself injured, frustrated and miserable trying to match that level of performance, I'm eventually going to give up something that has brought me health, friendship and joy.
I truly think I can continue learning in martial arts, and finding ways to improve what I do, for years to come. But I believe that to do so, I need to take the wise route of recognizing limitations, and striving for achievable goals.