What It’s Like to
Start Martial Arts Training at 50

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in ,

In Short: Rejuvenating.

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I am not an athlete, and never have been one. I am a pudgy middle-aged matron with arthritic knees who hated gym class in grade school, and never did much in the way of fitness training for a good part of my life. But today I am a martial artist, and that’s the beauty of martial arts: anyone can be start at any age and reap many benefits.

It started as I was approaching my 50th birthday — and was already starting to feel the effects of aging. A slow decline into physical and mental decrepitude was in the cards if I didn’t do something about it soon.

The author wearing her black-belted gi holding her certificate.
The author receiving her black belt in American Eagle Cane.

Why martial arts? The challenges are both physical and mental, the history is fascinating, and I get to hit things with sticks — what a hoot!

The benefits of studying martial arts have been far more rewarding than I could have predicted. Physically I am stronger, more flexible and agile, and have more stamina and endurance than ever. I can climb up and down stairs and ladders with confidence, and carry heavy bags of groceries with ease. I can reach things on high shelves or in the cupboard under the sink without having to ask for help. This is definitely the fittest I’ve ever been and it feels great!

Mentally the effects are just as pronounced. I am far more confident and outgoing, less afraid of taking risks and getting hurt, and more open to trying new things. Slippery sidewalks in winter are no longer to be feared; not only do I have a more stable footing, but I know how to fall without getting injured.

Of course, any program of physical activity is better than none, but martial arts are a great option that many older adults don’t consider. There are a few key considerations. First, find the martial arts style and school that is right for you. I started with karate but didn’t like it. I soon switched to a Filipino art called Modern Arnis, which uses weapons such as sticks and blades for self-defense.

A cartoon of a 'pudgy, middle-aged matron' holding a knife and sword: 'best superhero disguise ever'.
Illustration by Peter Chiykowski, commissioned by the author.

Soon after, I started training in American Eagle Cane, which is a self-defense art suitable for anyone with mobility impairment. Students train with canes, walkers, even wheelchairs. Last year, I added Okinawan Kobudo to my training. This art consists of training with traditional weapons such as nunchaku, bo and sai.

Another important consideration is that you probably will not be able to do everything your 20-year-old training partner can do. I will never be able to roundhouse kick someone in the head like Chuck Norris — not that I would ever want or need to — and I’m OK with that. Also, you will have to be more careful about injuries as an older martial artist. We can get injured more easily and take longer to heal. Take care of your body and you will be able to train for many years.

I will be 60 this year, and know that my martial arts training will stand me in good stead for decades to come.

RoseAnne Mussar is a career software developer approaching retirement who enjoys hitting things with sticks, cracking whips, playing drums, and thinks that any day where you learn something new is a good day.

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14 thoughts on “Start Martial Arts Training at 50”

  1. At 47, I am physically active and fit — for now — and will keep this in my back pocket for when I need something different to keep me motivated. You’re right! It’s not something I would have considered seriously before. Thanks for the story, and the suggestion!

    Reply
    • Hi Talie — thanks for the comment. At your age a lot of people think it’s time to “slow down”. I’m glad to hear you’re keeping the flame alive!

      Reply
  2. My son took karate and at his dojo was a 90+ year old who was a blackbelt. The man was in his 80s when he started and did not walk well. Through his training he has better maneuverability. I met him after he became a black belt.

    Reply
  3. I started at 45 and trained for 20 years. I am a 4th degree black belt master in taekwondo. My inspiration was a woman who started at 70 after her husband died. We would have parades and she would walk and wave to her friends at the retirement home. She even went to Korea for training. She got her 2nd degree black belt. She died and was buried in her uniform. She came to every black belt testing to cheer on everyone else.

    It is a great family activity. My son started first in third grade. My daughter started the next year in 7th grade. I started the next year. My kids went to 2nd degree and stopped when they went away to college. My daughter joined the Army to go to med. school. She is an E.R. Doctor. TKD training helped her in so many ways. She never lost a tournament. My son is a Physical Therapist.

    I love TKD. Doctors will tell you it is good physically and mentally.

    Congratulations! You are a superhero.

    Reply
    • Hi Sandy — great to hear from a fellow superhero! I also got into martial arts through my kids. it’s great stuff, isn’t it?

      Reply
  4. I studied Modern Arnis in Portland. Was even tested and promoted by Professor Remy Presas!

    It is a fantastic art for everybody, especially kids and women. Low impact. Focuses on technique, and speed; accuracy comes naturally as a result.

    Another aspect is empty-hand techniques flow from using a stick — the motions are the same.

    Thanks for the article!

    Reply
    • Awesome — my teacher is also a student of the Professor. He has lots of great stories about him. I agree with everything you said — Modern Arnis is a fantastic art and very accessible. I love the translations from sticks to short and long blades and especially to empty hand. So versatile!

      Reply
  5. I started in my mid-40s, when I moved to my current town. I started with Judo, but the class was REALLY advanced (I got a bruised rib about 2 weeks in, so I dropped out). I moved to Kung Fun (Southern Shaolin); it was great, I studied that for 2 years, then moved to Combat Hapkido for about 3 years. I’m 56 now, and I’ve thought about trying it again (although both the KF & CH classes ended, that’s why I stopped). We have BJJ, Judo/Jujitsu, a mixed arts school, and maybe a Krav Maga school (although I’m not sure he’s still open).

    Reply
  6. Thanks RoseAnne for sharing and wish you were in my neighbourhood! Older ladies need the protection of such confidence and laughter! I ‘knew’ i was going to live a long life (another story) so at 25 decided i wanted to be as flexible at 65 as i was then and read up on yoga stretches and breathing (not the pretzels), doing them on my own at my own pace, and at 65 was even more flexible. A friend in China taught me a little Tai Quan Do and i could kick, but it’s not really my style. However your talk of sticks and a firmer inner core has me interested.

    Reply
  7. Thanks RoseAnne for sharing and wish you were in my neighbourhood! Older ladies need the protection of such confidence and laughter! I ‘knew’ i was going to live a long life (another story) so at 25 decided i wanted to be as flexible at 65 as i was then and read up on yoga stretches and breathing (not the pretzels), doing them on my own at my own pace, and at 65 was even more flexible. A friend in China taught me a little Tai Quan Do and i could kick, but it’s not really my style. However your talk of sticks and a firmer inner core has me interested.

    Reply
  8. When I was 13, I was getting beat up after school. My mom told me about a free karate class at the local civic center. When I got there, all the jerks who were beating me up were there, but I’m pretty stubborn, so I stayed.

    I was having trouble with the stance because of an incorrectly diagnosed knee problem about a year earlier. The not-qualified-to-teach instructor got mad at me, and I went home crying, and in pain. My mom had to go pick up my shoes. I’ve had knee problems ever since, and my first knee replacement at 41. I’ve thought about starting back, but wasn’t sure if I could find someone willing to work with my disability. I’m glad there are instructors out there willing to do so.

    Reply
  9. I’m 49 and finally got serious about my health. I’ve been considering martial arts for the mental and physical aspects. Thanks for the great story!

    Reply

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