Training as an older student

Todd Engelman


In college, I was introduced to Aikido.  It was a good first martial art, and taught some useful techniques, along with honor, courage, and confidence.  After studying this art for almost 3 years, I finally felt I was getting proficient with it.  However, life changes moved me away from the area, and I was unable to continue my training.

Early this year, at age 39, I finally decided to return to martial arts training after a 17 year absence.  I researched local schools, but was unimpressed by most of the “McDojo’s” around.  They’re better than nothing at all, but their training seemed superficial and not as practical as I desired.

Eventually, I was fortunate enough to visit the Gi Yu Dojo, and was deeply impressed by the instructors, and the Kobudo ways.  There were some similarities to my earlier training, but this went much further and covered things I hadn’t learned before.  I could still remember many of the general ideas, and some of the techniques, I had learned in Aikido, but most of my old training was stale.  I expected some aspects of kobudo similar to aikido would be easiest for me to learn, but in reality, it was harder to change my old learning than to learn new things from scratch.

My first duty to my training was to set aside any preconceptions based on my older training so I could learn proper Kobudo techniques.   As I write this, I have only been training with the Gi Yu dojo for 4 months, so I have a very long way to go on the budo path, but I can feel my overall confidence growing and am seeing small victories in my learning almost every class. 

At the same time, I’m starting to feel slightly less adequate now than I did about 2 months ago, as I refine my techniques and see how many small details I’m lacking.  This is slightly unnerving, but Sukh sensei, and our other instructors, said this feeling is typical as you grow and progress.  I hope in another 6 months or so, I’ll say they were right.  But at the moment, I feel some doubts about my abilities.  Fortunately, these doubts push me to train harder.

Some aspects of beginning training as an older person are not as pleasant as I’d hoped, but are facts of life.  Training as a 19-21 year old, I was thin, muscular, quick, and had far better endurance than I do now.  Since then, the decades of working desk jobs have ruined my physique.  And there’s an immense difference in how resilient my body is.  The inevitable injuries and bruises that come with training take much longer to heal than before.  But the longer I’ve been training, the faster I’m starting to recover.  And my endurance is similarly getting better.  And fortunately, all of the instructors and students have been wonderful at “going gentle” on certain moves when necessary. 

If you are older and intimidated by the thought of beginning martial arts training late, be assured your apprehension is natural.  But the longer you wait to begin, the harder it will be.  It becomes far too easy to say “maybe I’ll start getting in better shape… next month”, and then never end up doing anything about it.  As with all of life, a big key to your success will be your dedication.  If you show up regularly, push yourself a bit, and train with proper technique, it will continue to get easier and you will feel your body and spirit grow stronger.

Happy training!