Martial Arts at Any Age: How Karate Helps Seniors
Old School Sidekicks (The oldest and youngest Mile High Karate black belts, circa 1990)

Are you too old to earn a Black Belt? Don’t tell that to these two ladies from Fife, Scotland.

Isabel Murray, 77, and Sheila Stewart, 72, just earned their Black Belts in karate last November, becoming among the oldest in Britain to achieve the coveted rank. It all began with bringing the grandkids to karate. The little ones were having fun, so the grands decided to join them, learning their moves side by side. The rest is history.

After more than four years of hitting the mats, both women continue to train. “Words really fail me,” said Sheila. “it was just wonderful – we were ecstatic [when given the belts]. If we could’ve done somersaults we would’ve done.”

There are other high-profile stories of seniors making strides in the martial arts.

Country music legend Willie Nelson received his 5th-degree Black Belt in his 80s. Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee continued to teach and hit 100s of push ups per day (in front of chambers of Congress, no less) into his 80s as well.

Then there was the 82-year-old Rochester powerlifter who recently stomped an intruder with her bare hands and some makeshift weapons. The message? Don’t mess around with a person who’s dedicated to keeping their mind and body in top form, despite their age.

It pays to have flexibility, strength and fighting sense well into old age, and given their evolution over thousands of years, martial arts provide an ideal proving ground.

Here are some of the benefits of a vigorous fitness routine (including training toward Black Belt) for elders:

Prevent falls. Balance is a key component of karate. You’re always keeping track of where you place your feet and hold your weight, and that translates off the karate mat and onto every other surface you traverse (stairs, a busy sidewalk, the kids’ messy rooms).

Live longer. A sedentary lifestyle is among the top ten causes of death and disability, according to the World Health Organization. But our range of motion and desire to get into motion tends to decline as we age. Martial arts (especially when you’re on the mat with your kids) provides that consistent motivation. Your body’ll thank you.

Strengthen your bones. Osteoporosis and fractures become more common the older we get. But weight-bearing exercise (for instance, doing Chon Ji, doing push ups, or holding horse stance while throwing punches) strengthens bones and prevents injury.

Sharpen your mind. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating, but research shows that exercise of the body and the mind helps prevent the onset and development of these conditions. Learning dozens of combinations and forms on your way to Black Belt? That’s a heavy dose of body-brain interaction. Karate keeps you keen.

If you ever have a question about whether karate is right for you, whether you’re ready to join your kid or grandchild on the mat, or you just want to dive in, talk to your head instructor. See you soon!

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