by Sensei Walt Fast
July, 1995

In a recent Toronto column, writer David Rutherford worries about turning 37. He was a fairly good hockey player in his youth and has attempted to keep up the sport at the same level of play. It seems his body has deserted him, and every game of pick-up leaves him totally wiped for several days. He still likes to party and notices that the body has a way of paying him back for all the junk-food, cigars and partying he does.

"You can fool yourself only from the neck up. Bodies aren't like temples, like some people pretend. They're more like Baptist churches."

He bemoans the fact that he should probably start doing sit-ups and watch what he consumes daily. Stretching and stationary bicycle riding are boring for him. Rutherford ends the article saying he will give this new regimen a try, but if it doesn't work in a couple of months then it's "fat-city and damn the consequences".

Are his observations true? Could he still be a lean, mean skating machine at 37? I give this a qualified yes. He could certainly improve his conditioning, and play hockey to the best of the abilities that a fit 37 year old could. It would be very hard for him to compete in a league with 20 year olds skating his legs off. Yet he could use those years of experience to become a craftier player. He could use finesse instead of brute force as his method of play. Then choose his moments or pick his spots, when the timing is right, to employ that force.

How does this relate to the martial arts? Is it possible to train in judo, jiu-jitsu, Karate, kick-boxing and boxing for that matter past the age of 37? I believe it is possible in some martial arts, but not others.

Boxing and kick-boxing for example are a young man's game. I salute George Foreman for his fortitude and his will. But his successes of late are more an indication of the sad state of boxing today rather than an example of an older man dominating his sport. Given a higher calibre of contenders, and shameless promoter chicanery eliminated, Foreman could never compete at that level of excellence.

What about kick-boxing? I've watched two friends and fellow karate-ka train for matches this summer. The physical conditioning is gruelling. The body must endure not only conditioning but also the concussive effects of punches and kicks.

Injuries set the time table back. Recurring injuries frustrate and set up road blocks to advancement. It takes mental conditioning to endure this regimen, yet a strong mind prevails.

The martial arts jiu-jitsu, judo, and in particular Karate can be practised well past 37. As Karate-ka we don't have to endure the full-power punches and kicks as do kick boxers. Karate is however very physical training. Karate is also much more than running or stationary bike riding. Karate players have many years of learning and perfecting kata to relieve boredom while keeping fit. Sparring techniques and combinations that work keep the Sensei's mind active. Karate is always evolving. Karate training is also more than skipping, bag drills and shadow boxing. What about developing an upright character? What about respect, honesty and a positive attitude toward others? These values may be present in the other sports but these are stressed as fundamentals in Karate.

What about reality in sparring as far as Karate Kumite is concerned? Sure we allow some body contact but no head contact. This is often looked upon by others as detrimental because the Karateka doesn't know what it's like to receive a shot to the head and continue fighting. It's been said that kick-boxing is "more real" because they learn to take punches and kicks and soldier on. For me it's a question of attitude. While training Kata, Kihon or Kumite the Karate-ka develops a fierce composure. Though we don't deck our partners, the intensity of the techniques must be there. Karate-ka control their techniques, always with an awareness that to change the speed, timing and distance slightly would mean hitting the opponent. Karate is a game. There are certain rules we follow to play it.

Boxing and kick-boxing are also games. They have rules of contact, and wear padded shin, hand and head gear. Remove their protections and the game would be altogether different. The ability to take a punch and continue would be altered. How long do you suppose a match would last if there were no gloves? How long would a match last if there were no rules and it was a street fight? The boxer may likely have his legs kicked out. The kick-boxer may fall victim of a lucky punch. The Karate-ka may get pulled to the ground and get choked out by the Judo-ka. A good street-fighter might surprise everyone. The difference is in integrity of character, and attitude in fighting.

The attitude or state of mind of the Karate-ka extends also to persistence. To give up Karate because the kicks don't go quite as high is laughable. As we age, life puts on certain limits to what we can do physically. This is not the time to throw in the towel and "damn the consequences". The older Karate-ka constantly tests his limitations. Given the variety contained in Karate practice, an inquisitive mind develops new strategies to overcome the hurdles life sets up for us.

The key I believe is in tenacity in training. Human energy often ebbs and flows. We have "down" periods as well as times of high energy. The Karate-ka who keeps training can sip at Karate like a fine wine during lethargic times. He can also soar with the eagles during times of high energy. The important thing is that he keeps on training Karate. Remember: it is much easier to stay in shape, than it is to get back into shape.

I'll leave you with a passage from Tennyson's "Ulysses". Please take this excerpt with a grain of salt, but take it nonetheless!

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are - One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

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