Monday 16 January 2012

Martial Arts, Group Identity and the Self

Oh how I love to start with a rant! So buckle up and let’s go!

It appears to me that we are living in an ever fragmenting social world, a world where people dip into fads and friendships with a speed that baffles me. A world where one is judged by the number of digital 'friends' one has, not the quality of friends you've invested in. Where many believe it is their right to their fifteen minutes of fame, no matter how excruciatingly bad, mediocre or mundane they are. A place where cyber-warriors prowl the ether, mocking, taunting and hiding behind the shield of their monitors, the only mat they come close to doing combat on is under their mouse. So is it just me or has superficiality become the new sexy? It is the dawning of the Superficial Self! All nod approvingly, get bored and then wander off to find something shiny. Two points here: where is their group identity and who gave it to them? Positive group identity is the single most important topic to be aware of in our role of older martial artists. Why? Well read on…

Firstly, and have a think about this, we can see that it’s true that we have multiple group identities and we switch between them in such a non-reflective manner as to believe that this seamlessness is our ‘operating’ self. We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, workmates, Shotokan, Kyokushin Budokai, or Kung Fu practitioners. You can fill in whatever group identity you want from your own experiences. Think about it, groups are so important we stigmatise by them. We treat people we don’t like as ‘Others’ and we linguistically branded as socially less able. If you want to dominate someone verbally you draw a link between them and any particular social group that is seen as unappealing. So with just the right tonal quality, perhaps a sneer, you can cut someone down: ‘What do you know? You’re just a [fill in appropriate group].’ Everyone reading this will have heard this and in all probability done it themselves, even secretly in their head.

It’s human nature to elevate our own group and; via social group osmosis, we absorb and then project the positives of our chosen group. By contrast we project onto the rival group(s) all the crap negative characteristics of that group. On ourselves we claim higher social worth and by de facto they are of lower social worth. This is one of the ways we feel good about ourselves. Sometimes, if a group is dominant and they continually put another group down for long enough, then perhaps that negativity will stick, they then have the double bonus of feeling superior to the individual/group and getting them to internalise (and believe) all the negative crap they’ve heaped on them. Unfortunately, it’s always happened and always will – be aware of that and things get easier to understand.

Above is the basis for stereotypical behaviour and the cause of many our problems. This is because group identity (We-image) becomes self identity (I-image). Watch any football match to see this, not the players, but watch the fans. Watch them groan when their team plays bad, or rise and cheer when their team plays good. In particular watch them afterwards, watch the winners leave the stadium singing and hands held triumphant. Now gaze at the losers, walking dejected with heads down. Think about it for a second, none of the fans – winner and losers - played on the pitch! They were not active participants and yet they act like they were. This is the power of group identity. Your team wins and you feel like a winner, if it loses then you feel like crap! For an in-depth look as to what physiologically happens when you win or lose, then check out Kemper’s (1990) ‘Dominance and Eminence’ theory, details below.

Positive Group Image in the Martial Arts
If we look at the group identity and image of martial arts groups, they are basically divided into two modes of perception. Firstly, how the non-martial artists perceive the group and secondly, how other martial artists perceive the group. Let’s be childish and juxtapose two groups together. In the blue corner we have Tai Chi and in the red corner we have Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). What are your immediate reactions to these two systems? Obviously that will depend on whether you practice a martial art or not. If you don’t, then how are each of the two martial arts portrayed in the media? Is Tai Chi for old people and MMA for young bucks? Both of these martial arts are ‘famous’ enough to be in our Collective Unconscious. If you practice a martial art it may depend on what you want from martial arts. So some martial artists may state that the word martial means ‘warlike’ and therefore all martial arts should have a basis in pragmatism. I know that many ‘traditional’ martial artists loathe MMA and feel that it is a step backward and has no budo. Likewise, many MMA students feel at ‘traditional’ martial arts simply do not work, or take far too long to learn to be effective. And there is without a doubt an element of truth in this – but only if you look at it as a tool to defend yourself or beat people up.

But when we add the word ‘Dō’ (Way) then the image of martial arts changes; its symbolism now takes you off in a different direction. Now we have a martial art that goes beyond merely teaching people to fight, it now offers a path, a modus operandi to run one’s life. However, how many people are aware of this? How many instructors push this? More than that, how many people in today’s low attention span days are prepared to invest in a martial art to this extent? Honest answer, not many. But the martial arts, when taught right, can offer so much more than a simple sport. As I like to say to my students, if you’re serious then it becomes a lifestyle choice and not a leisure pursuit. As older martial artists we have the life experience to see how important a Dō is as a guiding superego. (Oi! I hear you cry. Make your mind up! Is it Jungian or Freudian psychology we’re following here! Well it’s my Blog so it’s a smorgasbord of flavours I like!) I personally have seen how young people who have no attachments continue that into their adult life. Many people today are continually browsing to find a religion, culture or, in reality, a group that values them and more importantly gives them a Dō. They want a positive group that will filter down to a positive self and will surround themselves with significant others that will reinforce the group charisma. They’re looking to fill their perceived gaps, like two pieces of a jigsaw fitting together. Don’t believe me? Check out the ‘self help’ section in your local bookshop, in most cases it covers a lot more space than the science or medical section.

As herd animals (Nietzsche, but see also Kierkegaard or Simmel), we instinctively want to surround ourselves with those that will reinforce our chosen self-image. Goffman (1963); though speaking about disabled people, came up with two cracking terms, the ‘own’ and the ‘wise’. Simply put the ‘own’ are those people who are directly associated with our group and do what we do. So subjectively it can be looked at like a reverse pyramid: in my case Kyokushin Budokai before generic karate before martial arts before sports/philosophy. Each section getting larger as it moves away from us. The other term, the ‘wise’, are those that are connected to our group, but not actual practitioners. For example the long suffering wives, husbands or parents that support, but do not do martial arts. This is one example how our group identity ‘spills’ out further that the core ‘own’ group itself and can have a direct and indirect impact on how the larger society perceives us. So be nice to your ‘wise’! And yes you can apply this to pretty much anything that involves human activity!

There are enough martial arts out there to cater for everyone’s needs. After all we don’t all drive the same car. One of the advantages of being somewhat older than the younger members of our chosen martial art is that we have a greater choice of life experiences with which to aid any decision making processes that are required for solutions to problems, or as an aid in general. With a greater understanding of group ‘we’ image and the link between self ‘I’ image and the broader link with everyone else out there, we can patiently drive forward our positive imagery and symbolism. Because we now know the larger influences the smaller and the smaller influences the larger. There’s such symmetry in the Universe if we slow down enough to see it!

Oh great… finish on a New Age Christmas cracker euphemism! And it was going so well up till then!

Kemper, Theodore D. (1990) Social Structure and Testosterone: explorations in the socio-bio-social chain. Rutgers University Press: New Jersey.

Goffman, Erving. (1963) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Friday 23 December 2011

Nostalgia and Motivation

I know… you’re looking at the title and thinking, what the hell is he going? Just sticking words together randomly? But go with me on this. We can tap into motivation from so many sources. There is the character-lead motivation and for myself I am lucky in that I have to look no further than my own instructor Jon Bluming, who as he approaches his eightieth birthday is still teaching his Kyokushin Budokai. Then there is historical motivation such as when I read of great men and women of the past and draw inspiration from them. But the nostalgia I wish to write about is not an objective nostalgia (we’ll not get into a philosophical argument about all the past being objective!), but my own subjective nostalgia. And a quick point on motivation, which in this instance it is divided into two parts; firstly the motivation to turn up and teach, especially after a long day working and secondly, the motivation to keep myself fit and supple enough to demonstrate and participate.

As we age we are often drawn back to those ‘halcyon days of yore’ and if martial arts is a constant from your youth through to the age you are now (presuming your over fifty, if not, class this as empirical homework!), then it has an significant role in the formation of your present day self. I began my martial arts journey (last stop death), in 1973 with Wadoryu karate at the Drill Hall, which lay in the shadow of the impervious Pembroke Castle. When I started I was a troubled young fourteen year old lad from a home that was held together by the glue of patriarchal violence. My karate liberated me from the oppressiveness of shifting-sands rules that changed according to the barometer of alcohol. Within the club I was judged by my effort and dedication, not by comparison to another’s achievements. My bow (rei) to my fellow karateka was done in respect and fellowship, my bow in my house was to avoid eye contact or a casually thrown blow. For the first time in life I began to thrive. Karate lead me to other life-skills that would become inseparable from my martial arts, I began to read Zen, Oriental philosophy, in fact pretty much any martial arts related stuff I could get my hands on. I would sit in the 6th form common room at school, reading and re-reading Paul H Crompton’s magazine ‘Karate and Oriental Arts’, I would pore over every article, absorb every story as though it was fact (Big mistake! Wasted months trying to develop a ‘chi’ punch!). My world became indivisible from my karate; I would wash dishes at home with my leg on the sink to stretch, I would do press ups with my sister sat on my back and every task became just another way to train. So woven together was my karate and my everyday life that it is difficult through recollection to untangle the two.

At this time extraordinary juxtaposition had occurred within my young life, but it was more than a simple half division, because karate began to act like a bright light that not so much dispersed the grey and black world I had inhabited, but illuminated it better and allowed me to navigate towards adulthood with a sense of purpose and clear rules. So as I matured into a young adult, all those boxes in my retrograded age and stage of development slowly began to be ticked off; impulse control – check, forward planning skills – check, and all this came about for me as a direct result of my karate training. But as an older man I am acutely aware that the brightest light also makes the darkest shadows. My karate club became my life; it was the constant that nourished me, it was the benchmark to which I held myself (and unfortunately others as well). It changed from a leisure pursuit to a Way (Do), I had acceptance and belonging.

When, for the most part, you are valued and feel part of a family, all be it an extended one, this has an astonishing effect on your self-esteem and how you present yourself to others. My grades went up at school, I started to date girls (liked that one!) and I fought back, not always winning, but that is not the point, the point is that for the first time I fought back. As American Goju sensei Peter Urban notes in his book Karate Sensei (1989), ‘Karate changes the pecking order in your life’. How true. My summers were filled with training outside, wrapping ropes around thin trees to make a living makiwara, trips to tournaments in crappy Ford Transit minibuses with packed lunches in greaseproof paper (sandwiches with chocolate spread, or bloody awful fish paste) and all the adults getting drunk on the way back and singing bawdy Welsh rugby songs. I loved every minute of it.

For this was the Golden Age of Martial Arts, the days of Bruce Lee in the cinema, Kung Fu on the television and Kung Fu Fighting on the radio. Martial arts became my spiritual chlorophyll giving me the energy to overthrow past limitations imposed on me by another’s uncaring attitude. Looking back with an envious eye, the days seemed brighter and longer, but more than that they held something so rare in my life these days… non-reflective passion and the belief that anything was possible. And this more than anything is the nostalgic source of my motivation. It’s mercurial in its nature, in that like mercury it is difficult to pin down; I understand its wholeness, but not the nature of its wholeness when viewed in individual parts. As Richard Ford (1995) says in his book The Sportswriter:

“What was our life like? I almost don't remember now. Though I remember it, the space of time it occupied. And I remember it fondly.”

Remembering fondly. What a great line! So for me nostalgia is not only linked with a few happy childhood memories, but an extraordinary wonderful encounter that genuinely changed my life. Sounds a little corny, but I don’t care, its true. It had such a significant impact on me that it still reverberates to this day. So there you have it, a bizarre little article about nostalgia and motivation, it’s slightly deeper than I thought when I started this, but that’s cool too. So think back and ask yourself: What’s your motivation? Osu! Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Ford, Richard (1995). The Sportswriter. Vintage Books: New York

Urban, Peter (1989). Karate Sensei. Rising Sun Productions: USA

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Ability, Motivation and Teaching

You’ve been aware of it for a while, but it was nothing more than a niggle at the periphery of your consciousness. In all likelihood it began intermittently and you just put it down to needing to stretch more, or perhaps being a little off your game plan. But it happens with increasing regularity and you compensate, you put a little extra into your cardio or stretching. However, eventually you have to stand tall and stare unflinchingly at the truth…you’re getting old. Or if you want a less devastating body blow, you’re getting older, but we all know that is just sugar coating what is really happening. Old age with all its problems is squaring up to us and at the moment we can deal with what he is throwing at us; the sore hips, creaking knees, hyper-extended elbows, but its only a matter of time before he gets us in the corner and unloads. Our time-bound bodies are betraying us.

As martial artists, in particular if you’re an instructor, you suffer a double whammy when it comes to ageing. Firstly, the body you present; including how you adorn it (think fashion labels), has become increasing high profile in this consumer age. As Featherstone (1991) notes:

"The vast range of dietary, slimming, exercise and cosmetic body-maintenance products which are currently produced, marketed and sold, point to the significance of appearance and bodily preservation within late capitalist society."1

Working with Hepworth nearly a decade earlier Featherstone (1982) noted that in today’s society our bodily betrayals that accompany ageing become interpreted as “signs of moral laxitude”2. In other words, if you look your age, you ain’t trying hard enough. But the external signs of ageing are not our only problems. The battering and abuse we’ve given our bodies over the years comes back to haunt us.

Prior to investigating the second 'whammy', let’s have a wee peek at a generic overview of what ordinarily happens physiologically to us when we age, bearing in mind what we put our bodies through and how this will affect our ability.

Age brings a decrease in maximum heart rate and an overall decline in maximum cardiac output, or the amount of blood our hearts can pump, both of which limit our athletic performance.

Ageing leads to a decrease in our overall lung capacity and a decline in the ability of the lungs to move oxygen from the air into the bloodstream. This means less overall strength and endurance.

As we age, we lose both muscle strength and muscle mass. Basically, our muscles are classified as either Type I or Type II. Type I muscles are slow to contract and contribute to physical endurance; Type II muscles are faster to contract and are associated with strength and power. As we age, even though we can fight the loss of muscle mass with exercise, we will still be losing these Type II fibres at the same rate (fell free to curse at this point!). What happens is that instead of developing new muscle fibres from exercise, as we did when we were younger, the remaining fibres merely increase in bulk. In addition, with age we also lose some of our ability to control the firing, or activation, of our muscles. This leads to loss of coordination and strength.

Nervous System
With ageing there is a marked decline in blood flow to the brain, which is associated with a decrease in reaction time. The number of times I’ve been doing Knockdown sparring and I’ve seen the opening, it’s there… a massive hole into which I can fire a kick, but I can’t get to it quick enough. Now I can blame my nervous system and not my skill!

V02 max
Also, many effects of age on the nervous system combine to cause a decline in something called V02 max, or the maximum volume of oxygen consumed by the body per heartbeat. This is also known as oxygen pulse. VO2 max declines steadily and predictably as we age, on average approximately 1.5% per year. Even though highly trained older athletes show a smaller rate of decline, only 0.5% per year, it is just as steady. In studies of athletes, VO2 max also closely parallels the decline in maximum athletic performance that comes with age. For this reason it has been suggested that VO2 max makes an excellent measure of physiological rather than chronological ageing.

Another important issue for older martial artists is that of injury. Statistically, older martial artists are much more likely to injure themselves than younger martial artists who are doing the same sport. On the positive side, however, it has been found that even accounting for their increased likelihood of injury, older martial artists tend to be physically better off than the average person of their age. As with all athletes, a careful warm-up period with stretching exercises is key to reducing our chance of injury.

Musculoskeletal Problems
Loss of bone is an unavoidable fact of ageing. This is a particular worry for women, who tend to have less skeletal mass than men and who also lose bone more quickly. You cannot entirely prevent bone loss, but you can reduce the rate of loss through regular exercise, particularly weight training. Nevertheless, many older athletes are predisposed to bone fractures, so watch those hands when throwing punches.

Of particular concern for us is that ageing also brings a marked decrease in flexibility. This is caused mainly by changes in the body's connective tissue, combined with arthritis. Our lack of flexibility means that our knees, hips, and other joints must bear greater stress during exercise, rather than dissipating it to surrounding tissues, such as nearby muscles, as we did when we were younger. This stress can gradually destroy the joints! Also back pain which occurs in nearly two-thirds of all adults at some point during their lives, grows worse with age. Older martial artists should do extra warm-up and flexibility exercises in order to prevent injury. As with all stretching exercise, these should be performed with a steady and smooth motion.

While we cannot argue that older martial artists are more prone to injury than younger ones, this is no reason, however, for us to avoid martial arts. Most sports injuries can be prevented or treated with a combination of preparation, targeted exercise and conditioning, and common sense. Almost all studies I looked at suggest that active, but not excessive, enjoyment of a variety of sports and exercise can give us both a better and a longer life. To quote Rocky Balboa in ‘Rocky 3’, “Just keep punching!”

I mentioned above the ‘double whammy’ and I touched on how individuals are tied into their body presentation (the beautiful people) and how our bodies ‘betray us’ and affect our ability as we age. The second 'whammy' is how ageing affects our own training and for some this can have a devastating effect on their motivation. I know I have to work harder on my flexibility to show roundhouse kicks to the head and having to fight from my back is a nightmare. I also know; though its hidden deep in my sub-conscious, that one day I will unable to show head kicks and deeper down that time-line I know I won’t be able to do many other techniques. It may be that even the simplest techniques might cause me discomfort. I know it’s a bit dark and bleak, but that’s the reality of it. Motivation, when looked at through a single lens could be a problem as we age. I believe that the key to motivation as we age is instead of looking through a single lens, learn to look through a prism. I try to see life as a multi-coloured event and not a single layer. As older martial artists we have so much advice and help we can give and this includes life lessons as well as martial lessons. We have seen trends and fads come and go and we have experienced life longer and in more depth than our younger students and friends.

So an important motivational factor for me is the desire to pass on my knowledge and philosophy. I fully understand that we all have to walk our own path and that while other’s paths may run close to mine; no one can ever walk my path. Many of my old students’ paths still run parallel with mine, some have stopped many years back and others have diverted towards different horizons. What matters to me is that at some point in our lives our paths crossed and, hopefully, their path was altered in a positive way. After all it is our interactions that make us who we are. For me that is motivation enough. Oh yeah… I’m also very competitive, so until I can’t, I’ll just keep punching!

This lead nicely into what happens to my ability as an instructor? It raises questions about the transmission of knowledge in a (mostly) physical based art. If I was teaching English or Science, then the fact that I can’t touch my toes or do the splits has no bearing on the knowledge I pass on. But that’s not what we do. True there is a philosophical aspect to my particular martial art (Kyokushin Budokai) and I feel it is important for my students to have a grasp of Budo, but the majority of their learning involves body movements. While I am not at that point where I can't show techniques at the moment, there has to come a time when that will happen and that is where my senior students will take over. In an analogy similar to life I will take on a different role within our ‘family.’ Perhaps it will be an advisatory role or a figurehead. However, like mercury under a finger, this is an area of thought that I find hard to pin down as my sense of self is still too tied into my physical abilities. I just hope I’ve taught my seniors well.

As a preventative opiate I find myself admiring the likes of Hironori Ohtsuka, still teaching into his late eighties, or Gogen Yamaguchi who trained up until his death at eighty. Is this a natural aspect of ageing? That our role models become older or are dead? I find the way my mind seeks out this sort of information most instructive.

Until next time…Ah! What the hell! Let’s finish on a high note! Keep Punching!

1Featherstone, M. and Hepworth, M. (1982) 'Ageing and Inequality: Consumer Culture and the New Middle Age', in D. Robbins et al. (eds), Rethinking Social Inequality. Aldershot: Gower.

2Featherstone, M et al. (eds) (1991) ‘The body: social process and cultural theory’. Sage: London.

Wednesday 30 November 2011


18 Weeks 25th November 2011

Latest pictures from 'the body project'!

I seem to be plateauing at the moment and that leaves me with three options. Option one is to decrease my calorie intake, option two is to increase my energy output and option three is a syntheses of the two. None fill me with joy and excitement. Plateauing is something to simply be aware of and accept as it is part of the learning process. Oh that is so simple to write! I'm reminded to the vicar praying to his god and asking, 'Dear god grant me the power of patience, but give it to me now'. The problem is that on occasion I get my information from a file in my head that is labelled 'Eighteen Years Old' and this leads to frustration when my fifty three year old body is unable to do the things that the eighteen year thinks it should. Goffman (1963)* speaks of the 'virtual' self and the 'actual' self and the problems which arise when the gap between them is realised and can lead to negative introspection. So the trick is to use the 'virtual' self as an attainable goal that positively influences the 'actual' self to work towards that goal. However, gentle reflection leads me to realise that I have several 'virtual' selves floating about out there and damn some of those goals are hard!

Happily I'm reminded of another story:
A man goes to a Zen archer to learn his craft. He asks how long will it take. The Zen master looks at him and says, “Five years.”
The man thinks about this for a while and decides it is too long. He replies, “I'll train harder than anyone else you've every trained.”
The Zen master pauses for a moment and says, “Ten years.”
The man stares at the Zen master with a look bewilderment. “Sorry,” he states, “you must have misheard. I will train from early in the morning until late into the night. I will train until my fingers bleed.”
The Zen master pauses again, leans forward in a conspiratorial manner and whispers, “Fifteen years.”
The man recoils a little, “Hang on,” he squawks, “why is it only five years normally, but ten or fifteen if I really try hard?”
“Because,” the Zen master replies, “you have one eye on the target and one eye on the time!” He slaps the man on his head and says, “Both eyes need to be on the target!”

Ah! But which target? See philosophising with my internal monologue again! Osu!

* E. Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1963

Thursday 24 November 2011

Hello and Welcome!

My name is Marc Howes, I was born on 22nd May 1958. I come from a small town in Wales called Pembroke Dock (Doc Penfro) and I live in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The purpose of this Blog is to inspire, motivate and share information amongst those of us that are in the fortunate position to be training half a century into our lives. For some, you may be on the first tentative steps of learning martial arts, while for others you may have five, ten, twenty, or in the case of myself, nearly forty years of martial arts training behind you. Each one of us has a unique insight into our own particular martial art and how it has changed; to a greater or lesser degree, over the years. Further, we have a unique insight to how we have had to adapt our particular training over the years as our bodies’ age.

Why did I start this Blog?

At fifty three I recently underwent a midlife crisis. No, not the sort that required me to seek out a younger girlfriend, or a sports car, or a hair transplant (or all three!). This crisis was much more subtle. I had found a photo of myself as a younger man; it was a posed picture on the way to a karate competition circa 1984, in the photo I had on a black T-shirt and black jeans, which were held up by a full buckle belt. The universe unfolded itself in a certain manner and the very next day I found the belt in an old storage box. I attempted to put the belt on. Please notice I said attempted. I was genuinely shocked and hurt to find that I could not even fasten the belt on the first hole. I could see, with a historically jealous eye that I used to wear it four holes in, what the hell had happened?

At first I told myself that it was just a sign of normal ageing, that while I might be about four inches bigger (please notice the avoidance of the word ‘fatter’) I was in proportion for my size. OK I wasn’t the svelte-like creature of yesteryear, but I was looking OK for my age and was more than holding my own with ground-fighting and my Knockdown karate wasn’t too shabby either. But I could feel my competitive, rational sliver of my ego shaking its head and making tut-tut noises. And I just knew. I knew that this was a crossroads for me and every bit as important as any other crossroads I had faced in my life. At that point I decided to drop weight, not tomorrow, or on Monday after a binge compensatory weekend, but now. But I decided to take it a step further and become a vegetarian again (I was a vegetarian for many years – but that’s a story for later). I reacquainted myself with Clarence Bass’s superb book ‘Ripped’ and set about drastically changing my diet and training routine.

My diet was the easiest component to adjust; I simply switched onto ‘whole’ foods and stopped eating snack foods like biscuits and chocolate bars. I had done a calculation that startled me; I had about five cups of coffee a day at work and each time would have at least three biscuits with it. That’s fifteen a day, so after ten days, or two working weeks that one hundred and fifty biscuits! Three hundred biscuits a working month! That is excluding any ‘rubbish’ I was eating at home or on the move. So it was in with as much fruit as I wanted during the day, no fried food, no food heavy in calories and as much natural foods as possible. I reintroduced the term ‘Stay Hungry’ into mental monologue.

16 weeks into training 9th November 2011

However, it was the training component that proved a little more difficult. The problem is that I instruct and when you instruct there are certain expectations that come with that role. The first expectation is that you will give your full attention to those who you teach, which often means your Duty of Care prevents you from training yourself, as martial arts are by their nature dangerous. However, I believe that specific endurance is important within martial arts, its pointless knowing two hundred techniques when you gas less than a minute into a fight. Therefore, I have a forty minute endurance routine at the beginning of my classes that I can take part in and enjoy. True, it meant that I could not motivate the more ‘reluctant’ students to the same degree, but hand-on-heart that really didn’t bother me. During the sparring/rolling classes I would take turn-about with one of the other instructors present. However, it was my own personal training that presented the problem and the problem was that of motivation.

I work as a Residence Manager at a Music School, so I do a thirty eight hour week, I teach five times a week (Monday through to Thursday and a Saturday sparring class) as well as some early morning private lessons. I spend about two hours a day in my car driving to work and back and then to training and back. Take into account the important maintenance required, relationships, housing, car, etc. and then you get an idea of the time restraints I have acquired over the years. Sometimes I silently scream for some selfish ‘me’ time. You see, as you age you are drawn back to the Halcyon days of your youth and for me those days were summer filled days during the early 1970s when I was just starting on my martial arts path. Those were days when we ran in our karate gis on the beach, or up mountains on weekend camps. When Bruce Lee and Kung Fu set the world on fire, I remember going to local fairs in Wales and trying to win a Bruce Lee poster. I remember the excitement of going to see Enter the Dragon for the first time, or rushing home to see Kung Fu on television. I wanted some of those feeling back again (a natural human emotion) and resolved to go back to a simpler personal training, such as makiwara training, barefoot running on the beach, all the things that lead to a more intimate relationship with my particular martial art. But where to find the time? There’s the rub!

A third component to look at is the wear and tear on my body as I have aged. As well as the normal ageing problems that humans beings have, as older martial artists we place further strains on our poor bodies. I have two major problems and a plethora of minor ones that come and go according to how hard I've trained them. My first major problem would be my knees. Years of kicking, bouncing, running, blocking and anything else you can think of have taken their toll. Strangely its not during training they hurt, but rather when I go to bed! I've been awoken during the night with one or both throbbing unmercifully. The other problem, which I believe is linked to my knees is my left hip. At certain angles it can twinge like a bugger! But all-in-all I can't really complain, many of my friends have long given up their martial arts arts due to injuries.

I would appreciate some input from other older martial artists. If you have any articles, words of wisdom, stories or motivational tips then email them to me here: