I am just over 55 years old, and in relatively very good health. I get checked out every year and the numbers (save for one) are all in the normal to preferred range. Cholesterol, triglycerides, sodium, heart rate, and everything else is right where my doctor and I would want it to be. I am, however, fat. OK, to be more kindly towards myself, I'm overweight - pretty much have been all my life. As a child they called me husky.
When people learn that I take (let alone teach) karate, one of two questions always comes up. First, given my endomorphic body proportion, they'll seem surprised. Aren't all martial artists thin little things with amazing flexibility? Nope - size and weight are driven far more by eating habits and genetic tendencies than by exercise. And then they'll ask - but isn't it too hard (and then the unspoken) for someone your age and weight?
Karate class is hard for everyone. Period. But what makes it hard is different depending on your age and of course personal circumstances. For now, I'll leave out the personal challenges we all have - and trust me when I say we all have them.
This past Saturday, I looked around the room and saw a wide range of students. From a four year old little boy to a 60+ man, with every variation in between. I had a young mom, a couple of teenage boys and girls, a couple more kids and a few adult middle aged men - 15 students in all. By the way, as a topic for another time, in this class were students ranking from brand new white belts to second degree black belts - all looking for a class tailored to their needs and abilities. Again, another topic for another time.
Class was hard for everyone of them. Hard, but for different reasons. For me, the hardest thing about the classes I take with my masters has to do with stamina. Given my good health and years of practice, I can execute just about everything I'm asked. But I just don't have the longevity of exertion I used to have. I am not alone in this, as many of the senior students have the same issue. To be sure, I have much more endurance than I would have if I didn't work out - but it's not lost on me that I can't keep up with the younger men.
Ah, the younger men; with their flexibility, speed, endurance, and strength. What could possibly be hard for them? Knowledge and patience. I've lost count of the number of times a young man has lost patience with either a training partner or himself because of a flawed execution or simple memory lapse. Often the class will be introduced to (as Spock would say) colorful metaphors.
Teenagers either don't want to be there at all, or do, but don't want anybody to know that they care. I have one teenage girl who spends the entire class inspecting her fingernails in the attempt at hiding any real effort. She's actually quite good and has loads of potential, but don't tell her I said so. She doesn't want anybody to know.
The youngest of the children have boundless energy, and as such their greatest strength is their weakness. Want to make class miserably hard for them? Tell the class to stand still. The adults will bless your name for the reprieve, and the young unsweating kids will perspire themselves damp inhibiting the impulse to wriggle like a fish on a hook.
Our moms are generally young enough to handle all of the physical demands, yet they struggle sometimes with sparring - especially against other women. It's not a social opportunity ladies, as you're supposed to feel threatened and practice self defense - not discuss your kids! Women tend to "talk" and laugh as they spar. What's up with that? And, of course - the moms multitask - they're brain is never totally in the class - some part of it is reviewing a grocery list, a homework assignment, or why Jill never called back.
Martial arts will tax every element of your being - physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual. Since none of us are perfect, we're bound to bump up against the areas where each of us struggles. For everyone, some part of class will be tough, and by that I mean you will struggle. But through that struggle you can grow and become a better martial artist, and possibly a better person.