Is it possible to Age Gracefully in a martial art?Genkou, 2023-01-09
As I recall, I began my USTRI journey in Clarkston, at Baycourt Park in 2008. At that time I was exactly 50 years old. Not exactly a spring chicken, and definitely above the median age range of everyone else in the group.
At the fine young age of 50, there weren’t a whole lot of things left to do on my bucket list from 1976. So why did I sign up for the class? As I explained to Eastman Sensei who was instructing the class, I was at my mid-life crisis, looking for a new challenge. During this uncertain period I started cleaning my closet and donating all of my clothing that was outdated or no longer fitted – due to age related shrinkage. And then it hit me. Literally.
A bokuto that I had picked up somewhere in the past rolled off the top shelf and bonked me on the head. I picked it up, then found the Parks & Rec catalog advertising a “Koryu sword art not taught outside Japan until recently,” and apprehensively signed up for the session. During my interview I asked if maybe I was too old to start training in a martial art. Sensei said, “What you lack in physical strength you more than make up for in maturity and experience…”
The passage of time has not gone by quietly. Since 2008 I’ve celebrated 7 grandchildren, several gray/white hairs, and changed jobs twice. But I’ve noticed that everything takes a little bit longer to complete:
- getting out of bed in the morning
- cooking dinner
- taking out the trash
- bathing the dogs
- cleaning the house (I don’t know if this will ever get completed)
- cooking dinner… wait, I already listed that one
And yes, this also affects my efforts with Tamiya Ryu. Physically I’m slower, my body is not as flexible, I wake up the next day with aches and pains. Mentally there are things I start forgetting, but my mind is more resilient than my body. I think… Sometimes this is reflected in my practice and I have to accept that “aging gracefully” is the ambiguous equivalent of “seeking perfection.” Neither may be achieved in one’s lifetime.
So why do I keep practicing Tamiya Ryu? I truly believe that there is a deep satisfaction and tranquility that comes from watching students and other members grow and develop in this art. The same kind of pride that the old head coach gets from watching his team win a tough game. The same sense of accomplishment that the school principal gets when he hands a diploma to a student he first saw years ago.
It’s not awards or belts or titles that keeps an old man like me in a martial art. I guess you could call it devotion. I know eventually Father Time will make me less active in this art. But I also have a shirt that reads:
Assuming I’m just an old man was your first mistake