Why Martial Arts?




I have been asked the question many times, “Why, at the age of 53, did you begin an activity best suited for teenagers and Twenty Somethings?”  You see, I’ve taken up the study of Martial Arts.  Now I spend my nights entwined in close embrace with ice packs.  My joints are hugged snugly by elastic wraps.  I swallow aspirin with regularity and I am on a first name basis with my Chiropractor of choice.

My wife and daughters don’t understandThey don’t understand that this is the sand box all over again.  This is my last chance to do it again.  To do it with vigor and class.  To have fun.  To strive to come out on top without creating enemies.  To learn something of myself.  To teach this old dog of a body a new trick or two.  And this body, more than half a century old is able to learn and heal and recover.  Why, this old dog can even give the young‘uns, the Twenty Somethings, a real contest on occasion.  I have discovered some strengths in this declining body.  I have discovered that with a faithful commitment to training and applied patience and correct execution, I can out-last some of the young rabbits in the Dojo.  Oh they’re fast and they hid hard and their joint locks can be painful but alas, they tire easily and telegraph their punches.  I am more than twice their age, thrice for some and I am in the sand box with them.  It’s fun, it feeds the ego, strengthens the heart, toughens the tissues.  When I technique well I am respected for my ability as well as my years.  It’s fun being the recipient of those quizzical looks from other less involved “Old Dogs”.  It’s comforting to feel the muscle soreness diminish at an ever quickening rate as my body hardens.  It’s exhilarating to feel the extra horsepower as fitness develops.  Why, I may live to be five times the age of the Dojo rabbits. 

It would be slightly dishonest to say that I am not interested in the next color belt, that I am only interested in executing well.  While I revel in acquiring knowledge and developing the muscle memory of the techniques, a darker color belt looks better in the sand box.  In this sand box I know where I stand.  The belts are an outward sign of achievement.  There is no ambiguity here.  I have this because I can do that.  Bruce Lee was great, but we expect action from a fit young body.  On the other hand my action is unusual.  Dried leather becoming supple again, hinges once again swinging free.  The sand flies, the compliments come, the heart pounds, I am alive. 

What I have come to discover about the Martial Arts is that an active mind is important in the learning phase.  Understanding body mechanics, learning the choreography and the efficient flow of movement requires attention to detail, concentration.  Slowly this mental memory is transferred to the memory of the muscles.  Gradually the tissues begin to see, to react.  The mind clears, becomes calm, relinquishing control to the muscles.  On occasion I have experienced this “quiescent mind / alert body” state.  I like the feeling, the letting go.  Emotions and understanding don’t get in the way, action just seems to flow.  With practice I trust that there will be fewer missed blocks.  It seems that an ineffective defensive move reawakens the mind and the emotions and this slows me down.  I will find this balance between thinking and being.  I will, some day, be able to easily and automatically flow from one state of being to the other.  This is what the Martial Arts are teaching me.  The Twenty Somethings better stay alert, this Old Dog is learning new tricks.  He’s out hunting Rabbits.

Bill Landry began his study of martial arts at the age of 53 with Lotus Self-Defense under the tutelage of Mack Petry.  Three years later he has added the study of Jui Jitsu to his training.  He can frequently be found at the aspirin and elastic wrap counter of the local pharmacy.  If you wish to comment on this article, please feel free through the website's email address.