My attempt to learn Martial Arts at 42 years old is no midlife crisis. Being a teacher of both swimming and drums, I’ve seen many adults looking to accomplish something they have always had an interest in. My passion to accomplish this particular goal is no different.

I must admit though, this is not my first exposure to the martial arts. Over the years I have had a few introductory classes in various styles. To be honest, I do not remember what most were, but I will say not a one seemed to work for me at the time. Sometimes it came to logistics, time, or money, but for the most part it was their aggressive nature that kept pushing me away. Yet somehow, I still had a deep curiosity about them. One day, I remembered my cousin had studied Aikido back in our youth. For those who are unfamiliar, it is a Japanese martial art that is fairly modern (having been developed in the 20th century). My grandmother, who used to take my cousin to the class, used to say it was for defense only. From my little experience it appears to be a reactionary art going with the motion of the attacker while using counter movements based on Samurai techniques. The goal is not to hurt the opponent. We perform techniques that appear to strike, but stop just short; these techniques are used simply to keep the attacker off balance.

The overall goal seems to be basically putting the artist away from being in harm’s way. Like many other martial arts, it also appears to be quite spiritual.

Training

I have been training for about three months now. The dojo I attend classes are at Aikido of Red Bank. Classes are for all skill levels and the patience of the more advanced participants has been more than I expected. Our Sensei has created a pleasant atmosphere and somehow has been able instruct everyone to their abilities individually, even though the skills of the students have a very large gap in between them. Naturally, the sizes of the classes vary from day to day, but never do I feel I do not have enough room or personal instruction.

In many ways I’ve been thrown into the fire… it is the custom, apparently. Luckily, everyone I have asked for help has been willing to explain small details and technical points, as  there are times I feel quite lost. Many positions and techniques are spoken in Japanese (and I still do not know what everyone is saying when they bow to the Sensei before and after class). Perhaps they feel the more the student is exposed, eventually it will be grasped.

Challenges

There is some difficulty on my part. I have Epilepsy and there seems to be a fair amount of rolling. I find the constant rolling makes me feel as if I’m heading towards a small seizure. Not something I was really looking to accomplish by taking this class. I kid, of course, but it does raise some questions from others when I sit out a part of the class depending on who is conducting it. Sitting out can be frustrating, but at this point I am not sure what I really can do. I find most understand when I explain to them my reason for sitting out, but as far as figuring a way around it has been yet to be discovered. I guess it is not much different than many older students who have their own ailments. They simply try to avoid what causes them pain.

Through this short time studying I’ve also seen the similarity in Aikido in both swimming and drums. I know this may seem odd, but all seem to be about repeated basic motions, memorization to the point those motions become second nature, balance, being fluid, finding what works for you, and more than anything staying relaxed. You would not believe how many times I’ve used that word with my swimming & drumming students. Now if I could only apply this to myself when doing Aikido.

The Future

It will be a long road learning this art to a level I would feel comfortable using it, but this journey is not simply buying a Harley Davidson and riding around the country for a summer. It is a dedication in wanting to accomplish something new. I am looking forward to see my growth not only in the art, but as a person as well. Learning to be fluent in Spanish, I mean in Japanese, is next.

If you are getting started later in life and are interested in a martial art, I highly recommend Aikido. Though I still have a lot to learn, I’m encouraged by my progress thus far and know that despite my age I (and you!) can still learn to protect  myself and my family. You should, too!