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Beyond 50? Consider a New Journey in Martial Arts (Seriously)

Check out our list of all the benefits.

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gif, animation of woman in martial arts position holding a cane and purse
Laura Liedo
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What is mightier than the sword? I bet many of you just channeled your high school literature class to summon up "the pen" as your response. And while you're not wrong, I'm here to suggest that confidence and a warrior spirit can protect us better than the written word.

Now 57, I feel stronger than ever — both physically and emotionally. While I don’t actively train in taekwondo — the martial arts path I embarked upon in my 40s that led all the way to a third-degree black belt — helped lay the foundation for my battle against invisibility today.

As women enter midlife and beyond, many of us experience a disappearing act of sorts. For those of us living in a youth-centric society, events and scenarios where we feel unseen start to become the norm.

No longer garnering the "pretty girl" treatment, we get passed over by the bartender as we stand in clear view, drink order at the ready, 20 percent tip guaranteed. When searching for new clothes, we don't see women that look like us wearing the brands we love. The list of ways we are unseen is long.

It can wear on us. Being overlooked, undervalued and not taken seriously can wreak havoc on our self-worth. It can cast a shadow over our (until now) fully lived lives. It can undermine our momentum, leaving us to wonder if what we possess, what we offer the world, is worthwhile any longer.

I am here to tell you this is a bunch of malarky. I am here to tell you we don’t have to forfeit our Warrior Woman status.

How do we do it? What if I were to tell you that beginning a journey of martial arts training might be the greatest gift you can give yourself? Yes, I understand that, statistically speaking, persons 50 or older are less likely to be victims of serious violent crimes; only about 7 percent of violent-crime victims fall in that age group, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

So why bother with martial arts? After all, it’s not an easy skill to master, taking years of training and loads of grit to work your way up the belt-ranking system. Is it worth it? Can we even begin to make it happen at our age?

The answer is: Of course. Mara LaBurt, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, first stepped on the mat at her taekwondo studio well past 50. “It’s never too late to find your voice, to show up in your life,” LaBurt proclaims. “I began my martial arts training in my 70s and can tell you that the mental and physical rigor we practice on the mat directly translates into my everyday life. Now a black belt and in my 80s, I have no plans to slow down or shy away.”

Being trained in a skill designed to boost our self-confidence and improve our physical well-being can raise our warrior status and help us remain visible as we navigate the waters of midlife and beyond.

6 Ways Martial Arts Training Could Lift Your Warrior Status

  • Increased Self-Confidence:

Self-confidence means you’re good enough as you are. Is there anything sexier than that? We may be battling worry lines on our face but that doesn’t mean we can’t beam with resilience and determination.

  • Enhanced Brain Health:

According to an Alzheimer’s study published in the July 2020 issue of Lancet, about 40 percent of dementia cases can be prevented or delayed through the reconfiguring of lifestyle choices. Our brains don’t know how old we are. Beginning a new journey of learning — both physical and mental — stimulates neurons in our brain, which form additional neural pathways and allow electrical impulses to move quickly across them. Staying curious can help stave off dementia.

  • Improved Physical Health:

Yes, there is a great deal of mental training in martial arts. But let’s be realistic — the physical rigor associated with most martial art forms taxes our body. Most classes start off with an intense warm-up, followed by a variety of fitness and defense techniques. Participating in class to the best of our abilities gives us the opportunity to improve our overall condition — both muscle tone and endurance.

  • Better Balance:

Falling can be a big problem as we age. According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, every second an adult over 65 suffers a fall in the United States. This makes falls the leading cause of injury and/or death in this age group. So, improving your balance could literally save your life. Without balance, it is almost impossible to fight. With balance, we can keep our bodies intact. Not to mention, learning how to fall to avoid injury is part of the martial arts curriculum.

  • Less Anxiety in Public:

Knowing how to defend yourself, even if you don’t ever utilize the skill, raises your comfort level in public. Feeling confident in your body, and knowing it will do your bidding, helps you show up in the world more boldly. This added layer of assertiveness lifts your visibility quotient.

  • More, Better and Deeper Connections:

Given that martial arts classes take place in group settings, we get the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. The best part? We get the chance to develop intergenerational friendships, which have been proven to improve our overall well-being. A recent study found that seniors who volunteer with kids fall less, burn more calories and perform better on memory tests.

Tired of the mantle of invisibility that you feel older age has thrown around your shoulders? Believe me, nothing gets you noticed — and respected — like the confidence and swagger instilled by a few hours each week on the martial arts mat. No matter your age.

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