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In Praise of Older Students
By Master Gary Clausen, (04.07.2006) / Recommendation: 166
Over the last five years or so I’ve noticed that more and more older people have shown an interest in martial arts and in possibly joining my studio. (Note: for the purpose of this article I am defining “older” as mid forties and up.) Now, before anyone gets offended, the term “older” is certainly relative, yet it is important to understand the challenges and difference between a studio full of twenty year old Bruce Lee clones, and a “mixed” studio. By a “mixed studio, I mean a studio like mine, mixed in every sense of the word; my adult class runs the gamet from athletic to gimpy, fit to overweight, blue collar to white collar, half male, half female, 100% ethnic diversity and, oh yes, ages 13 to 65!!! Now, the fact that there is no intrinsic symmetry to my adult class anyway, has made it easier to add a slightly unconventional element into the group. Nevertheless, it is a challenge to add older students into them mix and it’s a challenge that must be handled with forethought and supervised with constant vigilance in order to achieve maximum results. Yet, I believe that these “older” students provide a unique and valuable resource to the studio, not to mention the personal satisfaction I receive in injecting the martial arts spirit into people whose spirit may be waning

So often I have looked out at the rows of parents and grandparents vigilantly watching their children at my studio and have seen a certain glimmer in their eyes, that questioning spark that seems to say “gee, wish I could be doing that” or “gee, I should have started doing that long ago,” or ultimately “gee, is it to late for me?”; and of course the answer is “why don’t we find out!” So the instructor’s first job is to recognize that “spark” or that “look” or that off hand comment and carefully negotiate this potential student into the office for a chat.
At this point the instructor faces his first major challenge, convincing this potential student that there is still hope!!! One enormous advantage I have at my studio is that I have many older students presently training there. This makes it easy as I invite the potential student to stay and watch the adult class and see for themselves. And what they observe is people, just like themselves, actually functioning in a class!
There is a secondary element of importance that must be dealt with upon initial contact with male students, it’s the MALE EGO! Men do not like to look stupid in front of other people! Yes, even after the body is still gone the ego lives on! Even the rationale that “no one will have any expectations of you” may fall on deaf ears. It’s critical that the instructor put the prospective students mind at ease explaining how an instructor will work with him personally or individually until he is ready to be thrust out into the flow of the regular class.

The next important step is the interview in which the instructor carefully assesses all crucial information about the physical (and psychological if possible) condition of the new student (this medical history should have been written down for you on your student information packet but you need a much more extensive review of the student’s medical history during this interview.) IT IS CRITICAL that the instructor knows everything about how this new student’s body has functioned and is functioning. I am always astounded at how many people are walking around with old “war wounds” out there. Here is a partial list (off the top of my head!) of old injuries (acquired before training in martial arts!) that the students in my adult class have brought to me and are training with now as we speak. Spinal fusion, herniated discs, knee replacement (can you believe it!) pace maker, torn ACL, torn meniscus, torn rotator cuffs, arthritis, etc…Yet under my constant and unwavering eye these people are all training today. Usually it was one or many nagging injuries (or as you can see from the above list, major ones) that caused your new student to stop athletic endeavors in the first place. It is also crucial to ask the new student how this injury is affecting him in his daily life; this gives one a clue as to how you will proceed with the training.
During this interview (armed with all the vital information) you will now explain what your approach to training this student will be. It’s important that you explain step by step how you will build a personal program around this student and then how you will then eventually meld him into the class structure. It truly puts the students mind at ease when they see and understand how this process is going to unfold. This creates trust and a comfort level that will allow you to maximize this student’s potential as he starts down this new path in his life.

During the initial training it is critical that the instructor watch his new student like a hawk. At this time all the information about his physical condition must be processed and put to the test. You should be watching how those old “war wounds” respond to this new exercise. Watch for any unusual stress on the joints, especially if the student is overweight. I constantly badger the new student about letting me know exactly how he is feeling and to make sure he takes a break if fatigued. Usually this “older” student is woefully out of shape which leads to further potential complications. You also must remind him to hydrate fully and take periodic breaks to do so. This brings me to another important point…NEVER trust your students! Remember, men especially, never want to “wimp out” and never want to appear as out of shape as you know they are! Order them to take water breaks to hydrate if they won’t on their own. Also, it may be necessary to take their pulse on occasion just to see what is really happening inside. (Many years ago I found strange irregularities in one of my students’ heart rate and sent him immediately to the hospital. Sure enough he had a life threatening heart and lung condition!)
Obviously mechanics become a central issue here. Simple things like pivoting must be broken down step by step and reinforced by drills. Right now I am training a 280 pound “older” student and just imagine what the results would be it this man threw a nasty round house kick and forgot to pivot! I insist that all my new “older students” do pivot drills just for this reason. All the basics must be meticulously analyzed to make sure the “older” students body is adapting well to this new regiment. Assuming everything is going well, the next problem area is making sure the student doesn’t try to train like he’s twenty one after only two weeks! It is very common for new students (once again…watch those men!) to feel this positive rush of adrenaline for the first time in years and then overtrain, injuring themselves in the process and forcing them to stop training once again. Never assuming that anyone has any common sense is a good rule!
At this point structuring the class properly becomes very important. At first this new student has probably been working individually with yourself or another top instructor but as he progresses it becomes time to move him into the flow of the class. Obviously it is important to structure the class by pairing students off and creating special rows depending on the drill. When we perform kick and or punch drills across the studio I always create rows based upon belt rank or ability. If you do not do this the speed and flow of the session will crumble and ultimately collapse, frustrating the more talented students. These special rows give the “older students” and beginners a chance to perform basic or simple techniques that they can repeat as much as necessary without slowing down the class as a whole. Of course, with time this become a non issue as these students become proficient and disappear seamlessly into the general class itself.

I have come to see these “older students” as nothing if not a valued resource for both me personally and the studio as a whole. These men and women just by the virtue of their participation can create a sense of optimism that can be contagious. After all, when students get tired, bored or frustrated, all they have to do is look over at the “old” guy sweating next to them, a guy who is literally twice their age, and they can not help but to be motivated. The issue is simple, if he can do it, so can I. These men and women can also provide a greater sense of community and family to the studio as they can spread humor and maturity by virtue of their age and experience.
Yet finally there is a more important value to be found in the process I’ve just described. The value in improving and enriching a life, the value of regenerating the personal power of a sole whose life may be in a rut or is suffering the malaise found later in life; the value of reinvigorating a passion for life that may have waned; the value of adding years to a life and adding quality to those years. And finally the value of doing what we have been called to do , to inspire, to improve, to preach the gospel of the codes which we have sworn to uphold and finally to push our students one step at a time down that long winding path towards perfection and by doing so seek this perfection in ourselves.

Here are some short sketches of some of my “older” students followed by a testimonial and a Black Belt speech. Please read them, I know you will find most interesting.
Don Urevig- Don is a 63 year old black belt who never let anything get in his way. He overcame terrible back and foot problems to achieve black belt at age 54. More importantly, Don is also a leukemia survivor who believes that it is only by virtue of his martial arts training that he was able to survive both the deadly disease and the pain of the treatment itself. (Please read his testimonial below)
Stewart Kahn- Stewart came to me a physical and technical wreck. Having received years of improper training and hampered by arthritis his was an arduous path. Yet at 54 years old, Stewart, a man whom at first could barley lift his legs off the ground, stuns everyone by leaping over a chair (flying side kick) to break boards and survives and conquers a brutally difficult black belt test. (Stewart’s black belt speech follows)
Joe Kahoe- Joe walked into my office with a cane and as a virtual cripple suffering from an acute neurological disease that forced him to retire from his aerospace career. He was sixty four. One year later Joe, was a blue belt had lost 65 pounds and was moving up and down the studio with ease a function that his doctors had told him would be physically impossible. Joe, reinvigorated, rejoins the world of the living and assumes a new career by dominating his real estate exam. Joe is a living example of what can be achieved in life when even the doctors have told you to give up. All it took was the belief Joe had in me and his superior spirit. Joe’s story shows that anything can be accomplished with a little faith and a load of sweat.

TESTIMONIAL Of Donald S. Urevig

In 1992, at the age of 50 years old, I started training in the Martial Art of Tae Kwon Do under the guidance of Master Gary Clausen. My spirit, mind and body were trained through a series of belt levels till I earned the rank of First Degree Black Belt in 1996. I undertook this training for (in addition to self defense skills) physical conditioning, increased endurance, mental toughness and longevity. In 1999, with three tests to go (about six months) to obtain the rank of Second Degree Black Belt, I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).
At UCLA Medical Center, I endured, over a period of six months, three phases of Chemotherapy (each a two week period) and one session of radiation therapy. During all of the treatments I never vomited or was nauseous, which I attribute to the Black Belt Spirit (a form of positive attitude to enable me to refuse to be sick from the treatments). Because I went into full remission after the first phase, I qualified as a candidate for a Cancer Treatment Trial ? which I accepted to increase my chances of surviving. Over the course of the treatments and recovery I endured six bone marrow biopsies (without any morphine), by using my Martial Arts breathing control I prevented any pain during the procedures.
Next, I underwent an auto stem cell transplant (equivalent to an auto bone marrow transplant). Over a period of four days (each daily session was two hours) my blood was circulated through a machine that collected my healthy stem cells. In all, 1.3 million cells were collected. Then my bone marrow was destroyed and the cells transfused into my body like blood. It has taken the last six years for the bone marrow to be completely regenerated.
My Doctors say I am cured, which they attributed to my physical condition. Even though I was 57 years old when I had the chemo and transplant, my internal body was that of a healthy 40 years old. My blood pressure was that of an Athlete (110/70). Obviously, this physical conditioning that I obtained through my Martial Arts training help save my life.
At the age of 63 years old I have resumed my training and hope to obtain the rank of Second Degree Black Belt before the year 2008.

Black Belt Acceptance Speech August 6, 2005

Good Morning.
I was introduced to Tae Kwon Do on September 11, 2002, when I received a call from my then wife Cory, whom many of you know, and she advised me that we were going to be taking a free lesson at another studio.
I had mixed feelings about it. I was 51 years old, out of shape, I weighed 45 pounds more than I do today, and I was stiff as a board. Come to think of it, I’m still stiff as a board. I know some of you parents are younger than 51 and today I’m 54 years old?if I can do it, so can you . . . You ought to sign up for classes (and of course, you’ll make Master Clausen very happy if you take private lessons too!).
But, I attended class. And, I continued attending classes at the studio until June, 2004, when I realized that as a red belt, I did know any of the forms, one-step sparring or even how to properly do kicks.
Cory and I found our way to Masters Choice Studio in July of last year and it was the very best decision I have ever made.
Between July of last year and today, I have focused on learning the forms, the one-step sparring, kicks, and basic hand movements ? all of which I had not learned properly or maintained while at the other studio. At this studio, because of the constant repetition at the end of each class, it is impossible to forget. We took private lessons as well in order to catch up on what we had forgotten.
Additionally, I have even learned some behavioral modifications by Master Clausen. He makes me do 200-300 jumping jacks every time I use a bad word. I’m using less bad words today.
By January of this year, I had my sights and goals set on becoming a black belt. And, it has been a long and difficult road this year. I have had a lot of health problems and other issues going on in my life.
Nevertheless, I persevered, and continued to keep my sights on that black belt, remember to do the best I can at the present moment.
I think, for me, the worst part about the test was the board break. I cannot tell you the countless times I jumped the chair and bounced off the board without a break. Although I kept getting discouraged, my friends in class continued to give me the encouragement and strength I needed to eventually master breaking the board. It’s not pretty when I do it, but I get the job done. Someone once said to me that the only time we fail is when we don’t try.
I need to say thank you to some people that have been really important to me.
First and foremost, I need to thank Master Clausen for putting up with me, supporting me, encouraging me and guiding me through all of this. Master Clausen is a good teacher and a good person. He has a good heart, and he has patiently listened to me whine when I have gotten discouraged, or throughout this past year as I’ve had health and other personal problems that I’ve had to deal with. For all you have done, Sir, I thank you so very much.
Next, I need to thank those people in my regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night class. All of you have made a big difference. I want to especially thank Michael, Stan, and Joe, and our regular teachers including Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Jay. Each of you has made a big difference in my standing up here today.
Finally, to everyone else here today, students and visitors, “keep a thankful mind; repaying those who help you. And, do the best you can at the present moment.” Those are the most important words you are ever going to hear. I encourage you to live those words, not just here at the studio, but when you walk out there into your everyday life ? at school, at work or at home.
Thank you.

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