IN PRAISE OF “OLDER”
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
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.
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
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.
Belt Acceptance Speech August 6, 2005
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
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
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
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