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You can tell by watching for about a minute that some martial arts are primarily for the young at heart, and more importantly for the young, strong, tough and flexible of body. These are the sport arts that, while beautiful and lots of fun, tend to attract mostly children and young people under about age 25. If a holistic path is taken, sport arts can be practiced into senior years, as evidenced by Jhoon Rhee and others of his ilk, who in their 60s and 70s can still do 100 push ups in under a minute. In the sport arts, he and his cronies are the exception to the rule.
When choosing a martial arts style or school, think about what you want for your life (or for your children). If you want a sport karate or tae kwon do school that focuses on tournament competition, be sure to ask questions that get you the answers you need before enrolling in a program. If external strength/muscles and winning trophies are primarily what you are looking for, this may be your best choice.
If tournaments and sparring competition are not your thing, you may wish to find a holistic “jutsu”, or combat art school. The best of these schools combine traditional form and technique with progressive integration of new ideas. The ancient masters were very strong and limber, physically speaking, but also practiced internal exercises and a gradual form of strengthening and toughening that spared the joints, toned muscles and internal organs, and allowed the practitioner to engage in amazing physical, mental and spiritual endeavors throughout his/her lifetime.
People of all levels of physical fitness and ability can benefit from the practice of a balanced kung fu style. You don’t have to be Jet Li to practice martial arts. If you are like most people, the style you choose should help you feel successful enough that you will not get frustrated and quit, but should challenge you enough to keep your interest. Some people want that challenge primarily in the area of fitness, so that a good workout is enough for them. Some prefer mental stimulation – a complex art that keeps the intellect piqued – along with physical development.
For many, fun is important. Some styles are more structured in their presentation, and the school’s culture is more similar to the military than to an activity simply for recreation. Other schools of thought are more laid back. This is not to say you can’t have fun in the more structured classes – many do! It’s a matter of finding where you are comfortable. For instance, Tae Kwon Do started as an art taught to large units of soldiers and more often than not modern TKD schools tend to be very structured. Taoist Kung Fu and Tai Chi, on the other hand, tend to be more relaxed, Taoism being viewed by many as the path of “Whatever.” Mixed Martial Arts and Jeet Kune Do often do not even ask students to wear a uniform, and katas (prescribed set of movements), so much a part of karate and TKD schools, are seldom seen in MMA or JKD. However the personality of the teacher is often the deciding factor. Your best bet is to visit any school you think might interest you to find your niche. All arts have merit, so find a place you can be comfortable learning and that will push you just enough.
Fighting arts at their root are thousands of years in the making, and modern schools are offshoots of these ancient traditions. Find the branch of this marvelous tree that best suits what you want, and then pour your heart and soul into its practice. You will find rewards beyond what you can imagine. Stay the course, earn your black belt, and see what rich traditions of study lie beyond. Years down the road you will look back, and you will not recognize yourself. You will be doing things you thought were impossible. And when you examine yourself and your life many years from now, you will still have the heart and soul of a martial artist, and you will like what you see.
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