Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The End or Near the End?

On the Subject of Age and Martial Training

     A few weeks back, I did a seminar in Delaware, USA, with my longtime friend, the “Silverback,” Jim McCann. On Sunday, our old Kempo and AIki-jitsu instructor, R.J. Oak, showed up. In a quick review, R.J. was hardcore and old school. Now in his 60s, he has a terrible shoulder, two hip replacements, and needs both his knees replaced. He sat back in a chair breathing carefully, and when I approached him, he said,

     “Hock, take a good look. This is what the end looks like,” as he waved a hand over his body.

     The end. Or near end?

     On the topic of age, Jeet Kune Do Great Tim Tackett is fond of saying, “you know how you feel now? It doesn’t get any better than that.”

     I started in Kenpo Karate in 1972. I haven’t stopped since, messing with all kinds of systems. Now in my 60s, too, like R.J. above, I believe there is much to say for the word “moderation” through training and life. I, too, have a hip replacement. Right side. The left side is just fine. My sports surgeon said the right side wore out from “stuff” I was doing, as in "martial" stuff. I tore muscles in my upper right arm so badly that two doctors thought they could not fix them. My back is a ticking time bomb. My head? My brains? Not good. My neurologist demanded a knockout list from me a few years back  - 

     “How many times have you been knocked out?”

     The accumulated list is scary. I have been knocked unconscious at least 14 times since 1970, and that was back when knockouts under a minute didn’t really count as a potential brain problem; so we have thought of a few more. Now neurologists want to know about anytime you “see black.” Not all of those blackouts were from martial arts. Two knockouts were from baseball of all things (I was a catcher). One from a car wreck. Two from boxing. Two from kickboxing. Some from police work and fighting suspects. The worst I think - one night in a group fight/arrest - we all hit the floor, and witnesses saw a guy pop up into a crab walk; and he stomp kicked me in the head from behind. Never saw it. I was out cold for about 20 minutes. I was hospitalized that night. But I have been hit in the head a lot in training from hand strikes, kicks, and sticks. Knock, knock, who's there?

     As a result of all this, now I have periodic, blinding migraines, and these headaches can even cause me to black out on occasion. An MRI shows “daim bramage”… er … I mean brain damage. As a result, I would like to suggest that you take care of your head. Avoid this indiscriminate practice of head butts that young martial artists like to promote. Head butts work, but sometimes too much and right back at you. God did not make your head to be an impact weapon! In fact, our entire nervous system is built on protecting our brains.  I have been preaching this for many a year now, and the NFL is finally catching up to the idea. The head injury is very much about an accumulation of abuse. When you have decades of such abuse, it is just not a good thing.

     These things do accumulate through age and play catch up. A lot of my old friends from those old days have hand problems. People carry around hand injuries from striking people in real life or practice. In the 70s and earlier, it was macho and cool to build giant, mangled knuckles on your fists by pounding walls, posts, and sandbags. Today, many of these guys have arthritis and other finger and hand problems. I have a surgery on my left hand from an uppercut to a particularly pointy chin, and I should have one for my right hand before Obamacare gets my insurance canceled the first of the year. Some of my friends have a certain split-hand, separated-pinky-knuckle fracture from through a hook punch to the head and inadvertently catching the ducking, dropping skull at a bad angle.

     It is a fairly common habit in certain martial schools and seminars to trade partners so that everyone gets to work with people of different sizes, weights, and shapes. That’s a fine idea, but you also have to add different ages into that mix, which is why I am always a bit reluctant to keep trading partners. My oldest seminar attendee on record is 76 years old. Others are in their late 60s and 70s. They usually show up with partners that are their age, too, or with younger partners who at very least know the medical conditions and injuries of each other. When you quickly switch people around, this suddenly becomes dangerous. Even when a 65-year-old guy reports to his new partner that he has a bad knee or whatever, the new young guy may well nod and then may well forget the weak spot and continue to train at the 25-year-old level of his former partner.  

     Way back when, when I was at a Dan Inosanto seminar, Dan said (and I paraphrase somewhat), “When I was in my 30s, I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t like. Now I am in my 60s, and I started to like that stuff.” Dan, now in his late 70s, is still taking classes in Muchado BJJ and Cambodian Thai Boxing, but he obviously saw the need to alter methods with age.

     Still fast enough? Still strong enough? Still agile enough? How about how smart you are? I think your own personal fighting system – your favorite short list of emergency things – needs to be reviewed about every 8 to 10 years. See if you can still really do all those things you once did when you were 18, or 28, or 38, etc.?  

      I now feel as though I will never kick as hard as I once did. No more power blast Thai kicks. And on the ground, I am really a one-legged man as any unusual leg positions or movements with any force sends an electric pain around my new hip. Jeez, will the leg just flat come off? Yikes! Customize what you know with what you have left that works.

     So I say unto you youngsters, you'd better take it easy, but you won't listen.

     Fighting in my golden years? I still “joke” that I will eventually degrade to a point where I will shuffle around slump-shouldered with a hammerless, snub-nose .38 in my pocket.

     All that time. All that training and sweat, fine tuning, and all the effort will come down to that … in the end.

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