Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Martial Arts and Aging

Time flies like an arrow. Just yesterday I was waiting for the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Now I’m helping my youngest daughter with her college applications.

We age. I’m working on my “next 50 years” now.

My late mother was in assisted living and nursing homes for the last 8 years of her life. I saw everyday what physical wrecks people can become. We can only control to a certain extent what becomes of us, but the people of that generation simply didn’t know what we know now about aging more gracefully.

One of the reasons I decided to study taijiquan was to help myself age more gracefully. The martial art is intellectually engaging, and I’m not sure anyone could ever finish plumbing it’s depths. While push hands practice requires a partner, almost everything I need to do to practice this art, I can do on my own, with no need of a special location or equipment (ie training mats for falling like judo or aikido). I have very good balance, which is the nemesis of old people; the art promotes deep breathing, strong legs, flexibility, etc., etc., and so forth.

Zen over at Zen’s Sekai I sent me a link to an excellent blog entry of which I’ve excerpted a portion below. I’m really only posting a teaser. Please follow the link and read the full entry. It could make all the difference to you several years from now.

Martial Arts and the Art of Aging


We are bombarded by claims (in the hundreds – and counting) in the media that have purported to discover the “secret to longevity” and the ultimate “anti-aging” pill or elixir. We are overwhelmed by such marketing and publicity stunts and over time many people are sucked into purchasing these “magic bullets” and as a result their money and time have disappeared into a black hole of quackery and scams.

The fountain of youth does not exist – at least as we think of it from some “golden time” in the past or on some “golden isle” somewhere – these grand hopes are a part of the mythology and the story telling that captures our imagination – but escapes our reason.

But there are ways in which we can work toward a healthier lifestyle, achieve tranquility, and age with grace and dignity. The approach is straightforward, but yet takes effort and a dedication to the practice and an acceptance of the art. I am convinced that science and medicine are tools by which we can understand – and create – a more complete experience (and existence) in the aging process. But there is more to it than that. We must be our own best stewards of our health by nourishing both the body and mind with activities that sustain well being.

I am not claiming that the following approach is the Holy Grail to defeat the aging process; rather, I am claiming that there are many techniques that create an opportunity for us to embrace the transformations of the aging process in a more creative and adaptive manner.

Furthermore, these activities and techniques are not written out on prescription pad – Rx – nor do they have to be purchased at outrageous prices. The barriers to participation may be more psychological than physical. The involvement will take time and practice and a dedication to the craft- to the art. I am not talking about an obsessive/compulsive approach; rather, I am proposing an approach where the practice is effortless – where the activity is more of a flow – than a burden and drudgery. But in our frantic world of busy distractions, the practice can be vulnerable to displacement and a lower priority compared to all else.

The practice is breath. The practice is stretching. The practice is posture. The practice is a knowing and experiencing of your center, your core, your muscle, your movement, your flexibility, your balance, and your mind.

Walk. Hike. Bike. Meditate and reflect. The practice can be Yoga. The practice can be Pilates.

The practice can be weight training. The practice can be all of the above.

The practice can be Tai Chi. The practice can be Kung Fu.

To age well = stretch and strengthen. The body and the mind.

Aging Well: The Center, the Balance, and the Sphere

In one of the most significant publications on the topic of aging ever produced, Thomas R. Cole, the author of “The Journey of Life”, has captured the developmental essence of the spiritual and scientific understanding for the life course from pre-modern, through modernity, and into the so-called “post-modern” domain of how we come to interpret and dialogue about the meaning of – what it means to be old – and an aging individual.

Now, while I find this publication to be the exemplar of “complete” scholarship in the field of aging, this publication nevertheless had as its primary focus, the Anglo-European traditions as the overarching template and optic for analysis (however, see The Oxford Book of Aging:

Reflections on the Journey of Life, Cole & Winkler, 1994). While this limited focus is fine and worthy in its own right, the complementary perspectives of eastern beliefs, philosophical nuances, and the respective cross-cultural approaches to the aging process also intrigue me (personally and professionally).

My interest has less to do with the role of “alternative medicine” (as compared to the “scientific biomedical model” associated with western perspectives), and rather, more the interest of the belief systems and practices of the martial arts as a potential for enhancing the quality of life as we age in all domains: physical, mental, and spiritual (and very much the totality of all three as integrated). While not all styles of martial arts are necessarily embedded within an “eastern” approach, my approach here is to recognize the diversity of martial arts, while showing the highest respect for the origination of most in the sphere of Asian culture.


Anonymous said...

Nice post here Rick. Good health should always be at the forefront of training, for young and old.

Rick Matz said...

Sooner or later, aging is an issue each of us encounters.

Frank Granovski said...

Thank you for this write-up. After a life-time of martial arts, professional, I still have my tai chi and bagua. My practice is extremely watered down now but I still can do them. God bless.

Rick Matz said...

Thanks for visiting.

It’s a worthy pursuit for as long as we can move. Maybe we can move a little longer because of our crazy pursuit!