Age Related Issues

I have not had any success teaching children, or teenagers for that matter. Even young adults, especially those with hard style martial experience, may have to give up much of what they have already learned to make real progress and are often reluctant to do so.

As to young and middle-aged adults, many come to bagua expecting that it is effortless right from the start because you are just walking in a circle. Several times over the years of teaching I have shocked would-be students who had done indifferent bagua elsewhere by encouraging them to walk properly. The conclusion was usually: "That's a lot harder to do than what I'm used to, but it looks so easy!"

Athletically, men tend to peak in their late teens and early twenties, and it can be a shock to realise that you are not as young as you once were. The average older internal practitioner may have to modify the intensity of each session, or substitute a slower pace for a fast, or practise a different form as he or she gets older, but there is no legitimate age-related reason to stop completely. Such continuity is, of course, only possible if you practise a style that uses sound body mechanics. Allowing your knees to rotate out of alignment may go unnoticed when you are a fit 25-year-old but, in the long run, cause those joints to self-destruct when you hit 50.

Aside from using proper body mechanics in your training, it is also important to practise on a continuous basis. Stop all activity and training for a few months when you are past 50, for example, and it will be more difficult to safely resume your practice, especially if you are practising vigorous forms. The older beginner must come to terms with his or her strengths and limitations and consider what personal and lifestyle changes will be necessary to train safely.

You should consult with a physician before beginning to train in the interactive aspects, especially if you are over 35 and unused to physical activity. Heart and circulatory conditions are often without symptoms until the moment you have a heart attack or stroke during a warm-up. Similarly, it is difficult to begin bagua if you have an acute or chronic medical condition affecting your back or knees.

No matter what your relative age, you may have to go on a diet and improve your fitness levels before beginning the martial classes and pace yourself once you have begun to train. Of course, with proper stretching and progressive training any ability can be gained to a surprising extent even by the not-so-young beginner. However, he or she will have to be prepared to train more carefully and moderately than the younger students in the class. Human nature being what it is, you may find it very difficult to restrain yourself when everyone else around you is moving at high speed.

If you are practising intensively, as well as engaging in other demanding physical activities, I recommend taking one day off every week from your training. Older martial artists should not ignore the realities of an aging body and try to exceed their capabilities or rush their progress. Maturity and experience are assets that cannot be replaced, and most of the best instructors I have met in a variety of martial arts are middle-aged, not young adults.

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