The short answer is yes; the foundations of Shotokan Karate combine all the elements of functional fitness that make an incredible neuromotor workout for everyone… even seniors!
The obvious drawback for seniors is the hard and fast style of the martial art itself. It’s simply not appropriate for seniors (unless they are among the few who are already doing so from consistent training) to be involved in exercises utilizing rapid punches and kicks.
Done slowly and deliberately while emphasizing good posture and form, the basic Shotokan movements become a powerful tool that seniors can use, I believe, with better results than Tai Chi.
Tai Chi, of course, is what comes to mind when you think of seniors and martial arts training–it has been the subject of numerous significant studies demonstrating its important impact on senior fitness. The flowing and soft style combined with strong basic stances and movements create a challenging workout for both beginners and advanced. Tai Chi has been shown to have a positive impact on balance, coordination and maintenance of bone density in the critical area of the hips. This hip strengthening effect is due to the constant shifting of body weight as one moves through the stances, spending most of the time with the weight concentrated on one leg or the other.
What’s the Shotokan Difference?
Unlike the circular movements seen in Tai Chi, which are often a redirection of the opponent’s energy, Shotokan makes use of basic blocks, strikes and very linear movements. All of these techniques derive their power from the connection to the body center (a concept common to many martial arts). Without this connection, the movements appear shallow and lacking power. This is the starting point for the beginner–learning the patterns of movement first; and then, along the way, developing that powerful connection and coordination of the body center with each block/punch/kick/stance. It can definitely be said that the difference between levels in any martial art is this understanding and development of one’s core connection linking feet on the ground to technique at the end point.
All of this, even when translated into slow and deliberate movements, fully defines and demonstrates the essence of functional fitness: the development of balance, coordination, range of motion training and cardio–it’s all there.
I believe that the basic karate movements and dynamics represent the most practical and powerful core/hip, posture and mobility functional fitness workout there is!
One of the most important aspects of its practicality is that hip development and range of motion can be successfully achieved without the need of awkward static stretching movements on the floor. For many of my clients, that’s extremely important.
This is the type of training that will most significantly reduce the likelihood of slip and fall catastrophes!
The three years I spent immersed in the study of Shotokan Karate has been the reason for the flexibility and range of motion that I enjoy in my senior years–thirty years after I stopped training!
The featured image above is from a short clip shown here on YouTube;
You’ll notice in the video that my kicks are not fully extended and the movements lack focus. The overriding factor at this stage is the respect for connective tissue limitations. All that is removed when we change the tempo.
The only piece of the puzzle missing is the slow and deliberate movement that is characteristic of Tai Chi.
I am convinced that this type of training practiced in the same slow manner as Tai Chi will yield the same benefits regarding the prevention of bone loss in the vital hip area. The benefits from Shotokan, however, will be superior to Tai Chi because of the constant use of Hip rotation! (We’ll learn more about that very important and timely issue in future posts).
When it comes to Functional Fitness for my clients, Shotokan in the Slo Mo is King!
Simply Senior Fitness by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.