Martial Arts and Seniors: Yes, It Can Be A Great Combination!

The vision that most people have; martial arts as high kicks and hardened fists, would seem to preclude Seniors from participating. As a student of Shotokan Karate for a number of years, let me give you an insider’s view as to why and how the martial arts can be incredible fitness tools for seniors. In this case, I’m going to state the conclusion first:

Every martial arts academy (or dojo, or training center) could have a major impact on Senior Fitness by tailoring the movements to the speed and range of motion limitations that Seniors experience and focusing on the unique needs of Seniors.

Here’s why the martial arts have such phenomenal potential for seniors:

Emphasis on ‘body center’ and balance for all movement: ideal workout of hips/core, both from strength and flexibility perspective.

Entire body workout of joints and muscles.

Emphasis on using both sides equally

Flexibility and range of motion improve dramatically

Great aerobic conditioning

Balance and coordination are continually and progressively developed

Memorizing the order of movements challenges memory function, as they become more complex and more numerous.

Focus on breathing and breath control enhances pulmonary function and develops a conscious control of the relaxation response.

These are only the highlights. You’ll also experience the pride of accomplishment as you progress through the ranks.

What should you do if you’re a Senior who’s interested?

Typically, many training centers are probably not going to have enough Seniors attending to devote special times just for them. Frequently, beginners are lumped together as either adults or children. Seniors, ideally, should be their own group because of the physical accommodations that aging brings. Some instructors may have no way of knowing how painful some movements might be with certain types of joint problems. Issues like this are important and you would do well to visit a few different places and inquire about these things. If you find a place where the instructor understands the particular needs of Seniors, be sure to observe a class and hang around afterwards to speak to a few of the students.

With a little bit of diligent detective work, you could end up appreciating a whole new physical and mental challenge!

If you’d like to begin with a martial art that’s ideally suited for seniors, the measured pace and flowing style of Tai Chi would be best for you. See my detailed analysis of Tai Chi by clicking this link below:

My Fitness Gift To You!:

Enjoy Your Workout,


The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Here’s a collection of over 500 health and fitness articles I’ve saved for you:


For Balance, Bones, And Belonging– Tai Chi and Seniors Are Perfect Together!


Many years ago, while experiencing the unique and beautiful city of San Francisco, I happened upon a sight that, to this day, brings a smile to my face.

It was about eight in the morning, on a foggy, cool Saturday. As I ambled along, turning a corner, I headed down a quaint, short street that angled into another. In the distance appeared, through the hovering mist, a large group of people in a small neighborhood park, all moving in perfectly synchronized slow motion. As I neared, the grayed hair and wrinkled faces came into focus. I was captivated by the beauty of the flowing motion of these unusually agile seniors as they practiced their Tai Chi.

This I have never forgotten.

These are some of the benefits they experienced on that still and tranquil Saturday morning.

Hip Strengthening and Development     It may be difficult for you to see how this is so, if you were to view a video on You Tube. What happens during the movements is a subtle shift in weight from one leg to the other. It’s a constant shifting of body weight and its benefits are many. Each time the foot is moved forward, backward, or to the side, positive stresses are placed on critical joints. Because these movements are performed so slowly, and within your capabilities, it is ideal for strengthening the vital hip-joint and the bones involved. Remember, hip strength and flexibility are critical because they form the core of your body movement. It is also the most vulnerable area when you slip and fall.
Balance Improvement     With each movement involving any type of pivot, or extension of arms or legs, your brain has to do a lot of work processing the incoming signals to keep you balanced. It, then, instantly directs all the other muscles used in stabilizing your body to keep you from falling. Tai Chi is excellent for improving balance.
Coordination Development     Don’t let the slow pace fool you. To achieve the beautiful, flowing movements exhibited by the instructor takes much practice. You will absolutely improve your coordination.
Breathing Coordination     Breathing properly involves focus and control. This is also an important component of relaxation techniques. The systematic and regular breathing will help you to relax. Efficient and effective breathing results in better oxygenation of the body, which, in itself, has numerous positive side effects.
Greater Body Awareness     This is your ability to sense and understand the feedback that your body is giving you. This body awareness becomes an important guide for you as you begin to push beyond your normal limits. With Tai Chi, those limits are approached gently and with confidence. That’s important because an injury at this stage presents more difficulties than in earlier years.
Increased Strength     Primarily in the body center and legs, as discussed above; but critically important. Because of the slow pace of movement, you’ll definitely get a shoulder workout. The important emphasis on posture is not to be minimized, either. All these muscles involved will be summoned to perform, if the forms are to manifest their inherent beauty.
Increased Range of Motion      One of my favorite things about Tai Chi is the gentle movement of the joints. It offers the practitioner a safe and effective way to increase mobility and range. Why do I continually focus on this? If you have trouble reaching over your head, how can you safely function in the kitchen? If your knees are stiff, every staircase is an obstacle course. You need your range of motion for your personal safety and independence.
Memory Improvement
The movements are done in a specific progression. Every move and every important point of the move must be learned and memorized. They are actually movements of self defense, but have the appearance of a slow motion ballet performance. Your learning of their sequence and subtle nuances of movement is a great brain exercise!

Why You Need An Instructor

There are many excellent videos about Tai Chi on You Tube showing all the movements with explanations. You could certainly try the ‘do it yourself’ method. Here’s the problem that won’t be obvious to you if you’ve never been coached in an athletic endeavor before: you will not know when your form is incorrect. As well as you may be able to imitate the motions on the screen in front of you, it is not possible for you to see the flaws in your movement and stance unless they are grossly wrong. Part of the benefit is gleaned from the emphasis on posture and alignment. You may not know that you’re slightly leaning or tilted because that’s what you always do. Yet, that’s what needs to be corrected. Learning anything the wrong way and continually practicing wrong technique is counter-productive. During the years that I studied Shotokan, even at the advanced level, the Sensei (teacher) would constantly correct my stance that was slightly off, or my timing that was wrong. The stances, the movements, and the philosophical understanding, are the essence of Tai Chi, and only a qualified instructor who is watching you can be sure that you are moving correctly and understanding the deeper concepts.

And last but not least...

From the data gleaned studying the societies with the longest lifespans, high on the list of important components is ‘belonging’… being a valued part of other people’s lives and receiving the same. Get involved and open yourself to others.

You will learn something from everyone, and you, indeed, have something special to share, as well.

That, in my opinion, is the defining difference between health and wellness.

To Your Health And Fitness Wellness  (As A Lifestyle),

More on Facebook:


Excellent article for further enlightenment:

Become a part of ‘Senior Fitness Issues And Ideas’–a Google+ Community, (even if you’re not a senior) and I will gladly answer your exercise and fitness questions personally!

The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.