When Am I Too Old To Start Learning Karate?

I love getting e-mails from Karate enthusiasts all over the world.

In fact, I get them almost every day.

So, naturally, a couple of topics keep poppin’ up in the subject line from time to time.

One of which I planned on dealing with right here, right now.

To make a long intro short, take a quick look at the following e-mail I recently got (slightly edited):

Dear most awesomest and humblest man in the universe,

I came across your site by accident while Googling some martial arts terms, but have been reading article after article and have found your posts hilarious (while still being respectful of karate and kobudo).

I’m a new student of karate (as a kid I did Judo and Hapkido for a year but didn’t continue because of the distractions of school, etc.). I’m now in my early 40s, with a wife and young son, and decided this past summer that it’s “now or never” so I signed up as a new student at a Shotokan dojo (after seeing a few other schools that didn’t appeal to me for various reasons).

So, since you kindly invite questions, I have just one: Is 43 too “mature” an age to begin the martial arts? I’ve been at it for 4 months now and will be taking my first grading in a month or so. I am apparently doing well for my beginning level (so I am told), but I don’t really care much about belt colours because I figure at my age I probably will never reach black belt level.

While my health was fortunately fine when I started (or else I wouldn’t have started… or, rather, my wife would not have let me start), my stamina has certainly improve since I’ve begun doing karate and kobudo. But I do have self doubts because of my age, even though both of my instructors are older than me, but they’ve each been in the martial arts for well over 30 years while I’m just a beginner… though most of the karate students in my class are kids, so it is slightly unusual to be the “junior” in class.

Anyway, I was just curious what your thoughts are on starting karate in one’s early 40s. Is it “better late than never”?

Or is it just too late?

“…is it just too late?”

Please.

You already know what I’m going to answer, dontcha?

You’re always too old; it’s always too late; things always used to be better; it’s always a bad time.

So do it anyway

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now.

But, to be completely honest, I’m not even the right guy to ask if we’re talking personal experience with starting Karate late, because, well, I’ve been training Karate for as long as I can remember. We’re talking diapers here. However, I happen to teach Karate to a lot of passionate ‘old boys’ who started later in their lives, so I do have a little bit of experience with teaching late bloomers.

One thing most of them unfortunately seem to have in common is this nagging uncertainty.

“Am I too old to be doing this?!”

Certainly, when you look around at most Karate dojos of today and see these difficult punches and kicks, you get afraid. That’s not something a frail old adult should be doing is it? Sure, some crazy adults are doing it, but they must have some kind of death wish, right? I mean, logically, one can’t really expect to learn anything new at that age, can one? The brain fluid is too dry, nothing new can grow in there. The limbs are too inflexible and the mind is too stale. Your golden days are probably over, and you will surely have to watch most of the class from the sideline, so no idea even trying… right?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

Perhaps all adults just have this competence fetish; they cling desperately to their dignity like a little boy to his security blanket; they want to be good at everything they do, and (they think) everyone expects them to be good at anything they do. It’s like adults are meant to be dignified and able; adults aren’t allowed to show ignorance or confusion.

If you recognize yourself in the above statement, you are not alone.

The problem is widespread – yet the solution is simple. So, by taking a quick look at some cold, hard, science I hope to help you understand.

See, it’s all about understanding the motor homunculus.

Repeat after me:

Motor.

Homunculus.

The reason you, as an adult, will most likely suck bad at any new fairly complex physical activity you undertake is because of a particular part of your brain known as the motor homunculus. It’s the very same bastard who won’t let you control your individual toes.

Here’s a picture:

Weird picture, right? That’s because the model is built to reflect the relative area in the motor cortex (of your brain) that is devoted to controlling specific muscle groups.

Notice how overrepresented the hands, lips, and eyes are and how underrepresented the arms, legs, and feet are?

That’s the key.

Here’s the actual motor cortex in the brain:

Basically, the more motor cortical area devoted to a region, the greater and finer the voluntary control over those muscles groups we have.

And the beautiful part is this can be trained.

No matter what age you are.

A quick history lesson: originally the above map was created by Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in 1937. Penfield was a dude who pioneered brain surgery on awake patients. He would use a small electrical stimulator to map out different parts of the brain, which is still done by neurosurgeons to this day. His logic was simple but scary: stimulate a part of the motor cortex and watch which parts of the body twitches. This gives a mapping between brain and body and what he found was a clear topography in the motor cortex.

If you are feeling like THIS as a beginner in Karate class, you’re normal:

So what’s the take-home point?

Well, using this Frankensteinish knowledge, in 1995 a group of neuroscientists published a paper called, “Modulation of muscle responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation during the acquisition of new fine motor skills” in the Journal of Neurophysiology ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubm… ). In this paper, they showed that they could map the amount of motor cortical territory devoted to specific fingers. The authors simply had their subjects train on a piano and mapped motor cortex finger representation before and after training.

Here’s what they found, and it’s good news:

Over the course of 5 days, as subjects learned the one-handed, five-finger exercise through daily 2-h manual practice sessions, the cortical motor areas targeting the long finger flexor and extensor muscles enlarged, and their activation threshold decreased.

Thus, they demonstrated that even adults show cortical plasticity after just a couple of days of simple muscle training.

That is, piano practise caused the amount of brain devoted to voluntary muscular control to grow. Just like training Karate will make the relevant areas in your brain suited for Karate grow.

Which gives us a pretty convincing conclusion to the whole “am I too old to begin Karate?” dilemma:

Although you may not currently be able to do all the crazy Karate moves you wish to do (or control your individual toes for that matter) there’s no reason that you can’t learn how. The brain of an adult is not “set in stone”, and will respond to training just fine as long as you forget what adults your age are “supposed” to be doing on their spare time meaning you actually need to put in some effort into jumping around in your white pajama (with pride).

The reason you suck at Karate is not because you’re too old.

It’s because you haven’t practiced, and therefore the “Karate area” of your motor cortex is still too small to allow fine control in your movements.

You’re not old.

You’re just untrained.

And if you refuse to believe that, you are essentially refusing to believe science.

It’s never too late to exercise your brain’s plasticity. You didn’t start as a kid? Who cares? No need to let the first decade of your life make all the rules. After all, most of your life will be spent in the other decades, right? And for Funakoshi’s sake, don’t skip stuff that seems too hard. You can do it all kumite, kata, bunkai, sparring, kobudo right off the bat. Just don’t expect to be a World Champion from day one. Nobody else does. But waiting until you’re “good enough” to start doing certain stuff in Karate is like waiting until you’re no longer thirsty to start drinking.

Just makes no sense.

So don’t try to fix the past, fix the future.

You’re going to live there for the rest of your life.

Karate is for you.

You’re never too old.

109 Comments

  • Dan
    Not that some people don't dream once in a while how would it be if they kicked their way outta their mom's womb and how would them be today... /distantstare
    • Jon
      I've just recently found this site, and I love it! I just got my Brown belt this week (Shotokan). I'm 59, and got it in two years to the day from which I started. And what a start; I was at an obese weight, depressed, and scared shitless, but I did it anyway.Lots of sweat, a few broken toes, bumps and fat lips later (I loved it all) I'm absolutely astonished how much fun I've had, the friends I've made, and the lessons learned. Damn straight, I wasn't too old. I'm younger now than when I started!
      • Sheea
        Love it! I'm thinking of starting training & I'm 52. Peace!
        • Hamish
          I started at 52. It's two years later, three times a week, and I have a solid Blue belt. I'm more confident and a lot more fit. Go for it. With any luck and a lot of hard work, I'll have my Brown belt by 60..
      • MMM
        Good on you Jon!!! I am 56 and a haven't done any full training for 10 years and i have been shown a lot of interest to teach the art as I am a second degree black belt. You are an inspiration keep up the great work!!!
      • Donna
        Where did you take lessons? I'm ready to start at the very beginning but don't know where to go to get compassionate training! I'm female and 62.
      • stacey
        Thank you for this. I am 46 and started 6 months ago. I love every minute of it, even the sprained knee.
  • dave
    Jesse-San,as a 42 year old returning karate-ka, thankyou! compounding this assumption of "adult=proficient" concept for me was my previous standard i had reached before stopping. it was almost like my motor centres remembered how it was suppossed to feel but couldnt communicate with the rest of me effectively to achieve the outcome8 months later and things are greatly improved (but still a long way to go to get back to square one.our dojo has a number of these late bloomers, mostly taking up training after watching their kids have all the fun. as you explained, many of them become somewhat frustrated until they realise that the only people that have a problem with them are...themselves!personally i love the rich life experience that these people bring to the dojo, which you tend to see expressed in their humble, generous personalties.should be more of it!dave
  • Tony
    Wow Jesse, You outdid yourself on this post! When talking about this topic I am going to start referencing this post.. Fantastic job! Tony
  • Diego Romero
    le +1
  • Jim
    Fantastic article, I train with a couple of guys, who believe they are too old to kick right or punch right and generally have a feeling of apathy because they feel they are past it. Truth to tell I am passing this article to them as a form of motivation.
  • Boban Alempijevic
    I was 311 when I started to train once again. Had 6Kyu form my time as a teenager but choose to put on my white belt anyhow since I thought I had forgotten everything. Everyone else was a kid there, I was the only old person.... old and old, but that is how I felt.Simple put now a days / one and a half year later, I found out that you are simple put never to old to start training Karate. Like my sensei has been teaching me without saying it but rather with his way of teaching: If you have a goal, go at it with full heart and spirit no matter what and you will reach it sooner or later. Well I trained first 6 months every day, at Dojo, at home, during lunch breaks, before going to bed, when waking up. 6 months later I went higher up in kyu. I am still training every day, not as extream as first 6 months, but when I have finally rearranged my working life I can once again train as hard as back then, and now I know what my goal is. I might be 33 but I will become a supah dupah spiritual warrior in karate and in life no matter what, and no age is evah gonnah stop moi!Thanx once again for a great article jesse-San. Will be showing this article to a couple of 40+ fathers at the Dojo.- Boban
    • LOL
      You were 311 years old when you started to train again? Can I borrow your philosopher's stone?
      • Ka shi ku Ma
        Hahahahaha He might have taken double blue band ??
  • Charlie Leake
    Hey JesseI started Goju Ryu in my mid thirties. Yes, sometimes I feel like a numpty, but you know what? It is the BEST thing I have ever done!Thanks for another awesome inspiring post.CheersCharliePs: The Karate Code is ace!
  • BF
    First of all, thnx again for a great article. I'm myself a late beginner: I started 2.5 years ago at the age of 40 and as a total newbie. I had no previous contact with martial arts, and my other sports record was, well, not worth mentioning (I did not even do any kind of sport on a regular basis, except swimming, but this app 10 times. In a year....).Taking up Karate was my best decisions in the last couple of years. Seriously. I'm now a 6th kyu, and it really took me a lot of sweat to get there. I even took up other activities to support karate (2 times of jogging a week, some body weight exercies on a regular basis, and since a couple of weeks I'm proud owner (and user!) of a kettlebell (also thanks for this, Jesse-san!)). Of course it is somehow hard when you are in the beginner section and all of the others standing with you in the row could be your children. And you are easily spotted in this row since your 1,95m somehow stick out of your co-beginners average height of 1,60m (well, it was not really that bad: my brother-in-law started together with me. So there were two peaks in the row ;-)). But what the heck: In the end you are in the row for yourself, and not for the onlookers on the sideline. My yoko geri keage sucks. My mawashi-geri sucks. I'm slow. But neither will my speed nor the kicks improve if I stop practicing.Judging from my experience, this 'pride thingy' (being older equals to 'must be better') is a problem for some people. I saw two people (both my age) leave since they 'did not want to take orders from some 16 year old boy'. This 16 year old boy was a sempai and was then 1st kyu....Rgds
  • Geoff
    I couldn't agree more. I started martial arts at 36 when I was fat, very unfit, and suffering from way too much stress. Fast forward 7 years and I'm no longer fat, very much fitter than I was, and no longer stressed. Not so long ago I decided to change styles and go back to being a whitebelt again. The style is sufficiently different that my motor thingamabob has quite a bit of growing to do if I'm going to be competent.The best advice I could give to the young fella who sent you the e-mail is to keep persevering because he will get there.
  • Gerry
    I studied Shotokan in my late teens to early 20's then stopped until nearly two years ago when I started self training primarily using Youtube videos to relearn the katas of my youth, plus new ones as well. Currently I'm 49 and have been self training for nearly two years. It's been a blast so far and I plan on continuing for the rest of my life. I think the key to training as one ages is to take the time to warm up correctly and not expect the flexibility of youth to be immediately available.
  • sabri karama
    hi old friend. I am 46yr now and am preparing for my 1st dan coming december 2011. wish me luck. start just your age!! Its agood age to start karate trust me.
  • Miller
    I feel that age is a state of mind I started to practice karate at the age of 63 and am still at it. may not be able to do some things but still try. May learn kata a little slower than the kids {that may have happened 20 years ago I dont know} As of now I am 68 and still hitting it
  • elC
    Nice One!I started 4 years ago with 35, and a complete sports break of 18 years. 2 things I'd like to add for us geezers: 1. You can keep up with the young guns in class. We can make a lot of ground with probably more willpower. That's what I see sometimes. 2. Most limitations are made up by ourselves, like "I'm too old", "I'll never learn that", and so on. If you think that way, then it will probably be that way. When my Shuto Uke was recently corrected, I told the teacher: "I did that wrong for 3 years, I'll never make it right anymore!". "So it shall be if you keep thinking that way." Guess what, I started thinking I can do it, every time I did Shuto Uke I thought of what he said, and after 2 weeks everything was fine!
  • Mike Noga
    Nice one Jesse."So don’t try to fix the past, fix the future."Excellent.
  • herrle 58
    When i began learning karate almost 40 years ago as a teenager, i never thought to reach black belt. Some nights it was impossible to sleep because of self-doubts. So you see the self-doubts are not a matter of age. Even years later suddenly executing a single move almost perfect, next time it wouldn`t work again and i almost lost patience. Only slowly (becoming mature) i realised i am able to learn everything, its just a matter of willpower, time and effort. This goes not just for karate. As Hee Il Cho put it: "if i can be able to do, you can be able too!" ;-) Its just another thing (ok, a very complex) to learn in your life, so keep on practising patiently. Success WILL come, maybe slower as if you were younger, but blackbelts are whitebelts that didn`quit.
    • jaybee5
      I agree. I've seen so many teenagers out there that have given up due the their self doubt. Especially in todays instant gratification society. Keep plugging at it. I enjoy karate and blogs like this as I learn something new each time I read or do something. The way I see it, a black belt is a license to learn more!
      • Boban Alempijevic
        "The way I see it, a black belt is a license to learn more!"YES!!! I'm not alone :) Everything up to black belt is ONLY, and O.N.L.Y Preperations for starting to learn Karate for REAL!
  • TimB
    I started Karate at 53 and love it. I lucked out by joining a dojo that has a natural ability to work within an individual's physical abilities and how to push you just that much more each time you work out. Before I knew it I found myself amazed at my increased flexibility, reflexes, speed, etc. I'm not saying I'm black belt material by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not doing to bad for an old guy and I'm having a great time. Like you say... the best time to start is now.
  • Greg
    Another great post there Jesse, thanks for taking the time to explain things as you do, it helps me at least through the whole thought process of some of the issues/dilemmas in karate that come up. I started practicing karate at 39 and it is the best thing I have ever done to myself and my body, (barring all the pain and bruising haha), and I feel a stronger/faster/ more confident man for it and WISH I had done it decades ago, BUT, I am glad I took the plunge when I did.Again, thanks and keep writing please!Greg :)
  • Bitsy
    Hey Jesse - After watching my daughter for years, I'm tempted to start training. I've absorbed a lot of knowledge by watching for the last eight years, so intellectually I understand a fair amount. However, while my endurance is good I have orthopedic issues with various body parts that I know would prevent me from ever executing certain moves in katas, etc. I'm not really intimidated by the idea of being too old, but more so by the idea of being too messed up physically. What say you, O Jesse-san?
    • Well, it seems you have a huge advantage already, considering your "theoretical" advantage gained from years of observation! In my eyes, it would be a shame to let this knowledge slide, like, by not training/coaching yourself! However, as with everything, you'll have to adapt, change, go with the flow and feel what works/what doesn't work for you (considering your physical capabilities). A good sensei will help you with this for sure. Go for it, you won't regret it! :)
  • herrle 58
    Sorry to comment before Jesse-san could answer... Unfortunately i suffer from inherited arthritis so i know your situation well. Imagine the shock when it finally broke out 5 years ago (after practising martial arts for more 30 years). There were days when i could`t even walk without crutches!! :-( I started a special diet, drug theraphy and...changed my practise-routine....but never thought of stopping it. Keeping it a short story: the changes helped more than anything else, i don´t need crutches, very seldom one pill, but still keep the diet. :-) "Martial arts are made to prolong the life, not to shorten it", so there is no shame in changing something to adopt to physical handicaps. As long as it doesn`t affect the effectiveness. And selfdefense works very well without fancy kicks or difficult turns. If i were your sensei, i would do my very best to help you...just tell him! You love it? so keep training! Best wishes, Erich
  • Raddon
    Another excellent article, but one which I feel slightly misses the mark. In my experience, the neurological basis of being able to learn a new motor skill is rarely the perceived hurdle for older prospective karatekas or indeed proponents of any sport. I think it more often tends to be a worry that the natural physical signs of age will be a hindrance to progress in something as physical as a martial art, and the resulting fear that you'll just look ridiculous trying to move like a sprightly teenager with creaky joints and inflexible muscles. I have been genuinely inspired at times by such people simply going ahead & training anyway. The most memorable and inspiring thing I ever saw in karate was not an older person but someone with a similar cause for possible worry- a lady who was carrying quite a bit of extra weight competing in a kata tournament. I was sat nervously waiting for my division to begin despite the fact I was a fit young black belt who in all honesty knew he wasn't going to look silly when he got up there, and before me was someone showing infinitely more guts & self-confidence than anyone that day. Older karate beginners may never wow classmates with their gymnastic kicking combos or the like, but they're often the first place you should look for an example of the attitude with which we should all be training.
  • ROB DONNISON
    I only started training in karate 2 weeks before my 49th birthday, and wished i had started 40 years earlier. I have now been training 12 years and have achieved 2nd dan status. Its been hard work but i have enjoyed every minute and continue to do so! Within weeks of starting I was training 5-7 times a week.
  • Mike Noga
    Suppose "someone" (let's say a friend hehe) started learning karate in his early 40's, would said "someone" realistically ever be able to teach karate? How long does it take to become a good karate teacher?
    • In my experience, *teaching* a subject and deeply *knowing* your subject are not necessarily correlated. I know world-class athletes who can't teach sh*t, just as I know beginners who are great at teaching their peers! So, "how long does it take to become a good Karate teacher", you ask? I can't answer that one, since it all depends on your definition of "good". But you can start teaching from day one :)
  • Jeff Hazelbaker
    Sir,I would like to share my own personal experience with everyone. I am now 51 years young. I studied for a few year (Okinawa Kenpo) in my early 20's, the Ed Parkers in my my mid to late 20's (3 years) and stayed close to the art even when not actively training. When I was 45 I crash and burned from what was called Sudden Corinary Death Syndrom. They had to shock me 4 times to bring my back to life. I spent 8 days in ICU, and finally pulled through but it was a long way back. I started taking Uechi Ryu a few years ago with my son. It was tough but I did it anyway. I was out of shape and and over weight. I backed away from it until this past year after I lost weight and got back into decent health. I now practice full time in Shorin Ryu and will be testing for my black belt soon. (Only took me 26 Years LOL) I am in the best shape I am been in in years, and my self confidence, flexibility, and sharpness have returned. I too was worried, but I have many good teachers here that keep my feet and assperations grounded. One step at a time! One step at a time! Good luck to all and there is never a good time "not" to begin.
  • Hi everyone! Came across this interesting topic just after starting my own blog: http://martialartsover50.blogspot.com/ If anyone is interested in contributing anything about training half a century into their lives, from diets, funny or inspirational stories, what training was like in the 'good old days', etc., then please email the article to me, I would be delighted to post it on the site. As I jokingly say, 'We are a dying breed!'
  • David Gooding
    I just started training in karate in January 2012 at 54 years old and wished i had started years earlier. I am now a proud orange belt (started white and now orange) It's been hard work but I enjoyed every minute. Wish I had started soon with my son who is testing for his first degree black belt in May. For me it's going to be an interesting journey. Not as concerned with belt levels but learning the proper ways as to not injury myself.
  • How To Learn Karate
    This post is interesting. Learning karate is not really in the age because I believe that "age doesn't matter" :) Thanks for sharing this article.
  • in supporthttp://www.dklsltd.com/shotokankarateunion_sku_news/shotokankarateunionpage3.htmlregards rachael
  • Miyagi-san
    Maybe they should do a new movie called Karate Old Guy and have the roles reversed! A fifteen year old boy teaching an old guy.... even if it's a spoof it can still get the message across (with a few laughs, too)
  • John
    The wonderful thing about age is your own life experience. I am lucky to have a wife who decided for me that the entire family would do Chito Ryo. In my younger life I was a good sports person ... Not a natural one but one who had to work hard to achieve a good standard. Over the last 20 years or so work has been the priority. We had both put on some weight and wanted to do something about that but were sick of gyms etc.Enter Chito Ryo... Initially I had some reservations but now I participate in everything except tournaments for the moment. My flexibility is getting better, my health in general and certainly my fitness. I am attending three session each week and Kumite on Friday nights. I have been hit by the best and survived so far .. But I have no fear of being hit and have found with the training that I am starting to put up a good defense and counter.The kids who are 4 & 6 are learning great discipline and having a lot of fun. My wife who I am certain will be a Black belt loves it and has just participated in her first tournament and won two trophies. I am 54 and my wife is 34 the Dojo has been open armed and welcoming accepting of individual difference providing you don't use these as a crutch not to participate. My advice is get over it and get on with it you won't regret it.
    • urvien
      Well said! I,m now practicing karate for 30 years, and I have no regrets. i can still move and kick like the younger men and women in the dojo. the secret is in perseverance. Keep practicing every day even for 10 minutes, rest well and eat well.
  • Arokthis
    One of our younger students (I think he was 10) convinced a friend to watch class. Because of a communication mix-up, the friend and his father showed up at the end of the junior class and were stuck there because the friend's mother went grocery shopping, taking the family car. We have a gap of 15 minutes between the end of the junior class and the beginging of the adult class. One of the adult students saw them and asked, "So, thinking of joining up?" He responded with, "I'm 45. I'm too old to start this stuff." You could have heard a pin drop for about 4 or 5 seconds. His nervous "What? What's wrong?" had us cracking up. At that point Marvin came out of the dressing room and someone said to him, "I guess you're going to have to sit with Paula and knit. This guy thinks he's too old to start." (Paula is Marvin's wife.) We then explained that Marvin started a few months before he turned 60. Yes, STARTED at SIXTY. He may not be able to kick me in the head, but I wouldn't want him kicking me in the knee.
    • Boban Alempijevic
      hahahahaha, that one had me cracking up real good :) We have several people that are 40+ and have started recently. At the beginning they kept on saying that they wont get that agile and they are stiff and cant do proper kicks and so on.... well, now a days they do not say such things anymore since it is hard to keep on saying such stuff when not just people around you, but you yourself can see a big change in agility and strength and all aspects when training for a while. I love watching people change and getting more fit through training, it does not matter what age you are :) Soooo did he join up, that ooooohhhh so old dad of 45? :D
  • My name is Amir
    For me age is not a matter and I already started wushu since last month at age 32. My body is so much flexible and I hope I would hold black belt in the near future with the help of god and my continuous trial.
  • Jorge Delgado
    Dear Jesse-SanOnce I read this article I could finally see a ray of light in this path that sometimes gets dark to me. But I have a question. You'll see, I started practicing karate three years ago, I'm 27 years old at the moment of writing this comment and I just reached the 4th kyu about one month ago. The fact is although I enjoy practicing karate like hell, despite the fact I'm not so good at it, I feel it had helped me to improve so many things in my life and with the continuous practice, my technique it's been constantly improving, proving that you're saying is right, but here is the deal. Now I'm reaching the 30s, and my sensei tells me that is the age when body condition tends to go downhill so I have this time to improve my physical condition. I never embraced physical activity until the day I stepped into the dojo, so my point is. Can I do something about improving my physical condition in order to achieve a correct and effective technique, get more resistance and ikeep my stands? Does it have something to do with my diet, way of living, genetics or so? and the most important thing. What can I do to acheve it? Maybe the question is silly, but this is the obstacle I'm facing right now in my way.
    • Jorge-san, thanks a lot for your comment. While it is generally true that performance starts "declining" at age 30+, it has often more to do with your lifestyle (= decrease in training volume + intensity) rather than actual biological reasons. That being said, and even though you can still "bang" with the young guys in class, you should keep in mind to work on injury prevention and prehab techniques for maintaining a strong body the rest of your Karate career (shoulders, knees and back are great places to start). Diet and genetics will obviously play a role too, but having a solid training mentality and habits will take you a long way. Keep it up! ;)
    • Boban Alempijevic
      He, I was 31 when I retook my training once again. I did so because I noticed that my physical strength had left me behind REAL bad. That was 3 years ago. I have a stiff right shoulder that gives me problems from time to time, I HAD a problem with to short thigh muscles that I fixed through training, I had a problem with my lower back that I fixed as well. I am now 34 years old and to be honest, I have NEVER been in this good shape, not even as a kid. It doesn't matter if it is stamina or strength but I keep on getting faster and stronger.Just as Jesse-san points out, as long as one trains with a good sense and makes sure not to injure one self through bad training habits, you can actually keep on increasing your speed, strength and stamina and even agility as in my case. Yes I will never be able to gain the speed and agility of the teenagers, but then again thanks to share willpower I will go through any stone in my way to get to my goal, fighting spirit will take you a very long way my friend, just keep an open mind and always try to learn new ways of strengthening your body and mind. I found a great friend in a physiotherapist that he himself has been doing a lot of martial arts during his life. He owns a gym and he has helped me to fix my knees, my lower back and showed me how to fix my shoulder problem and so on, do not be afraid of asking for help and advice from professionals and never let anyone tell you that you can not get beyond a certain point due to age :)
  • Jackie
    I began karate at age 53. Two years later I had surgery for lung cancer and took a few months off physical training but continued working on mental training such as bunkai. At 56 I received my Sanjuriu karate black belt. A couple of years later I received my Sanjuriu jujitsu black belt. (We study them separately. Kids bounce better and adults have better judgement control with punches and such.) I've trained with all kinds from age 7 through 65 and learned from them all. I'm still learning, though my heart and breathing aren't what they used to be. I don't think I'll ever learn all there is to know but I'll keep trying. I'm presently 63. Practice and desire are the only things one really needs. (By the way, I'm a girl.)
    • Boban Alempijevic
      "(By the way, I’m a girl.)". Loved that part. Yes you are soooo right when saying practice and desire are the only things one really needs. Everything else are excuses from :)
    • Sheea
      Great to hear. Congrats on your success! This is an inspiring story & I hope you are still going strong. I plan to begin training this year at age 53.
  • Darryl Yanosky
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  • Mark
    I started Shotokai Karate 3 years ago @ the age of 37. After not doing sports at all for about 17 years, it was pure hell in the beginning. Today I train 3 times a week and can't get enough. It's all about commitment, passion and respect of yourself. Kiba datchi does not feel comfortable? Not enough power to execute and stand well after kicks? Yes! But you got time until you are 80 something. Never stop, your body and mind will thank you for ever:) Keep up your great work Jesse!
  • I did karate, judo, and ju-jitsu when I was a teen and rose to the illustrious rank of orange belt in both then stopped. Started again at the ripe old age of 49 with my children. The knees creak a bit and there's pain in other joints like hips and elbows, but at this age it's all willpower that keeps me going, and setting a good example to my children of persevering even with pain. Sometimes I feel like I'm pushing them to go to classes but no one pushed me when I was young and I gave up. I want to teach my kids to NEVER GIVE UP.
    • Florian Pean
      Update got my shodan in November 2016 and still going
  • laurence
    Good Day!well, it's not too old for anyone to start a martial arts or any activities that you are still capable to make it.. being martial artist is a lifetime and even you are not already in an org., practicing with them as long as you still remember the proper attacks, technique, tricks, procedures, steps and applications you can work it out.. but always remember for beginners they should start with basic practice and never jump into hard workouts for them not to feel aches or muscle pains especially injuries that may possibly occurs and a careful and relaxations must be applied first for everybody's safety. the most important ingredients in all are the so-called DISCIPLINE and DETERMINATION in everything may applied, and being a smart on all aspects of life is a PLUS :)! Pray and Good Luck to all you guys, to families who indulge themselves into great activity. God Bless All and be safe always. :)
  • wtm
    I started karate at age 43 with no plans to compete or get any belts. I was just "having a try" of a new form of exercise. To my surprise, I earned a black belt at age 50 and have been able to compete at least once a year. This is mostly due to an awesome Sensei, some good teammates, and no excuses. Osssssssss!
  • Brenda
    I just started in January and in February I turned 42. I'm fat, diabetic, stiff, clumsy, lazy, have social anxiety, and I'm so out of shape that I can only do about 10 situps and 10 girly pushups. When I mentioned to my dad that I was going to start taking karate classes with my daughter he said "Don't you think you're too old and clumsy for that?"You're never too old to learn something new!
  • Emma
    Our Sensei has a Kids train & Parents train for free class. I joined with my then 9 & 11 year old children in the year I turned 40. My now 13 year old and I are 2nd kyu brown and my daughter is 3rd kyu. We are more than 4 years down the line, with our next grading at our Gashku in October. I had not done any exercise since 1987. I take each day as it comes. One of the most challenging things I have ever done, especially considering I had never even seen Karate in real life before. Wouldn't change it for the world! Loved the analogy of planting the tree 20 years ago:) In 20 years, at least we can say with pride that our trees were planted and grew strong:)
  • Ajay
    Good thread! I took up Shotokan watching my son do it. Missed couple of gradings so that we remained at same level (juniors do more gradings). Both of us got our Shodans early this year. I am 45 now. The journey has now started. Ajay.
  • KarateMama
    I stumbled across this article while researching what to do and not do when resuming karate at a (cough, cough) mature age. I trained as a teen but then went out of state for college and consequently stopped. Thank you for the insights! My daughter was bugging me for months, and so were her Senseis. After we paid off some things, I was finally able to afford to join the dojo. I told my daughter her birthday present was going to be a day late. The day after her birthday, I surprised my daughter by showing up for class in a gi. I have two workouts behind me and am still alive and kicking ;-)
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  • I'm 16 years,i want to start training for karate but the is no karate school in my place an there is no one in my place want to train for karate.What should i do to train alone without people?
  • Erica Millick
    Thank you so much for this great post! I am a 43-year-old woman and I started when I was 39. I am so proud & humbled to report that I will be receiving my Shodan first-degree black belt in Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate this September. I always wanted to do martial arts but I don't think I was ready - but then, when the student the teacher appears. And my Sensei appeared one day and that was it - I was off & running. I assist in teaching classes at our dojo and get told many times that people are "too old" to start karate. I tell them "WRONG! You're never too old!" Thanks for supporting those of us that are older and are just starting out on this journey. There is definitely a place for us as well.
    • You must've been training hard to get Shodan in 4 years!!! That's awesome!
      • Erica Millick
        Well, I like to round down more than up, so since I'll be 44 shortly and had just turned 39 when I started it's closer to 5 years :-). Thanks!
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  • Tony H
    Took up Ishinryu Karate at the age of 51 and now, 3.5 years later, I am a couple of weeks away from a Brown belt grading. Sure, the grading instructors may make certain allowances that you aren't as flexible as the 18 y.o next to you, but it's how much power and precision you put into it at the end of the day.May still be an old f*rt but have a sense of pride of how far I have come. Taking that big step to sign up at that age was a huge step and so glad I did.
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  • AntInOz
    After my training on Saturday I definitely feel too old (late 40s), but all kidding aside, I started training at 46 and have lost weight, gained flexibility, and gained some new insights on life.
  • Imogen Lawrence
    Thank you everybody for such heartwarming letters. You are all wonderful. I am 49 years old and have been doing karate for about 18 months. I am fit but find my coordination just terrible. I love the katas and the workout but often feel deflated when I can't get all the movements in the first few rounds. The more anxious I become, the less I'm able to actually concentrate on doing the drill and end up really stressing. I see that many older people worry about not being fit enough, but I haven't seen any letters on coordination. Am I the only idiot? Still, I love it and even at 98lbs pounds, I can give as good as I get when it comes to sparring.
  • Erica Millick
    Imogen - I totally hear you! I am 43yo and just promoted to Shodan rank, 1st degree black belt. I know how you feel, and at about 16 months into it I also struggled with my coordination. If it's any consolation, it DOES get better. Our brains are not as elastic as they were when we were young, and many neural pathways are very set. Karate, though, will help to break down those rigid pathways and build new ones! It was when I was between a green belt to brown belt (about 3 years in) that things started to change and more fluid, and now that I have my black belt my body does things automatically, without thinking, that I NEVER thought I'd be able to do. Just keep at it - it gets better as you build your muscle memory. And, as my Sensei still tells me, stop thinking about it so much. We get so cerebral about it, and sometimes you just need to stop thinking about it and trust your body that it knows what to do. This is all part of the martial path, it is far more than just physical, it is also very mental & emotional as well. Part of it is letting go of the brain and trusting our bodies. Good luck in your journey, because I know that now I have received my black belt the REAL karate is just beginning.
  • Alexandra W.
    This article helped me immensely and I am not in or considering Karate. I've been holding myself back from a lot in life because of the "is it too late?" question playing on repeat in my head; I am convinced now that I have just been wasting my time worrying about my past and if I am "good enough" to even start anything, meaning I've been doing a lot of nothing. It's time to start taking action. Anyway, thank you Jesse,this truly was an amazing article! -Alexandra W.
  • Jenn Davies
    I'm in total agreement. You're absolutely never too late to start something new. Martial arts will help you no matter what your age. If you're willing to put in the time and effort, you'll become more healthy and more effective. There's no doubt about that. | http://dallomartialarts.com
  • Sean Dorrell
    Started training in Tang soo do at age 40. I am now approaching 56 and still train. I am living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I have different expectations than the young warriors, but I can do things that most people half my age (that do not train) would find impossible. Great article by the way!
    • John
      I started in Shotokan two years ago at age 58 (and very overweight) and just got my Brown belt. It the fight in the dog, not the other way around that counts.
      • Byron
        Congratulations, John! I trained in the past (almost 10 years ago) and got to 1st Kyu, but stopped due to severe pain and stiffness. I totally regret ever stopping, if anything I should've just slowed down a bit. I always think where I would be today had I not stopped - 2nd Dan, 3rd Dan? Higher?Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda - the emphasis on Shoulda.Anyway, I am now 56 and doing strength training, cardio, stretching, and home practice of kata - relearning that which I have forgotten, and will be rejoining my favourite dojo very soon. I sure packed on the pounds too in the years away from karate.Reading your post has given me added incentive, because I do question my judgement everyday; can I really go back? And hearing what you have said makes me think I can - thank you for reassuring me!I look forward to seeing my Sensei once again, and asking him the all important, yet highly rhetorical question; "Am I too late?" His answer has always been the same as Jesse's - It's never too late!And, there's still a lot of fight left in this old dog! :)Osu!
  • Douglas Barroso
    Great article! I praticed shotokan karate and brazilian jiu jitsu when I was a teenage (now i'm 40), after almost 15 years without any kind of martial art training, i rediscovered bjj when i was 32, now i am a black belt teacher. But this is not the end, today, with 40 years old i am coming back to my old karate sensei to return to pratice this wonderfull art. Somentimes i wonder why i stop training karate and bjj, but, thank's God, its never too late! I could never imagine that i would be a bjj teacher, who knows in the future i can also teach karate? One thing i can say, i have not the same body of when i was a 13 year old boy, but i have the same passion, and this is what is realy important, the heart and the mind! Sorry about my poor and bad english!
  • Joseph
    Your never too old, that's true. Delude yourself. Sorry. I could take up gymnastics at 70 why not? or Yoga at 80 then run a marathon at 90. You know what find things that fulfill other peoples lives. Time is not meant to spent on family. Or maybe religion. This I am going to live forever. The 60's are the new 50's are you joking. There is a reason WHY Chinese martial arts dont teach this to older people. They teach karate to children. Older people do Tai Chi. Follow the Chinese way find spirituality in your life. Grow old gracefully and not try to recapture the past. Its GONE. Get it into your head.
  • Douglas Barroso
    First thing: i'm not trying to recapture the past, i live the moment looking to the future and everything i love.Second thing: my body is to sotrong and healthy even thoug i'm not twenty, but believe, i'm in very good condition, i eat and train smart, i have no injury, i also run six to eight miles three days in the week, lift weights, play soccer in weekends (i'm brazilian, here, everybody plays soccer, lol) and have a six pack abs! So, for a forty year old man, i'm in awesome physical condition. When i be 80 or 90, if i could not do bjj, karate, weightlifting, running and soccer, maybe i try tai chi chuan, lol!Yes, there are older and yonger guys with physical limitations that does not allow any kind of martial art pratice, in this case, ok. The point is not the age, but, to know your body and your own limitation, and respect them. Following this, you can do everything, there is no age. And, for sure, we can much more than we believe we can!Third thing: i don't know your age, but, for a while, i let tai chi chuan for you, lol!
    • Joseph
      Looking back at 49 with a knackered knee, most likely a knee replacement. I am sorry but having spent 2O years doing Karate do I regret it? yes. Be very careful of your knee's the damage done kicking thin air, low stances etc. I wish I had started Tai-Chi in my 4O's and cut down the Karate, maybe things would be different.
      • Thanks for chiming in Joseph-san! Maybe this resonates: http://www.karatebyjesse.com/knee-pain-karate-solution/
  • James Garr
    I started kung fu at 41. I was hesitant. I wondered if I was too old, and if I could ever be good at it. A man who ran fifty miles on his 50th birthday assured me it was not too late for me. He was correct.After three years, this is what I've learned: - I cannot learn most things as fast as younger students. - I have trouble with certain athletic movements. - I recover slower than younger students. - I have limitations because of flexibility and old injuries. - My diabetes gives me some interesting challenges. However: - I practice more consistently than younger students, so one I learn something I tend to remember it and can even do it better sometimes. - Over time I have trained my body to do far more than it once could; I'm in better shape than most 20 year olds, and that's due to kung fu. - I have learned to fight smarter instead of harder. - I am working on my flexibility and making progress, and martial meditation is helping me manage my chronic pain. - While I am not as good at some things, I am very good at others. Like anyone, I have my strengths and weaknesses.You might have limitations due to your age and all the old injuries and illnesses that come with it, but younger students also have limitations. They don't have the life experience to be able to train like older students do. They don't have the ability to relax in tense situations or learn from their mistakes as easily. They don't know pain and discomfort like we do. It's an old friend to us. They don't know the value of practicing until you can't get it wrong. Most importantly, they're not at that point in their life where they've figured out what they want to do yet. I do, and it's to do kung fu, so I am more dedicated than most people.Just like different body types have different advantages and disadvantages, different ages have different challenges. Age is an excuse. Starting late is not ideal, let's not kid ourselves. But starting late doesn't make you any less of a martial artist.
  • Ramona
    Hello. I am "60 and Sassy" and am aSam Dan. I started when I was 36. I have been teaching for about 22 of those years and adults are the students who seem to want to know it all immediately. My response is "if you learn it all in one day, what would you need me for?" It brings a smile to their face and I explain that it takes time...
  • Tina Depner
    I started at Okinawa Goju ryu karate in August 2014 when I was 51. Never did anything like selfdefence before. I'm stiff, overweight and not in good shape. I got my yellow belt in June 2015, just before turning 52.So, I go a little easy on myself, when it comes to those exercises that require that one is very limber.I still have learned to defend myself! That's what karate is about. It's not about looking like a million dollar bill while you do it.It's about taking down the bastard who's attacking you, before he kills or molests you. You don't have to be a black belt for being able to defend yourself. So take up karate, and stop hiding behind excuses such as "Maybe I'm too old, too fat or whatever". It's not about age. It's about attitude. About doing this for yourself, and leave the rest of the world to whatever they might think of it. So Not your problem. Ignore them. Who are they to judge you? Can the doubts and go DO IT!
  • Didi
    I` am woman of 50 and more. I` ve started with karate a week ago. I felt that this activity could improve my flexibility and general well being. The group of kids on classes is of abt 5 years up to 10 years old, but surprisingly they accepted me well. I do joy being in these classes and I feel happy and strong in my private and professional life. To my opinion, it is never late for karate. On the contrary, karate is ensemble of controlled activities that are ideal for seniors.
  • Jenny
    You are never too old indeed! Thank you so much for these encouraging words and facts. I train at an extreme free style MMA school. I am a 61 year old women. I participate in everything but rolling on combat night. It has not been easy for sure, physically or mentally, however it has been the most empowering thing I have ever done in my life. I have had many regrets in my life but the decision to train at my dojo will never be one of them. I have found a second home and family.
  • Hi just been reading this post , and having a good chuckle to my self , I ve just joined a dojo at 58 years old but have been weight training for 40 years so im physically in decent shape but stiff as a board!, I ve always fancied doing karate and flirted with it 40 years ago for a couple of sessions , anyway ive been going twice a week for 5 weeks now and have gone from puffing like an old steam train to puffing like a new steam train! ,but you know what, im loving it , my sense of well being has improved dramatically, I ve now got a new goal in trying to achieve black belt standard befor I retire , I expect to be fitter then I was 30 years ago,so am I to old ? no frigging chance ! bring it on !!
  • Emma
    At age 45 I have just been promoted to Shodan. I have achieved my goal of a Black Belt in Karate. I never did Karate as a child, but started with my children 6 years ago. It has been insanely challenging for my uncoordinated, non-sporty body, but sheer determination to get one belt further at a time, has stood me in good stead. My 14 year old son is now a junior black belt and my daughter 2nd Kyu Brown. What a journey this has been! I feel like a new driver who has just got their driver's licence... it's only just beginning. Oss!
  • Gordon
    I started in Kyokushin at 51. I am now 54 and holding a purple belt. Yes the training is slower than when I was in boot camp at 19. But I keep plugging away and I am improving all the time. I took 2nd place in the senior division in this year's tournament fighting semi contact. Yes I wish I had started younger but I do what I can and feel good about it.
  • Francois
    Got it into my head about 2 weeks ago to start karate. At 27 I am super weak, unfit and as bendy as an I-beam, but this blog (thanks Jesse) taught me its not about age or rank. Its about knoweledge and bettering yourself. 12 January 2016 is my first official lesson and soon, for sure, I will be known as a Karate Nerd.
    • Emma
      Well done Francois. Deciding to go for it is step 1. I started Karate 3 months before I turned 40, and was so not sporty. I was just promoted to my Black Belt, along with my 14 year old son who now had his Junior Black Belt, and my daughter is on her 2nd Brown belt. What an awesome journey. It's hard, but just focus on going from one belt to the next! Nothing nerdy about a Black Belt in Karate!
  • M Robbins
    I started at 53 years old, a year after my teenage son. After spending an hour a day 3 days a week for a year at a Karate studio, a Jujitsu practitioner friend of mine said "I'd love to invite you to my school but since you take your son and sit on the side lines down there why don't you get out on the mat with them". It took a little bit but eventually I did. Honestly I felt a bit uncomfortable with a group of teens and 20 somethings but now I'm just one of the students. I dropped 10 pounds, can run a 10 minute mile and as a bonus I get to train with kido.
  • Tina
    I'm a 35 year old mom of two and just joined my son's karate class. I love it! Thanks for this article, Jesse. I was looking up "am I too old to start karate" on Google and found this post. It's quite inspiring to read all of these reactions from people who didn't start karate until later in life. Looking forward to my training tonight!
  • Karen
    Love this post! My first time on the mat was at the tender 'young' age of 50. Yes, FIFTY. Now at nearly 56, I'm a Shodan in kenpo and kobudo and loving every second of it. Yes, I have been active nearly my entire life, spent 8 years in the Army, etc... so I'm not the typical "suburban mother of two" - but I'm the walking proof of its never too old to start! you never know, you might discover a new passion!
  • Christine
    I started karate just before my 40th birthday. I had always wanted to do it but I never found a school I really liked (I didn't try very hard) and I was always worrying about other things more. Two advantages to starting older are 1. I already have a certain amount of discipline and don't have to be taught how to behave in class and 2. I already know how my body moves. I may never be able to do a beautiful roundhouse kick, but at least I can do a jumping jack without tripping over my own feet, which is common among the youngest students.
  • Steve
    I sarted Karate at the same age and am now a 4'th degree Balci belt. And i wasnt a super jock or fanatically taking classes everyday either. You can definately start at any age.
  • Fredrik
    I practiced karate for 1.5 years when I was 15. Then I restarted after a looong break when I was 49 (a year ago). When I started I was somewhat worried that I would not fit in the group but it was no problem. Sure, I am stiffer than the 22-year-olds and having trouble doing a mawashi-geri yodan. But I will get there. I am now 50 and have blue belt (8 kyu), shodan seems out of reach but you never know :). Grading is only done twice a year in my club so going from white belt to shodan cannot be done in less than 6 years (kyu 10-1 and then you have to train at least one year before trying 1 dan). But my goal is not a black belt, it is to have fun and stay in shape!
  • Joke Pauw
    My husband started to learn to play the piano when he was 40 years old. When he was 50, he started with karate. He is 56 years old now and has a blue belt, and it is his aim to get the black belt before 60. He takes his time for everything, has a lot of fun and is, physically and mentally, in good shape. You are never too old to learn.The whole life is one big learning process.
  • paul
    Hi all. I thought i might find a story by someone starting karate at 70 or over. But instead i was genuinely stunned to see so many people reporting aches, pains, obesity or worse in their 40s and 50s ! What on earth have you been doing to yourselves ? I am 71 this August and have no aches or pains at all - i'm beginning to feel like a freak for being too well! ;-) Never mind about age - i'm looking forward to getting amongst all the younger casualties when i start training !
  • Shane
    Nice read, thanks Jesse. 44yo starter here in Chitokai Karate (stems from Okinawan Chito-Ryu), 18 months into it & just stepped into the "Advanced" levels - Green Belt (5th Kyu), here in Newcastle, NSW Australia. Am enjoying it, though finding it quite difficult & testing much of the time - often I do find myself looking forward to the challenges. Along with various other healthy lifestyle, diet, stretching & exercise choices, martial arts is motivating & helping me to lose weight & improve my fitness, dexterity, strength & agility noticeably. There's a good group of students around our level training regularly & progressing as we are able, including a couple of us hoping to attain 1st Kyu ~48-49yo, then earn the right to challenge for Black Belt prior to 50yo. Cheers!
  • Greg C
    Started Shototokan at age 20 under Enzo Ortega, San Dan under Master Nishiyama, in Los Angeles.I received my Sho Dan under Enzo. Next trained with ShihanTak Kubota and was a Yon Dan in Gosoku Ryu, and an instructor there, . Stopped Shotokan training at age 50 to move to Thailand and learn Muy Tai. I'm 63 now and have never stopped training. It's never too late to learn, to train, and to improve.
  • I am 68 and am about to start TKD. I am active - power walk 12000 steps a day but that is about it. I will keep you posted as to how this works out.
  • If you're like most people in your late 20s, your body is still relatively healthy and adaptable. I assume you have suffered no debilitating injuries in the past that hamper your normal everyday function. If you pay attention, train and practice regularly and seriously, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, there is no reason you can't become skilled at most martial arts.
  • Russell E. Rojas, jr.
    Hi; I am 64, in good health and good shape (no alcohol, tobacco, street drugs,obesity) and am impressed by Tai Cheng exercises (Dick van Dyke). They seem to be simply slow-motion kata. In the past I studied Shotokan, and would like to get back into something "to keep me loose, balanced." Would bokken/bo/jo exercises be available in the New Orleans area? I really don't want to spar with anyone, or do flying kicks , ala Bruce Lee, and really am not interested in earning a black belt...just the benefits of the exercises. thanks, RER
  • J. Dean
    I am in excellent health, female, and age 78 is it too late to start karate?
  • Cristiano
    Thanks for your post! I am from Brazil and I'm 40 years old and I went back to Karate after 28 years. I was trying to fix the past ...The wisest thing I read in many years was what you said in your post: Don’t try to fix the past, fix the future... You’re going to live there for the rest of your life.OSS!Cristiano Oliveira.

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