Sunday, February 16, 2014

Am I Too Old For Kung fu?

Age Is Just A Number

Kung fu is a great for students of any age! I know, I know—the above heading is an easy statement to make if I’m not “X” years old, or don’t have rheumatoid arthritis in both knees, or aren’t slightly to very out of shape…the list might go on forever. But to all of those statements, I would still say that age is just a number where Kung fu is concerned; especially Northern Dragon Kung fu. Here’s why.

While there are many styles of Kung fu that require acrobatic leaps and dynamic athleticism, Northern Dragon is not one of those styles. In fact, there are many styles of Kung fu that stay firmly rooted on the ground, and with good reason—being grounded to the earth allows the generation of power from the feet on up. What this means is that as an art firmly rooted in the earth, your main physical concern will be building up the strength and endurance in your legs and core muscles that will allow you to maintain a stance for longer and longer periods of time. That’s why its a practice, a discipline. Anyone can do it, given the commitment to the practice. Yoga is the same…so is the violin or piano…painting…any art requires commitment.

And yes, commitment requires, no, demands, commitment. That’s just the way it is.

But I digress; Kung fu as a practice is great for people of all ages. Its low impact movements and techniques share similarities with Tai Chi techniques, the health benefits of which are well known and documented:

But, I don’t want to be an instructor of the art, I’m 58, or 65, or 70…why would I begin learning this art now? Well, for exactly the reason I stated in the preceding paragraph. At that stage in your life, you wouldn’t be looking to learn an entire system or art form. You’d be looking for an effective form of pain relief, one who’s only side effects have no relation to any anti-inflammatories, analgesics, biologic response modifiers, or steroids. Looking for more information on arthritis treatments? Click here The only side effects of proper Kung fu instruction are a feeling of well-being, increased strength, renewed vigor, and satisfaction. 

Why not just practice yoga, if that’s the case? Well, if pain relief and physical conditioning are your primary goal, then sure, yoga will work. But a secondary benefit of Kung fu training is your training in self-defense techniques. With Kung fu you can learn how to defend yourself long enough until there’s an opportunity to use your newly naturally lubricated joints to get away to safety! 

I’ve found that to be the beauty of Kung fu—you learn at your own pace. Instructors are trained to individualize instruction for each student. Need two months to get into a proper horse stance? Great! As long as you don’t give up and keep practicing, you will get it. It only gets better the more you practice. Can’t get all the way down into a low stance? That’s okay; the stance can be modified for you. The point is to teach you to defend yourself, not to destroy your body in the process.

The Living Art

Yet another ancillary benefit of Kung fu training is a non-physical in nature. Kung fu is a living art, by which I mean that it evolves and grows as you learn more of it and your knowledge of the art becomes more intimate. It constantly challenges you to make connections—backwards connections to older skills and techniques, forward connections to complete understanding of applications with information that instructors may have left incomplete to test your understanding. This is called completing the square; you’re given three sides of the square, or an amount of information, and are expected to complete the square with the fourth side, or to process that information to create new knowledge or comprehension. You never stop thinking. The more you learn, the more connections your mind makes. It is inescapable. 

As I’ve grown in the art, I’ve found that I’ve grown as a person. The layering of the techniques in the art, growing from basic understandings, to intermediate level understandings, to more advanced understandings, can be seen in non-martial life as well. They are found in relationships with friends and family. They can be seen in job performance. They can be seen in every aspect of your life—if you remain focused on them. The phrase “everything is basics” is a familiar one in Northern Dragon Kung fu, but it is quite apt. Everything is basics. The way you treat people on a daily basis, strangers, friends, family; you learned, or should have learned, the appropriate way to address people, to thank people, to acknowledge people when you were a child. Why should that have changed? Somewhere, someone, whether it was a parent, a relative, or a teacher in school, taught you the value of hard work as a child. Why should that have changed? And why should that same hard work not be continued at your job? Everything is basics. Yes, life becomes complicated the older we become, but that’s when you need to be able to observe the layers of understanding you should have accumulated through the years. Those basic life skills I just mentioned remain, only now they’re more complex to deal with more complex situations. Part of your training in the art is leading you to awareness of these complexities and understandings, but all of the hardest work must be done by you. 

Age Can Be An Advantage 

In some ways then age is an advantage in the learning of Kung fu. Your accumulated knowledge and wisdom can serve you well in making connections to other facets of your life, and drawing parallels to other situations. As I said earlier, at a more mature age, your goal might not be mastery of an entire system of Kung fu, or to become an instructor. It may be much simpler than that. It may simply be to increase your wellness through the conditioning of your body, development of your internal energy, and mental acuity. If that’s the case, Kung fu may be for you.

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