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Benefits of Yoshukai Karate for Adults...

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Many young Americans grow up with martial arts as one of their first competitive sports/activities. Not only is it a great activity that keeps participants physically active, but it instills a sense of achievement and ethics, as you work your way up to earning a black belt. But even if you have no previous experience in martial arts, it is still a great activity to pick up even as an adult. And here are the reason why, as we present the top 10 health benefits of martial arts:

  • Total body workout: Martial arts are a high-aerobic workout that uses every muscle group in the body. Your stamina, muscle tone, flexibility, balance and strength will all improve through martial arts.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Due to the total-body nature of a martial arts workout, tons of calories are burned during every class. However, you’ll also find that your natural eating signals become better regulated, so food cravings will disappear and you’ll eat less as a result.
  • Self confidence: Due to the goal setting, positive encouragement and respect for values that are part of all martial arts programs, the greatest benefit usually reported by martial arts students is greater self-confidence. You become more comfortable in all situations – whether you’re in danger or simply doing a task that takes you beyond your comfort zone — and you’ll discover you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: Research has found that the only real way to improve the status of the cardiovascular system is by participating in activities that stress the heart, such as martial arts.
  • Weight loss: A one hour session of moderate intensity martial arts can burn up to 500 calories.
  • Improved reflexes: Research has found that by participating in martial arts, you not only improve your reflexes while performing the activity, but actually experience faster reaction times during all activities of your life. This is very important in a number of daily activities, such as driving.
  • Focus and stillness: As Bruce Lee pointed out, behind the punches, kicks and knees, a true martial artist learns to sit with himself and see where his weaknesses are. As a martial artist, your will learn what it is to be still, challenged and focused.
  • Teaches great morals and values: Martial arts wisdom has it that after consistent practice, one becomes less impulsive and aggressive towards others. The Shaolin moral code for example comprises 12 ethics, 10 forbidden acts and 10 obligations. Patience, insight and calmness are considered pre-requisites of good Kung Fu. This reminds students of the right attitude, frame of mind and virtues to strive for inside and outside the studio.
  • Muscle tone: By participating in martial arts, you can greatly improve the amount of muscle mass you have in your body. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your metabolic demands will be, and subsequently the more calories you will burn each day, thereby helping prevent obesity and promote weight loss. High levels of muscle mass also lead to increased agility, thereby preventing falls as you age.
  • Better mood: Researchers have found that participating in a regular exercise routine is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Performing martial arts is not only a good way to relieve stress and frustration, but may actually help to make you happier. The endorphins released by physical activity appear to be active in your body for as many as four hours after exercise.

Karate is the classical art of weaponless self-defense; it literally translates as "The method of the empty hands". Unfortunately, many people misunderstand what Karate is. They think that it is what they see on TV or in the movies, kicking, punching, and yelling. What they don't realize is that Karate is physically, spiritually and emotionally good for them. Karate training will work the body in both aerobic and anaerobic fashion and you do not have to be amazingly fit to start, but you will get fitter whatever your level. It is also a great family activity so you can get closer to your children. Traditional Karate uses mental focus and discipline to develop physical skills such as speed, strength, and agility. Training the mind and body together results in more productive benefits as opposed to monotonous exercise routines found in most fitness gyms. Below are some of the direct attributes of Karate:

 

Fitness and Overall Health: Karate training improves flexibility, strength, coordination, and endurance of an individual. Karate's punches, thrust, kicks, blocks, sweeps and throws tones the whole body in an explosive and dynamic workout.

 

Stress Reduction: In addition to the stress reducing benefits of any physical activity, Karate also improves concentration and awareness of mental attitudes that can cause stress.

 

Self-Confidence: While all physical activities improves feelings of well-being, Traditional Karate places special emphasis on building character, and focuses on increasing self-confidence, awareness, and perseverance through repetitive physical and mental exercises.

 

Self-Defense: Traditional Karate is the best martial art for self-defense because it focuses on actual defense skills rather than sport oriented techniques that are found to be impractical and inefficient in actual combative situations.

 

Physical benefits include:
Mental benefits include:
 
Cardiovascular exercise
Coordination
Flexibility
Practical self-defense techniques
Stress relief
Aerobic and anaerobic activity
Develop quicker reflexes
Plyometric explosiveness
Discipline
Perseverance
Humility
Responsibility
Self esteem
Confidence
Awareness
Practicality in judgment

Karate is an ancient form of hand to hand combat that has its roots firmly embedded in Okinawa and Japan. It is interesting to note that many of the old karate masters enjoyed great longevity, and lived into their late 80s and early 90s. This is not surprising when you analyse the rigorous training that forged strong hearts and iron-like bodies, in addition to producing calm and serene minds, that had to pass on volumes of information to future generations. Today, karate is practiced both for self-defense and as a sport, but there are clear distinctions between the two options, depending on the choice of the individual. However, regardless of your choice, the common denominator is the many physical benefits that the discipline of karate has to offer.

Physical  benefits of Karate

When practiced under proper supervision, karate builds strength, speed, power, co-ordination, balance, timing, aerobic and anaerobic physical conditioning. A class is usually divided into the practice of kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).

• Leg muscles

During the practice of kihon, the student is made to stay in deep-rooted stances that strengthen his leg muscles and provide a stable base from which he can execute powerful techniques.

• Core muscles

The act of rotating and thrusting your hips during punching and kicking requires activation of your core muscles to help stabilise multiple forces. As a result you develop a strong core.

• Upper body muscle

Punching, striking and blocking requires the use of many muscle groups including your deltoids, pectorals, triceps and latissimus dorsi. 

For example, the straight punch requires you to quickly move your fist from the hip position towards the target. This act of moving your hand in a straight line, away from your body, will require contraction of your pectorals and triceps, while your latissimus dorsi works to stop your shoulders from rising during the punch; the deltoids will also contract strongly on impact. When the student is taught kime (focus), he also learns to contract many muscle groups simultaneously, so that at the moment of impact, his relaxed, fluid, moving body then contracts and hits the target like a rock, with multiple forces being unified and channeled through the punching arm, as in the execution of an oi-tzuki (stepping punch.) This regular contraction/relaxation of all body muscles brings overall muscle tone to the body.

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning

Karate by nature is extremely explosive, and a five-second assault on your opponent, involving a series of kicks and punches, can send you into anaerobic mode whereby you are functioning at about 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate. On the other hand, if you are concerned about your cardiovascular system and wish to build aerobic conditioning, whereby your heart rate stays at approximately 130 beats per minute (bpm), then you can continuously repeat any given kata without applying kime (focus) for about 40 minutes. If you apply full kime to any kata, the intensity may send you into your anaerobic zone and only allow you to repeat that kata once or twice before rest is needed. If you are a karateka, the condition of your body reflects how much you have been training. Keep Training.

Taking control of your life and your fitness plan is an ageless process. Children today flock to martial arts lessons in droves. We credit martial arts with improving their focus, fitness and discipline while they learn life skills for future success. What about adults? Parents of young martial artists spend years sitting on the sidelines watching their children. Encouraging their child's martial arts success, many parents secretly wish that they could be as brave as their children by practicing the arts. What a great idea: parents learning martial arts with their children.

The benefits to older students who begin martial arts after a lifetime of boring gym workouts and yo-yo dieting are plenty. If they are parents of martial artists themselves, they begin with an automatic advantage. For example, knowing what is expected from students, what the curriculum is, and familiarity with the protocols of a particular class or style can ease the learning curve. For adults who have no previous martial arts experience or connection, the comfort of a classroom where other adults thrive in martial arts training can be encouraging. For Seniors, particularly, martial arts training can be life saving.

Adults can be extremely self-conscious about beginning new adventures later in life. The welcoming and positive nature of martial arts training helps ease fears. By playing to the strengths that adults bring to a martial arts class, instructors can help smooth their transition from spectator to student.

Some of the strengths that adults student bring to martial arts classes include:

  • Enhanced ability to focus. Adults have already experienced school, work and in some cases, family. These are experiences that require disciplined dedication to tasks. Going to work everyday, for example, requires a concentrated effort toward accomplishing that task. Adults understand the mechanics of martial arts technique and absorb classroom lessons faster than children.
  • Adults are naturally goal-oriented. "Seeing the forest for the trees" is easier for them than it is for children. This is largely due to life experience teaching adults that if you set and achieve certain goals, you will receive some reward. For example, if you go to work everyday and perform your job well, you will receive a paycheck. Adults understand that martial arts training requires dedication and self-discipline. They know that if they learn, practice and perform well that they may be rewarded with belt promotion.
  • Motivation to get fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Children do a fair amount of running around and get regular exercise to go hand-in-hand with their super metabolism. As we get older, however, our metabolism slows. We become more sedentary, usually because the bulk of a day is spent sitting at a desk or driving a vehicle, etc., not allowing for natural daily exercise. Health issues like high blood pressure, obesity, or even just plain laziness can be improved with martial arts training. Learn martial arts at an older age and engage your memory with the challenges of remembering techniques and forms; improve cardiovascular health; maintain or re-gain strength and flexibility that naturally decreases with age.
  • Desire to learn self-defense. Adults and Senior Citizens have unique self-defense needs. Out and about in the world daily, adults are subject to all sorts of unusual and/or dangerous scenarios. It is becoming more and more urgent to become aware of dangerous situations and to learn how to handle them should they occur. Defense against multiple methods of attack (physical and emotional) is a curriculum staple in most martial arts systems. In the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do, for example, self-defense is taught in single technique, by method of attack, in steps, and in continous scenario training to build muscle memory and spontaneity in response. Senior citizens are particularly susceptible to violent attack these days. With martial arts training you don't need to be an easy target or a victim. Read how a group of Seniors learn weapon defense with a cane in Utah for an example of the benefits practical martial arts training for adults.
  • Families that kick together, stick together. Want to improve the time spent with your children and grandchildren? Engage in a healthy activity together: martial arts. It is a long term commitment, rather than a seasonal sport or activity, and it brings families together unlike any other. Find common ground across generations with martial arts training for life.

So, how to start? If you are already exposed to a martial arts class or system through experience with a friend or family member, inquire about beginning your own training with the instructor. If you are unfamiliar with a martial arts class or system, read about various styles and their characteristics to help decide which may be best for you. There are many styles of martial arts to choose from including Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Tang Soo Do, Aikido, Taekwondo, Kenpo, Kendo, After doing research, you should visit studios or martial arts classes in your geographical area to get a feel for what a typical class is like. Whether or not they have adults engaged in training may be helpful in your decision-making process.


(See Corrections & Amplifications item below)

Lining up at least twice a week beside fellow students young enough to be his grandchildren, 63-year-old Ron Roe stretches, kicks and punches his way through classes in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do.

"Personally, I never thought I could achieve a black belt because I'm getting kind of old," says Mr. Roe, a semiretired home-health-care worker in Aurora, Colo.

A growing number of older Americans are exploring martial arts such as tae kwon do and judo as a way to stay physically and mentally fit. With its kicks, punches and take downs, they are finding the sport brings a number of health benefits as well as increased confidence and respect.

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Earning a black belt, the traditional symbol of self-defense proficiency, took Mr. Roe nine years after his first class at age 50. Since then he has advanced in rank to third-degree black belt, a rise accomplished by less than one of every thousand martial-arts students of any age, according to veteran instructors.

It's a far cry from tai chi, the Chinese system of slow, graceful noncontact movements long associated with older adults. But so-called hard martial arts—tae kwon do, karate, kung fu, judo and aikido—are attracting more students age 50-plus. Mr. Roe, who credits his rough and tumble workouts with increasing his flexibility and balance, says, "Anyone my age can do it if they have the desire."

Of course, the kicks of older combatants may not be Bruce Lee-style head shots, and they don't have to be. Instructors at many of the roughly 30,000 commercial martial-arts schools in the U.S. increasingly are tailoring programs to older students, in whom they see the potential for an expanded clientele. AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group, says martial-arts are becoming more common at community recreation centers, YMCAs and wellness facilities.

Growing Ranks
Mark Copeland (right) spars with fellow student John Gibson during a class on defensive tactics at the Gary Hernandez Martial Arts school in Florida.ENLARGE
Mark Copeland (right) spars with fellow student John Gibson during a class on defensive tactics at the Gary Hernandez Martial Arts school in Florida. MICHAEL C. WEIMAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The ranks of older enthusiasts seeking black belts are bound to rise, says Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Sports Medicine who specializes in treating older athletes. "I see them increasingly reaching above and beyond the limits of what they have been told their bodies can do," she says.

Steven Tsapos, a 71-year-old retired tavern owner in Warren, Ohio, says that after his tae kwon do classes four times a week, "I feel like a million bucks. For older people, I think it's the best exercise there is."

Like many programs, the commercial school he frequents makes some adjustments to his regimen, such as restricting the force of contact in sparring sessions. "We control the power" so that the feet and fists land essentially as light taps, says Louis Italiano, Mr. Tsapos's instructor at the Austintown ATA Black Belt Academy in Youngstown, Ohio. Mr. Tsapos jokes that such limits are partly for the benefit of his younger opponents: "How would it look if I were to knock down a 17-year-old?"

Throwing down bigger and younger male practice opponents gives a certain satisfaction to Gail Chodera, 55, who trains twice weekly at Castle Rock aikido in suburban Denver. Her chosen discipline focuses on using precise pressure to lock and twist an adversary's wrists and other joints. "I love the combining of the physical part and the mind to get the techniques just right. Sometimes I do, and the big guys go down. Sometimes they don't."

Although commercial schools increasingly offer classes separate from children, they sometimes classify high-schoolers as adults. Instructors say many older students seem energized by working out with younger ones. And sometimes the energy is contagious.

"Older students can be very inspirational," says Bill Pottle, the owner of the school where Mr. Roe trains. "They often have an uncommon determination that can set a great example for younger people."

Mark Copeland, a 54-year-old retired plumber in Zephyrhills, Fla., trains in a modified form of tae kwon do called "realistic defense tactics" at the Gary Hernandez Martial Arts school, also in Zephyrhills.

A few months after having both hips replaced in 2008, Mr. Copeland says, he discovered martial arts while looking for a new exercise routine. "I had to use a cane to walk into the place," he recalls.

Now after two years and a green belt—about halfway to black—Mr. Copeland says, "I get around a lot better, have improved my balance and don't need the cane."

Culture vs. Technique

Yet the culture of a martial-arts program is at least as important as any techniques taught, says Mr. Hernandez, an instructor for two decades. "If you're shopping for a class, look for a sense of humor in the teacher and the students," he says. "I'm 45, I like pasta and I have a tummy. I'm not running a boot camp."

The hand of Mr. Hernandez identifies a "strike point" at Mr. Copeland's temple, where the victim of an attack could hit back.ENLARGE
The hand of Mr. Hernandez identifies a "strike point" at Mr. Copeland's temple, where the victim of an attack could hit back. MICHAEL C. WEIMAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Prospective martial-arts students should visit several venues before getting started, according to the nonprofit U.S. Martial Arts Association, based near Sacramento, Calif. Commercial schools generally require a financial commitment: Contracts of one year, similar to fitness clubs, are typical, as are rates of about $75 a month. But price doesn't guarantee quality, the association says, and newcomers may find their best choice through a church recreation program at a relative bargain.

Carl Feind, a 52-year-old cardiologist who takes aikido lessons twice a week in Magnolia, Miss., endorses the hard martial arts as being good for the heart. "I have been in classes with several people in their 60s. In aikido, we spend a lot of time practicing to survive falls. Picking yourself up off the mat 30 or 40 times isn't a bad aerobic workout."

To be sure, injuries are common in martial arts, even in younger participants. A George Washington University study in 2003 found one injury per 48 hours of martial-arts practice. The sport with the closest comparable rate in the study: rugby, which includes tackling. At the other end of the risk spectrum: tennis, with one injury per 1,400 hours of play.

Bob McKenna, a 64-year-old lawyer in Denver, says his tae kwon do workouts have taken a toll: a broken nose, broken arm and some cracked ribs. But Mr. McKenna, who started training in his late 20s, says all those injuries were decades ago. As he has aged, both he and his instructors have gradually reduced the intensity of his routines.

Tamer Kicks

"These days if I tried to do some of the flying kicks, I'd be hurt," he says. "Older people should stay within our physical limits."

Still, those limitations may allow for impressive displays. At age 74, Karsten Joehnk can still kick at a level even with the top of his head: 5 feet, 8 inches. The semiretired real-estate investor, who lives in La Jolla, Calif., says that in a recent proficiency test at his school, Pacific Karate, he broke through two 1-inch pine boards held together by his instructor as a target.

Triumphant as that kick may seem, it left Mr. Joehnk disappointed. "Last year I broke three boards," he says. Looking forward to his next try in a few months, he adds, "I'll break three again."

Corrections & Amplifications

Aikido was misspelled as akido in this article.