Two Letters Re: SHTF-Oriented Fitness and Martial Arts for a Middle-Aged Couch Potato

Mr. Rawles,
I’d like to throw in a different angle on SHTF-oriented fitness and martial arts.  A little over two years ago I felt the need to get back in shape, I remembered what I could do as a Marine in my early 20s (I’m in my mid 30s) and wanted to at least get within shouting distance of that.  Going to the gym solo just never worked for me.  So I started doing some research and came across Japanese Kendo — the modernized Samurai sword fighting sport.  The pros are many.  You don’t have to start in great shape or be flexible.  After the initial cost of equipment, it’s cheaper than any gym.  It’s a very long road to competency, even after two years I’m considered a beginner; in some strip-mall karate dojos I’d have a brown or black belt by now, this dynamic keeps the “yahoos” away and is really only attractive to serious people (I prefer serious people to yahoos any day).  You will get in great shape, especially after you start practicing in armor, I never got a workout like Kendo in the couple “hands and feet” martial arts I have done in the past.  The armor and uniform are heavy, and you’re swinging a bamboo sword (shinai) constantly.  My dress shirt sleeves stop a full inch short of where they did when I started Kendo, that’s attributable to gaining that much shoulder and back muscle.  Your abdomen and legs will get stronger too, all good core muscles.  I had poor wrist/grip strength from a previous sprained left wrist and a sprained right thumb and now I can shake hands with the best of them.  You’ll certainly need this muscle tone and endurance when the SHTF.

There are some cons of course.  Your body won’t be conditioned to run long distances from Kendo, you won’t add five inches to your biceps either.  You won’t learn five simple techniques to take someone out with your bare hands.  You’re not fighting in street clothes.  You will lose weight if you’re overweight, but it’s not the primary focus of Kendo.  It’s very traditional and the pace of learning will seem slow to most Americans.  Buying all of your equipment can easily be a $500-$700 one time cost.  You probably won’t find a Kendo dojo outside of a city.  Everything is with a sword which is probably not above rifles, shotguns, and handguns on your SHTF weapons list.  With that said I’d rather have a knife, sword, fireplace poker, etc than my bare hands and feet in a fight, plan accordingly!

One more plug:  If you live in the Seattle, Washington or Prescott, Arizona areas, then check out American Combato / Jen-Do-Tao.  This is one of those “5 simple techniques to take someone out with your bare hands” martial arts I mentioned above, it’s oriented specifically to real world situations.  I have not checked out the DVDs but did attend classes for over two years, it’s a fantastic self-defense oriented martial art. – J.S.

As a long time martial arts student and instructor (28 years) I would like to welcome Dimitri G. back into the ranks.
Dealing with students both old and young always poses challenges but the real challenge comes in dealing with students that studied when they were young and then return with older bodies.
The main challenge is attitude. I do not challenge Dimitri’s attitude and sincerely respect him for his decisions and driving commitment. What I want to point out is how attitude changes with older students that may have had a bad experience while being the younger student
As I have learned and observed from witnessing myself and other students we all get old, our bodies break down, and we want to recapture the bravado of our youth.
The biggest lesson I have to keep learning as I age and keep teaching are the basics.
For me my basics fall in to three categories’ physical, mental, and skill.
These represent a foundation for me to age gracefully, grow old, and not be a grumpy old tough guy.
To help define how I look at each section:

Physical – “I also call these the three hardest things you will learn in the martial arts”
         How to walk
         How to fall down
         How to breathe

         How to realize I don’t have all the answers
         How to learn that education is a two way experience between teacher and student – we both learn and we both teach
         How to stay in touch with my peaceful side but still let my need to kick butt side lead when necessary
         Learning how to kick, block, punch, fall… are basic skills and need to be reinforced on a continues basis
         My physical fitness level will change with age and health so I must be willing to change my perspective, ways of training, and styles of striking to one of mastering the situation via mental and other skills.
         Education comes best from having someone play the leadership role; e.g. one man does not an island make – you can trade leadership roles within a group but the student teacher relationship is very important
Unfortunately Dimitri post alludes to the “colored belt factory” industry that is so prevalent in our U.S. culture. While good schools do exist they are fewer by number and are getting harder to locate. His recommendation to find private instruction is a good one to help someone who is coming back into the arts.
Another method is to locate a local martial arts store in your area and have a chat with the owner. They can be a wealth of knowledge in locating good teachers. And remember, you don’t necessarily want the teacher with all the stripes on their belt. Rather, you want the one that doesn’t care about all the stripes. – Old Man Karate