Keeping Strong

I’m sixty now and in better shape than I have been in decades. I think I’ve passed through the same tunnel recently that many of my non-martial friends have also walked. Somewhere in the past few years a thought started to run through my head like a theme song: now to look after myself, now to strengthen myself so age might at least be a partnership with Time instead of a slow motion car wreck.

Being a martial artist, I probably responded a little differently than most people. I knew enough to not try to revert to the workout, attitude and approach of a seventeen year old version of myself. If I’ve learned anything from this practice it is to go slow and dig deep because, even if all you want to do is construct a hut, it’s still good to have a basement, and if you want to construct a skyscraper then you had better dig even deeper. So down I go. My first efforts to regain  skills began like the dreaded task of cleaning out your closet, only in this case the closet is your body and you can’t toss all the bones even if they are worn. I felt like the man in that wonderful Benchley story about a guest staying at a  friend’s house: He gets up in the morning, tries to be quiet and, not causing a fuss, goes down to the living room and spots a boat-in-a-bottle on the mantle piece. After a minute’s curious inspection he reaches out a fingertip and touches the bottle, completely collapsing the boast inside. I didn’t want to be that boat.
But as I worked out I recognized something I had realized long ago, that martial training is wonderful because it is so diverse.
Take stance work; when you’re a bit older some things become even more beneficial. I can give you all the popular medico-babble inducements such as better balance, greater leg strength, and all those soulless reasons that appeal to people who eat “veggies and carbs” but never seem to consume food. However, the deeper satisfaction lies in the dynamic marriage of meditation and movement or non-movement. As you age you understand more and more about that unique inheritance you hold inside you and, when standing, you feel a sense of consolidation that is–somewhat miraculously–just what you need: a returning to first things. You feel a little like a kid again because, when you were young, you could only be unique.
Or take forms. Now, at this age, you get to choose how you interpret them because, by now you are part of the tradition. I recently stumbled on a YouTube video of a martial artist doing the same form forty years apart. Wonderful! It showed that form is so timeless you can step into that stream twice. He did it with much the same youthful vigor as he had done it a lifetime earlier. Great! As for me, having taught precisely the same movements for years, I take a diametrically opposite path. I want to change everything, and I’m entitled. I want the form to express the edges of my knowledge. Maybe, I’ll perform something like Lien Bu Quan or Gong Li Quan as though it were a master form—which it will be if I choose it.
Working fighting movements, too. Still free. Still surprised by what my limbs can create and how they respond. My wife, Debbie, kids me sometimes because when I make a joke I never know what is coming out of my mouth. Occasionally it even catches me unprepared. “You made yourself laugh,” she jibes. Yes, I did, and I practiced today like I’ve never practiced before, completely new after all those years.

One Response to “Keeping Strong”

  1. Nelson says:

    Your description of the sense of freedom is very enviable. I suspect it is due to your achievements along the way. Thank you for lighting the way for we that will follow you along this path. We hope to someday arrive at that destination. Congratulations!

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