Starting karate in my late 30’s

So a few years ago my son and daughter found the original karate kid movies, so of course they immediately wanted me to enrol them in a karate class. Now, I remember watching them when I was a kid and thought exactly the same way. So mum enrolled me in a local class and I lasted about 2 weeks!

Needless to say, I was hesitant to enrol my kids as I figured just like me they would hate the constant repetition and screaming osu! Anyway Petra convinced me to at least let them give it a go. So like any husband who knows what’s good for him I listened to my wife.

I made some inquires at the local dojo’s and found one that offered a trial period of one month for $20. Perfect, I thought 40 bucks and a couple of nights watching the kids and they’ll be as bored and frustrated as I was at their age….then we can get back to our normal routines.

Well, our young daughter (5 at the time) managed to stick it out for the month (She rejoined a year later and still trains today). Yet our son (8) absolutely loved it! I couldn’t believe it!? He was so passionate! So I committed to take him 2 nights a week and he promised to never quit.

So every Tuesday and Thursday I would take him off to his karate class and sit there with all the other parents watching. I found this really, really boring! And I started wondering ‘am I too old to start karate’? I was 36 at the time.

About a year earlier I had started to get myself into shape by eating better and lifting weights on a regular basis and the more I thought about joining in the more I liked the idea. Then one day the dojo instructor asked me “when are you gonna join in Kev?”

I replied “how about today.”

So that’s how I started, now let me tell you about some of the experiences, benefits and overall difference it’s made to my physical health, but even more importantly mental health.

Early experience 

One of the main reasons I began karate was the cardio aspect. Each week as I watched the kids run around, kick and punch they were drenched in sweat. Now like I said I had been starting to get fit but I did struggle with cardio. 

As soon as I joined the class the group atmosphere and everyone else working to their absolute limit, propelled me to a level of fitness I never thought I could achieve in my late 30’s. It truly is amazing how quickly your body adapts and thrives to this regular training.

So the cardio aspect was incredibly beneficial for me. Even the discipline which I could now appreciate, as when I was a kid I hated the yelling! The instructor barking commands and us little kids yelling osu! 

However now as a parent I could appreciate it for what it is. I’m basically just acknowledging the instructors instructions and showing respect by answering. Which makes perfect sense. If I had a dollar for every time I asked the kids to do something and was met with dead silence…. So I repeat myself, only to have them snap back “I heard you the first time!”

The kicking and the punching were completely foreign to me. I’d never been in fights as a boy or young man. Learning the correct techniques and mechanics of punches, kicks and blocks has been quite a challenge, especially with my lack of flexibility!

Slowly though things start to seep in. You begin to improve. You feel like you’re getting somewhere. Then you learn a new technique…..and you suck again! Overtime where you start and where you end up are amazing!

Impacts on my physical health

Cardio fitness is a big component of karate training. Our instructors are often hell bent on pushing us to physical exhaustion before we begin practising any real techniques. My sensei explains that this is so that when I’m physically exhausted my body will find the most efficient ways to deliver the techniques.

Getting control of your breathing is another fundamental aspect of karate. Again, when you’re exhausted we are instructed to place our lungs in a headlock and control the breathing as much as we possible can. 

This has been amazing! I recover from being out of breath much faster and I’m positive my lungs have increased their holding capacity. Whenever I’m swimming I love to be underwater and I can clearly hold my breath for a much more extended period of time now.

As mentioned, before I started I had already begun strength training. So i had built up a certain amount of muscle. I still strength train now. However in the group setting of the dojo when they take you to failure, they really take you to FAILURE! These exercises are often just body weight and the huge numbers of reps that you can complete, has an incredible affect of your muscle endurance.

So even though i didn’t put on any muscle mass that i can attribute solely to karate, some of the other dads that have begun training have put on some muscle size. And of course coupled with the muscle endurance we can now lift more and hammer out more reps.

The rigorous karate training has allowed me to eat more food. I love eating and though my strength training had led me to eating healthy, I now have much more freedom in my diet simply because of the amount of calories that training burns.

Another surprising benefit has been my resting heart rate has decreased. When i recently went to the hospital the heart monitor kept beeping at the nurses. They would run over and ask me if i was ok? Was I dizzy? Feeling nauseous?

When the doctor arrived i asked if my lower heart rate was something i should be worried about. They asked if i did any kind of training i said weights and karate. She smiled and said you’re perfectly healthy, we don’t see a great deal of fit dads here in the hospital.

So it turns out, not only are my arms, legs and back are getting stronger, but also my heart. Pretty cool!

Impacts on my mental health

Before starting karate i was a smoker and drinker. So about 20 years of just sitting around drinking, smoking and working. I wasn’t in good physical shape but mentally i was struggling. Smoking and drinking was my reward for working hard.

Stupid right!?! Work hard and slowly kill yourself. Great recipe for happiness right?

Due to the training that is…. to be perfectly honest brutal! I stopped smoking completely it was just impossible to pump toxic smoke into my lungs when i knew in 1/2 an hour i was going to be gasping for air.

Slowly i started drinking less and less to the stage where i only now drink on special occasions. That said, i still go overboard on those occasions!

So i gave up to things that had been a huge part of my life for 20 years. Things that i thought were my reward and made me happy. What surprised me was that instead of being sad about what I’d given up i became happier. Much happier!

I didn’t argue with my family as much, i was spending more time with the kids and my hours at work were far more productive. The change mentally is hard to put into words yet believe me it was huge!

The other major benefit it’s had on my mental health is i now have people outside my immediate family that i can talk to and share experiences with. I’m a homebody by nature. I work from home, our business is wholesale so on a daily basis i communicate only on the phone with clients when they put orders through.

Now i have this group of people that i sweat with, punch on with, feel like we’re gonna die with and can honestly call friends. I think us men often fail to realise how much we need friends in our life. I certainly underestimated the happiness it can bring. 

Then there’s the bushido codes and the resilience that karate teaches. Bushido is the way of the warrior it’s a set of rules that the samurai lived by. Its all common sense stuff like politeness, courage, loyalty, honour etc. When you make karate a part of your life these ideals creep into all aspects of your life: work, family, friends and even strangers will notice. 

But most importantly you become a better version of yourself and thats the real benefit of karate.

Where to from here

It’s now been 3 years since I began this karate journey and I’ve come a long way, yet I have much further left to travel. It’s something I can confidently say I’ll do for the rest of my life. 

In the 3 years I’ve gone from never fighting in my life to being able to get in the ring and having a few full contact fights, getting up in front of large groups of people and demonstrating katas at tournaments. These are things i never thought I’d be able to do.

So for now we just keep learning, sucking at what we learn and learning some more!

If you’re on the fence and have been watching your kids run around at karate get in there and join in. The benefits far outweigh the feeling like an idiot. Trust me!

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Hi I'm Kev. I'm mainly focused on propagation, running the nursery day to day, water gardening and staying active.

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