“The Graying of Aikidoists” by Gil Scutti

Sooner or later it will happen to all of us. The older guy on the mat that you were reluctant to train with because he was too slow or too stiff or too brittle becomes you. What should you do? Leave the mat and take up knitting? Doubtful. Instead, like all the adjustments you start to make you need to find a way to continue doing what you love; perhaps, a little slower or with a little less power. Or perhaps less often or with more time spent sitting seiza on the back of the mat.

What is the role of the Sensei in helping you make the adjustment? Does he expect you to fly around the mat as always or does he (heaven forfend) create an Aikido lite class– one with little or no ukemi and techniques more suitable to your current ability? Whether and how to create this environment are topics to be explored in my blog.


  1. You don’t start to learn Aikido until you get very ill, injured or reach an age considered “old” by those more neglectful of heath and personal discipline. And continue to train. Then you stop fighting yourself and start considering Aiki possibilities and develop the strength of character and faith enough to risk letting go of the excess macho, testosterone strength which younger people use to mainly fight themselves and their own flow. Finally, you open your eyes to aiki, achieving more by doing less. One of my teachers would achieve this temporarily with young men (before the days of insurance) by running us down to a local football field, making us run around it ten times then back to the dojo up 15 flights of stairs and immediately into multiple attacks, one in the middle and five attacking full on. Occasionally some of us thereby gains some AIKIDO insights because we had nothing left to misdirect energy with. So we FLOWED and HARMONIZED.
    Older people don’t need this. They are already well worn from life’s long battles and thankful for the opportunity of being efficient.
    Competent teachers use commonsense with older persons because they have studied anatomy sufficient to understand the processes and changes in bodies and also by observing their own body. Competent teachers are not coaches but set the example without holding expectations of others, and respecting limitations. There is nothing that can not be modulated to accommodate anyone of any age and Aikido should naturally teach you the relevant flexibility of mind. Incompetent teachers who make unreasonable demands are not worth taking about but you may consider a change of dojo.
    As a competent and dedicated student you should know the difference between good pain and bad pain and refuse to be coerced into stupid activity.

  2. I’m just a year away from sixty years old.

    My Sensei doesn’t change the classes as a whole for the elderly students. But he reminds us, privately, to be aware of our bodies and to do the best we can considering our age. Sensei lets us choose now much ukemi and ne waza we can take, letting we seniors be responsible for our limits. Also testing requirements are ajusted for our abilities.

  3. Gene Corman says:

    I am one of those who, in my first 20-odd years of training, completely bought into the full-out, body-be-damned version of training, both giving and taking (I began 33 years ago). Now, at the age of 63, I am paying the price in multiple ways, including a replaced knee, six ruptured discs (not necessarily from Aikido practice), and traumatic arthritis from head to foot. Nonetheless, I do not regret the past, nor am I “stiff or brittle” at this point, just hurtin. On the mat now, strategy is more important than jujutsu; taisabaki arising out of sword creates ma-ai to a degree that makes me almost invisible at times. Cross-cultural (i.e. Chinese and Russian, as well as other classical Japanese arts) training and understanding have enriched my practice, transformed my teaching, and basically neutralized all those notions about being stiff or brittle. It’s critical to get beyond just practicing Aikido in order to enrich your practice – without that it’s all one-dimensional. It’s not about, can you take ukemi or not. It’s about deepening and then physically manifesting your undertstanding. Obviously my beat-up bod can’t take the jujutsu stuff any more. So what? That’s for you young’uns. Now I’ve been given the great gift of seeing how softness actually works, that it’s not just empty talk. I agree with Nev.

  4. sometimes I think that our vision of aikido 30 years ago was shaped by the young Americans who went and trained with the old Japanese. now that I’m older, it is unwise to train the same way I did when I started. can get away with a little of it, but really need to move on. the more flowing and smaller movement stuff is what I’ll really need in another decade or so. my young guy can beat himself up, or I can pound on him a little. no harm, no foul. but I have to work a bit smarter rather than harder. bless Saito Sensei for preserving strong aikido practice. if you CAN, it’s a great foundation.

  5. Wisdom does not always come with white hair, but credibility on the mat often does. My wife and I are in our early 60’s, and hope to be testing for Nidon soon (We were in our 50’s before we began in Aikido.). We are not physically imposing, but we have been training under excellent instruction for over 8 years. We hope to study Aikido at least another ten years with O-Sensei as our inspiration.

    We take it as our special duty in the dojo to work with kohai, especially those who have very recently joined the dojo. Without demeaning our own aikido, we are able to approach students with a (truly) humble attitude of, ”If two people as old as we are can do this, so can you; it just takes practice,” or, “The only difference between you and me doing this technique is about 5,000 repetitions.” It puts new students more at ease, and they tend to feel less intimidated by the art.

    As to our own training, we train within ourselves, being especially sensitive to our physical limitations in ukemi. Because we cannot “muscle” techniques, we have the opportunity to study them more in depth. Subtle nuances within the techniques that will make them more effective become our focus. We develop an ability to “listen and hear” Aikido in a way that we were deaf to when we were younger and stronger.

    Of course, once in a while, a brash, usually newer, student will feel a need to “test” us. At that point it is our responsibility to demonstrate the power of the technique without embarrassing the student. Which, because of the way we now study, we are still able to do.

    However, in answer to the fundamental question that has been posed, while our Aikido must evolve to match our physical limitations as we grow older, our role in the dojo must also evolve, so that we have new challenges to keep our Aikido fresh. That way, our emphasis in training remains on who we may become, not on who we were.

  6. Gil Scutti says:

    Good for you and your wife. I started training when I was 45, took my Shodan test when I was 50, and my Nidan test when I was 58. I am now 62 and teaching/training 3 days a week.

  7. The last couple of times I’ve seen Dick Stroud Sensei of MIT Aikikai teach, he’s made it a point to explain that we should be gentle to the mat. I think he means to try to be quiet when we fall and not hurl ourselves with force, even in a breakfall, onto the delicate mat. I’ve found that to be good advice.

    Lately, in my practice, I have been doing low rolls, seated rolls, backwards and forwards, all around the mat. It seems to be really good for the midsection and I think helps with ukemi and flexibility.

    Now if the shoulder heals soon, this person pushing 60 can get back to the dojo.

Speak Your Mind