“We, as long-standing aikidoka, are in much better condition compared to the physical wrecks in society at large…”
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with Frank Doran Sensei, one of the pioneers of aikido in northern California and one of my favorite people. Frank said to me, “Stan, I will always remember you saying that if you did stretching every day of your life and could touch your toes, on what day would you no longer be able to do so?” Truth be told, I had only the faintest memory of making that statement, but it sounded like something I might say and I was quite willing to take credit for it!
This brings me to the subject of aikido and aging and how we should modulate our aikido training and activity levels as time passes. Think about it for a moment. Aikido is many things, but it is at the very least a physical activity that offers wonderful exercise opportunities and the ability to extend one’s active years by many more. All of the warm-up and stretching exercises we do serve to keep the body toned and enhance one’s flexibility. The rolls and falling that are part of our practice keep our bodies agile, and improve balance and response time.
Gradually over time practitioners tend to curtail their activity on the mat to accommodate the aging process. Bodies stiffen, and taking ukemi becomes difficult if not downright painful. Seasoned teachers and senior students begin to focus their energies on correcting junior students and meting out advice rather than maintaining themselves active and fit. Here, I am not talking about dealing with injuries as that is an entirely separate subject.
The acceptance of this sort of physical decline seems perfectly natural and socially acceptable. After all, this is what happens with the general populace. The reasoning goes that we, as long-standing aikidoka, are in much better condition compared to the physical wrecks in society at large, so we are entitled to congratulate ourselves while at the same time becoming less and less active.
Many years ago, I wrote a scathing editorial criticizing this trend using rather harsh terms. You can read it here. I received an avalanche of comments, many of them less than flattering from readers who followed my example by not mincing words. Although nowadays I choose to express myself on this subject in less provocative language, my opinions have not changed at all. Neither has my dojo training changed. I see no reason to use age as an excuse to stop what I have always been doing.
Your thoughts, please!