Starting Martial Arts as an Adult

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Have you ever considered starting something new, but didn’t follow through because you thought you were too old? If you answered “yes” then you’re probably ready for a shift in your mindset. There is no age limit on learning new things. I firmly believe that pursing new interests and learning new things helps to keep people mentally spry.

As Betty White once said, “Don’t try to be young. Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.” Everyone knows, curiosity is best fed with learning.

Last summer we signed our son up for Martial Arts. As a parent it appealed to me because it combines physical and mental training, as well as flexibility. As my husband and I watched our son in classes we both thought it looked like a lot of fun. The instructor, Master McClements, was very good, while also being very kind and patient.

Watching our son start Martial Arts

After watching our son during a few classes we inquired about adult lessons. We started with private lessons to prepare us to join the adult classes. We needed a foundation of skills before we were ready for a group lesson.

Having a background in fitness helped us to catch on quickly, however, I was happy to see a variety of skills sets and ages in the class. Master McClements told us about a student he was training who started Martial Arts in his 70s as a way to manage Parkinson’s symptoms. My husband and I are both Occupational Therapists and we work with the geriatric population. We have both read a significant amount of research on the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s and I was impressed by our instructor’s ability to modify and teach for multiple skill levels. I share this as a reminder that a good martial arts instructor will be able to teach you at any age and skill level. Different martial arts forms have different focuses.

Do Your Research

Do a little bit of research into your local dojos to see what each form is focused on. For example:

-Tang Soo Do (the primary training style we are learning) is primarily a standing martial art with less focus on grappling and a combination of hand and leg techniques. You learn both defensive and offensive skills. You learn both the art of the forms and the application. (*Our instructor is also studying Jiu Jitsu so we also get some additional instruction incorporating some of these techniques).
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is focused more on grappling, ground fighting techniques and submission holds.
Taekwondo is often recognized for it’s kicking techniques, but also incorporates hand techniques. Many schools focus on competitions and this style is also an Olympic event.
Capoeria utilizes a unique combination of movements that combines ground positions, acrobatic techniques and sweeping motions.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many forms of martial arts and often Master instructors learn more than one form, which influences their teaching style. Also, I am at the beginning of my learning process, so the descriptions above are very simplified.

What to Expect in Class

Competing at the Joe Goss Karate Invitational Tournament one month after starting my training.

All teachers run classes a bit differently, and I am sure this is even more evident when you compare different martial art styles. Our classes always start with a short breathing meditation and a warm-up. I like to get to class a little early for a longer warm-up and stretching session.

In class we line up according to rank, with the more senior students in the front and newer students in the back. Our classes vary from performing basic kicking and punching techniques across the floor, practicing forms (a traditionally choreographed sequence of movements), sparring, and learning specific techniques such as safe falls, self defense, and sometimes board breaking techniques.

Remember, as a new student it can be humbling to realize how much you don’t know. Everyone starts with zero knowledge. Be open to learning and receiving feedback on your progress.

I asked my husband (Jesse) what he would most like to share about class. He said that it’s a phenomenal way to combat spending so much time seated for work. It’s helped him to achieve focus on flexibility. He’s a runner and isn’t a fan of stretching, but getting his kicks higher and keeping his body healthy through martial arts has inspired him to be more consistent with his stretching routine. It’s also helped him with meditation. He struggles with seated meditation, but is able to achieve a meditative state while practicing martial arts movements. It also helps him to manage stress and any pent up aggression in a healthy format.

I am especially partial to the self defense techniques. I like knowing that I am learning foundational skills to protect myself if I ever find myself in a scary position. As a female and a runner I am always aware of my surroundings and my safety. Almost every female runner (and some male runners) I know have experienced harassment while out on a run. While nothing can make me immune to harassment (until the people doing the harassing stop) I feel better having some knowledge and techniques to fall back on.


Tournaments are optional, and aren’t a mandatory part of our training. When we first started training and Master McClements mentioned competing in a tournament I didn’t know if it was something I was interested in. However, a month after we started training Jesse and I competed in our first tournament. The tournament was separated into divisions based on age, gender and belt rank. The grand championship was a competition of the winners from each category and was not divided by age or gender.

Jesse competed in board breaking and forms, and won Gold for Breaking and Silver for Forms. I competed in board breaking, forms and sparring. I won gold in forms and board breaking, and silver in sparring. I also qualified for the Grand Championship competition and was the overall winner.

It was a very fun experience, and I learned a lot by seeing people with different backgrounds competing.

Our dojo did very well overall in this tournament.

Continuing Training

Jesse and I are still beginners in our learning. At 7-months of practice we have both progressed from White Belt to Yellow and are currently Orange Belts. Soon we will be testing to be promoted to the next belt level (Orange with a white stripe). That means performing specific forms, sparring techniques and completing specific board breaking techniques.

I look forward to progressing the skills that we are learning. It’s a lot of fun, and a unique and new challenge. I also love that it’s something we can do and practice as a family. My husband and I have fun Martial Arts date nights complete with sparring techniques. We also practice at home with our son, and our daughter is already starting to imitate some of the movements.

If you have any specific questions about what it has been like to start martial arts as an adult, please let me know in the comments below.


You can find me on Social Media: @BenderFitness and on Facebook: @MelissaBenderFitness 

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4 thoughts on “Starting Martial Arts as an Adult

  1. Good for you, Melissa (and Jesse). I found you and and while on vacation in St. John’s in 2011. I cannot believe it’s been over 10 years, but it has! Your workouts changed my life and keep changing it. The amount of time I was able to have at home with family, whole also having a great workout, is priceless. So, thank you! I wish you and the family all the best at your new journey through the martial arts 🙂

    • benderfitness

      Thank you so much! I’m happy to have been working out with you for 10+ years. Knowing it added priceless family time makes my heart happy.

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