Can Men Over 40 Survive Martial Arts Workouts?

by Master Alan Zuckerman

When a man over 40 begins martial arts workouts they should have a special name: Kung Old Fool, Tae Kwon Old, Health Care-a-te or Senior Do. If anyone asks about my health I usually reply, “I’m aging too fast to get in shape.”

I discovered taekwondo in my forties. A series of seemingly random circumstances took me to the school of the Grandmaster who would become my teacher, Byung Min Kim.

The first event occurred while I was having dinner with an old friend. He revealed that he had studied martial arts since he was a boy and had earned a black belt in tae kwon do. My son was young at the time, and I considered the benefit for him of studying some form of martial arts. Finally, I met the Master of my future school. I work as a retail real estate broker, and happened to offer a store to Grandmaster Kim. I didn’t close that sale, but fortunately he sold me on tae kwon do.

When you practice tae kwon do as a fully formed adult, you don’t necessarily have different expectations than when you start as a child. Expectations formed by Bruce Lee, David Caradine, James Bond, Napoleon Solo and all the TV shows and movies of the 1950’s, and 60’s.

I yearned to be deadly…and great looking!

Shortly after beginning to this new martial arts exercise, I went to my doctor with what I was sure was an appendicitis attack. He assured me that I was just sore, from doing sit ups. I was out of shape.

Although I exercised regularly in my 20’s, after marriage and kids, I put exercise on hold. Now in my forties, I was short of breath. I noticed I couldn’t breathe doing recreational exercise like tennis and volleyball and I also noticed that I didn’t have the stamina to dance with my wife.

I made a decision; it was time for something fresh. That week, I began to study tae kwon do and piano (I know, middle age is really confusing).

Tae kwon do has been a seed planted inside me. When I give it what it needs to grow, it takes root. If you have started this journey, you know what I’m saying. But if tae kwon do is new to you, I guarantee you that great changes are coming. Should you be starting later in life, like I did, I want to give you this equation:

Middle Aged = (patience + resolve)-(litheness + hair)

Think long term. That is the best advice that I live by. Listen to your body and not your mind. I have seen too many adults come into class and their minds say their body is 21. They either stretch too far, or kick too hard, or try to achieve what used to be easy.

It’s the job of the Instructor to motivate the class which includes many ages and skill levels. Your head will be telling you that you can do this, your body on the other hand will need more time. Beware of overachieving goals that can lead to injuries because such injuries could convince you to quit. A self fulfilling prophecy that you were too old to be doing martial arts anyway.


You can’t understand the journey with one step; you can only understand one step of the journey, stick with it.

The next time an instructor pushes you too hard, remember that you are an adult. Age has its privilege. A great master will understand your limits and push you accordingly, that is where trust is built. Short of that; listen to your inner master.

Though I may be too old for Rock N Roll, I’m too young to die.

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