Is 28 too old to learn karate?
March 22, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Realistically, is 28 too old to learn karate or some other martial art (I mean, learn it and be effective with it, not just to have something to do on Saturday mornings)?

posted by mpls2 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Define effective: Do you want to compete in tournaments, or do you just want to be able to confidently 'handle yourself', should the need arise?

I don't think either one is out of the question, not by a long shot, but you might get more complete answers if you tell us what your goal is.
posted by piedmont at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2009

Effective how?

As an exercise, I think it's great at any age. If you think you're going to become Jackie Chan, then you've been deluded. Most of these martial arts won't make you fully capable of getting into a fight and winning, at least without years of training.
posted by lizbunny at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2009

by effective, I mean confidently handle myself.
posted by mpls2 at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2009

28 is not too old. I was 27 when I started training kung fu, and 2+ years later I'm really impressed at the difference it's made in my life. Think about it -- if you find a practice you're willing to invest in, that means that by the time you're 35, you could have nearly 7 years of training under your belt. That's a whole lot, and 35 isn't very old.
posted by hermitosis at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not at all. I know a woman who was 26 when she started kung fu, and was rather proficient at it just after a few months. She really invested herself in it, though. She practiced at least twice a day.
posted by chiraena at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2009

I don't think you're ever too old. My grandpa didn't start learning judo until he was around 65, and now, seven years later, I'm pretty sure he could kill me in a few seconds if I tried to attack him. And that is NOT an exaggeration. So I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Gotham at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My 48 year old neighbor woman started 3 years ago at Karate and she has lost 40 lbs of fat and is now rock solid. She splits boards and I think is working on cinder blocks. Could kick my ass all over town if she wanted. All it takes is time and effort she tells me. She is not going to compete at a professional level, but most people don't.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you like the teacher and the atmosphere of the school/center sign up and don't think too much about it. 27 is pretty young, and you should easily be able to pickup the basics.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:01 AM on March 22, 2009

Nah. My dad was well into his 40s when we started Tae Kwon Do and he wound up a Second-Degree Black Belt and certified tournament official before he stopped.

The biggest problem you're likely to encounter will be with flexibility, so find yourself a good stretching regimen and stick with it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:06 AM on March 22, 2009

Absolutely not. You will not (most likely) end up as a 10th degree master, but within a couple of years of regular (2-3 times/week) training with a competent teacher, you will be and feel 100 times more badass than now. I started when I was 27, actually, and I have been training for 12 years now. I remember about 1.5-2 years in is when I started to feel like I actually was getting in, really internalizing it so that I was confident that my training would surface in a situation where I needed it.

Also in the right school with the right group of people, it's superfun.
posted by MsElaineous at 11:17 AM on March 22, 2009

My 50+ year-old dojo-mate started just a few years ago and can kick my ass across the room. Granted, her 14-year-old daughter who has been training for the same length of time can do it faster and while giggling, but age isn't that big of a barrier.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:37 AM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ditto what Ufez said above. My dad and I started Tae Kwon Do when I was a kid and we both earned our black belts. (And I do mean earned them, make sure you don't go to a studio where you automatically pass your belt tests just because you've paid your monthly fees.) There may be young kids who can jump higher, but as an adult you'll have more self control when it comes to putting in the practice time on your own. I think there are plenty of advantages to starting as an adult.
posted by Caravantea at 11:44 AM on March 22, 2009

An acquaintance of mine started training in Brazilian Jujitsu when he was about 30. After four years of practice and exercise he has a moderately athletic frame (~5'9" @ 165 lbs.) and he can fairly easily take down 95% of the people one might encounter on "the street," (which is to say, people who aren't trained at fighting). I know he competed a couple of times but never saw any trophies, so it's probably safe to assume he's fairly average in his class. Judo is another excellent discipline for preparing yourself to handle "street" situations. Any grappling class essentially nullifies weight advantages. The guy that I knew was regularly paired against 220 lbs. muscle-heads. It's not terribly hard to learn the finger/arm locks, and once you have those in your arsenal you're basically set with the kinds of one-on-one combat you'd ever likely encounter in your day-to-day life.

If you're just interested in the exercise / stress reduction aspects there's always Tai chi—no age limit, there… heck, there are 90 year-old great-grandmothers who practice Tai chi.

But if you're thinking about becoming the next Joe Eigo or Jackie Chan… well, that's a bit like asking if a 28 year-old can train to be an Olympic Gymnast? (Going to go out on a limb here and say, "No.")
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:53 AM on March 22, 2009

If you are taking Karate to be confident in handling yourself I think you're barking up the wrong tree. Karate is an effective fighting method if you are fighting someone else under a set of rules. There are many good fighters that use Karate and could handle some in a street fight. I think getting yourself up to that speed is a long and expensive road though.
Karate is an old form of fighting and fighting has really evolved a lot over the past 15 years or so.

Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying you should get yourself into MMA if you'd like to get all the exercise while quickly becoming an effective fighter. You'll be able to learn the proven best from all fighting styles, e.g. Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Sambo, boxing.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:09 PM on March 22, 2009

posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 12:17 PM on March 22, 2009

Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying you should get yourself into MMA if you'd like to get all the exercise while quickly becoming an effective fighter. You'll be able to learn the proven best from all fighting styles, e.g. Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Sambo, boxing.

The flip side is that many of the arts you have listed (especially MMA) are incredibly hard on the body. Starting them at age 28 might have you badass for a couple years and then barely able to do anything later due to injury. Karate (at least the kind I study) is much easier on the body and there are many students in my school well into late middle age that can still move very well. I'm only studying it as a distraction, but I do think that if I really wanted to be serious about feeling able to "handle myself", I could do so even as a 30-something.
posted by ch1x0r at 12:36 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

28 is absolutely not too old. My instructor's father started training when the studio I train at opened back in 1996, when he was in his late 50s. Thirteen years later, he's a third degree black belt that I would not want to tussle with for any reason.

If you're curious, I study American Kenpo, which is as good a self defense art as you're going to find.
posted by phaded at 1:10 PM on March 22, 2009

by effective, I mean confidently handle myself.

Do you mean in street fighting? In real life the skills you get from martial arts best work in a martial arts framework: rules, set expectations, one on one, plenty of room, no weapons, respect for your opponent, etc. These things dont exist in self-defense. Sport fighting is a sport.

If youre really interested in self-defense you'll find that as you research it that "confidently handle myself" rarely means jumping on a table and doing an impressive Hollywood flying kick as much as it means being able to talk down an aggressive person, being aware of your surroundings, living a low-risk life, and knowing when to run away. Or action is limited as doing an unexpected groin kick and then running away. Not to mention pepper spray beats badassness everytime.

A similar question was asked at kuro5hin a few years back and its worth reading.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2009

If you mean you want to be effective in real-world fighting, then no, you're not too old at all, but Karate is not what you want to take.

MMA can be a good route to take if you can find someplace not run by parodies of the guy in Napoleon Dynamite.

I would like to reccommend Jeet Kune Do if you can find someone who's actually licensed. Beware of "Jeet Kune Do concepts." Bruce Lee was primarily a sort of academic fighting philosopher and only secondarily a movie star, and JKD is only concerned with real-world fighting, which is why he refused to fight in tournaments. Most tournaments, even back then, frown on breaking your opponent's knees and fleeing.
posted by cmoj at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Could be pretty hard on the body ch1x0r but training has come a long way where it's not as rough and horrible anymore with all the padding etc.

I feel like I beat myself up way more goaltending in hockey than rolling on the mat. Conversely, I think you can acutally be way less broken down since the focus on fitness, flexibility and building your body stronger is such a focal point.
If he starts trying to do fights then yeah it's going to be pretty rough.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2009

And yeah, no one is too old. I used to train with a guy who was about 50, pretty overweight, and extremely inflexible. We started training at about the same time, but he was smart and took the theory seriously and could hold his own with me, an (at the time) 18-year-old near professional level athlete and acrobatic parkour hobbyist.

I feel no shame saying this about myself because I am none of those things any more.
posted by cmoj at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2009

by effective, I mean confidently handle myself.

That still doesn't really mean anything.

If you're moderately athletic (or at least not a completely useless lumbering slab of wheezing fat), then you should be starting to get some competence within about 12 - 18 months.

But it's hard to tell if you mean you want to be a violent thug, or just to improve your fitness. My experience with karate is that it made me very fit, very strong, super well coordinated, and very flexible. But it also imbued me with such overwhelming confidence that I became extremely aggressive with both friends and strangers alike, and was really itching for a fight almost constantly.

So just be really careful how you go about things, and try to keep a check on your attitude. (For one thing: try not to compete with your fellow karateka when you're training. As becoming super overcompetitive was a big part of the aggression problem.)

In terms of the "fighty" stuff, someone hit me in the face a couple of months ago in a bar. I haven't trained in karate in several years, but it all came back. It was very satisfying to nail this guy. I know it would have been a much worse experience if I hadn't done so much sparring and such, but as it was, as soon as he resorted to violence, I took him apart.

So if you want to be able to do that, karate can help you there. But it's better to just never get into any fights and not have to worry about it. (Pushups won't protect you from being stabbed, or from some guys mate who happens to be standing behind you.)
posted by The Monkey at 4:41 PM on March 22, 2009

If you mean you want to be effective in real-world fighting, then no, you're not too old at all, but Karate is not what you want to take.

MMA can be a good route to take if you can find someplace not run by parodies of the guy in Napoleon Dynamite.

Depending on what you're after, MMA/BJJ/Whatever might be better for you than karate - but in my experience this "if you want to be effective do X" is complete bullshit.

I could have done without all the phoney-arse Japanese stuff, but we learned how to fight. We did lots of groundwork/grappling, and heavy sparring. I don't know what more you can really do to train for "real-world fighting". But you don't want to get in any "real-world" fights anyway, as things are always much more predictable in the gym, regardless of whether you're wearing skin-tight whatever the fucks, or a gi.

But you have to choose (research as much as you can online) where you train very carefully - whether a dojo or a boxing gym, or whatever.

One thing cmoj is right about is that age doesn't stop you from training. We had folks in their 50s and 60s as well. Not usually wheezy - that goes away after a bit of training - but not as effective as the younger folk.

The best (fastest, most powerful, hardest to spar with) folk all seemed to be in their mid-to-late 20s & 30s - of course they'd also been training for a while. The younger folk tended to be fast/flexible, but not particularly strong by comparison.
posted by The Monkey at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2009

The Monkey- the backstory is that my therapist suggested there was a connection between a feeling that I can't stand up for myself is social situations and a feeling that I can't defend myself physically. Basically, she thought martial arts could help me develop social confidence.

Your bar story pretty much answers my question. That's exactly what I'm going for. Thanks!
posted by mpls2 at 5:59 PM on March 22, 2009

Then I'm sure MA can help you with building your confidence.

Any will do, whether boxing, or whatever local MMA school is best, or something a little more traditional like karate.

Be aware that there's no magic involved, it's hard sweaty work - great fun, but not a "wax on, wax off, congratulations now you're half dragon" thing. This is great and rewarding, and you'll come to really love it, but perhaps it won't be exactly what you might expect to begin with. All the hard work is completely worth it - as you'll start to feel stronger and more capable in no time, so don't be disheartened when you discover it's a real workout. You'll probably feel uncoordinated to begin with as well, that's completely normal, everyone goes through it, and it'll pass with time. (And that coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility, once you do develop them, will translate into absolutely everything you do.)

It sounds like you can do with a little of the confidence and aggression that I warned about, at least in some measure, but do keep an eye on it as much as you can - I know there were times, when I was training my very hardest, when I was rude, over competitive, and egotistical, with friends who definitely didn't deserve it, so try to find the balance that makes you happiest.

My bar fight really was awesome, by the way. There was no "special karate stuff" of course, all the flashy showy kicks and stuff are lots of fun to learn, but too risky - so everything would probably have been much the same if I'd trained in boxing. Just very hard, very fast, very precise punching. God it was beautiful. Poor dumb fucker had no idea what he was getting himself into.

(But I don't want to do it again any time soon. He had a bunch of friends in the bar, and it was probably only the fact that I went from normal/quiet to full noise in 0 seconds that stopped them from stepping in after I put their mate on the ground. I would have been fucked if they had, my friends are all pussies, and no matter what youtube tells you, it's very unlikely that anyone is going to take on more than one guy without getting his arse handed to him.)

Also, if you don't like the school/gym/dojo you join, change. I'm sure there are really crappy ones out there, and that I've just been very lucky, don't feel like once you've started you have to continue in the same one.

And boxing really is very good (one of the strongest sparring partners I had in my dojo was a former boxer, he had incredibly powerful hands and was very quick on his feet), so don't feel like that isn't an option.

Try a bunch, see what sticks.

Now I really want to get training again. :)
posted by The Monkey at 9:50 PM on March 22, 2009

Nothing wrong with JKD Concepts, cmoj. Eric Paulson is a JKD guy and he's one of the top trainers around.
posted by the cuban at 5:50 PM on March 23, 2009

No - nothing necessarily wrong with "JKD concepts," but it's a warning flag because there seem to be a lot of trainers who once took a JKD seminar and tacked it onto their sign.
posted by cmoj at 11:01 AM on March 25, 2009

« Older I love crooks and liars, but seek heroes and...   |   I haz a Macbook, now what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.