I’m fascinated by a YouTube channel that occasionally shows montages of ordinary people of all ages training in Beijing’s Wushu Park. I was drawn to it because of the simple, factual nature of people just going to the park to train martial arts, which is still unusual in North America, and because of the wide range of ages from young to very capable and old.
This resonates deeply with my experience that martial arts is a lifelong activity for every age, gender and cultural background, regardless of physical ability. Everything is fluid and adaptable.
Tell a health history with training on how not to get hit
The idea that martial arts can be an important daily health activity has long been known and scientifically explored. In their book, Introduction to Karate: Offensive and defensive unarmed martial arts (Translated by Mario McKenna) Karate master and founder of Shito-ryu, Kenwa Mabuni, shares early Japanese research on the physical demands of martial arts with Genwa Nakasone.
In the book, researchers Oka put people through about an hour of karate training, during which they practiced many repetitions of kata, including one found in many systems called Pinan Nidan.
They measured heart rate and blood pressure, and analyzed urine samples for protein levels associated with exertion.Highlights from “The Effects of Karate Jiu-Jitsu on Blood Pressure and Urine” Karate Research In the 1934 magazine, karate training provides a suitable form of exercise to maintain fitness throughout the lifespan.
Years later, at the beginning of my scientific career in 1994, I published my first paper on the cardiovascular demands (heart rate, oxygen consumption, blood lactate) of karate poses. We concluded that karate forms could be used for athletic training, but were unaware of this earlier study. We lobbied for kata training as the stimuli of choice for karate “cardio training” rather than running exercises, which is still common.
Beyond Exercise Benefits and Towards Martial Arts Therapy
Now, at the other end of my career, I have developed a keen interest in the therapeutic benefits of martial arts in aging and chronic diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s, etc. With this in mind, some colleagues, Hajer Mustafa, Aimee Harrison, Yao Sun, Greg Pearcey, Bruno Follmer, Ben Nazaroff, Ryan Rhodes and I, and I decided to conduct a martial arts intervention in older adults to see if brief training exposure could help Balance, neuromuscular function and overall ability.
We developed a modified curriculum based on the Yuishinkai karate system that I learned and taught. We hope it’s a test of whether older adults can derive useful benefits from training “dose” as found in community martial arts programs, based on a progressive balance challenge with some minor modifications, but exactly as in any community any group.
Study participants aged 59-90 trained for 60 minutes 3 times per week for 5 weeks (including pre-training and post-training assessments). The full-body movement embodied in karate training enhances neuromuscular function and postural control. In particular, homeostasis and strength are enhanced, which should help with real-life posture and recovery.
Meaningful activities enhance functionality and attract attention
Our work highlights that, if properly adjusted, karate training taught in a real-world manner may affect health outcomes in older adults. For me, though, the most important result of this study is that more than half of the participants wanted to continue training after the study was over!
I think I should see this because the purpose of using interventions such as martial arts is to practice more meaningfully, provide a more engaging environment, and potentially impact other aspects of their lives. As a result, I found myself teaching a class for seniors once a week.
We don’t need to be in a Beijing martial arts park to experience the grace, beauty, strength, strength and health benefits of a lifelong martial arts practice. In fact, we continued to train outside a parking lot on Vancouver Island. Martial arts are meaningful activities wherever they are, with clear therapeutic benefits and should be strongly considered as an activity for healthy aging.
(c) E. Paul Zell (2022)