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Practice Taekwondo Forever
ATA World, Winter, 2005
by Susan T. Lennon

The longer you train in Taekwondo, the more it becomes a part of you. Yet, even if you can’t imagine your life without it, at some point you might face obstacles that challenge your commitment. For instance, an injury or illness might prevent you from practicing, or your motivation might wane as you begin to age.

Two Masters and a medical doctor – with a combined 84 years of training – offer tips on how to accommodate your older, less resilient body, train to prevent injury, and stay active during and after an injury or illness.

Training for Life

Think you’re too old to train? Mention that to Master Marjorie Templeton, 6th Degree Black Belt, and prepare yourself for a good-natured ribbing. Master Templeton, age 80, has been training since 1974. “I started it for the exercise,” she chuckles, “but it became my life.”

She may not be able to perform a spinning whip kick as fast as one of her teenage students, but, as she says, “Taekwondo is not about comparing yourself with others! You compete only against yourself, and train because it’s fun, and because it keeps you active – continually learning and growing.”

To Master Templeton, Taekwondo is also an extended family. In the 1980s, her husband and mom both died within eleven months of each other. “If I hadn’t had Taekwondo, I would have gone crazy,” she reminisces. “But, the camaraderie, the exercise and the just ‘getting out’ really brought me out of that period of my life.” The longer you train, the deeper your connections with the ATA community become.

If you’re feeling discouraged and considering quitting because you’re “too old,” it’s important to keep perspective. “Look at the football players, the basketball players, the baseball players,” Master Templeton explains, “They’re still young when they’re done.” If top-level professional athletes can’t perform at peak levels when they get older, you shouldn’t expect yourself to either.

“You need to adjust your attitude as you age,” says Master Templeton. And you need to realize that your instructor doesn’t expect you to keep up with the kids. “In fact, instructors learn to adapt their expectations based on students’ evolving needs,” muses Master Templeton, adding, “Age is only one factor.”

Are you ever too old to start training? Master Templeton is emphatic: “No! Eternal Grand Master Lee opened up the martial arts for older people – as a way of life.” She pauses, and says, chuckling, “I was 48 when I started … for the exercise … and look at me now!”

Injury Prevention

Dubbing martial arts “the closest thing to a perfect workout,” Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD, a fifteen-year martial arts practitioner, orthopedic surgeon, and author of Framework: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints (Rodale, 2005), says that Taekwondo training itself will keep you durable, fit and flexible. “But extra strength training and stretching can help prevent injury – you can lightly cross train, balance your workouts, and warm up before you stretch.” Low impact, water-based exercises will help you recover from minor injuries and maintain your overall fitness, and yoga combined with meditation is great for the mind-set and mobility needed for Taekwondo.

“Working your core” is a popular concept, and training in Taekwondo will help you to build up your “chi” naturally. “To maximize the effects,” Dr. DiNubile suggests, “Find your ‘weak link’ before it finds you.” Then, he adds, “Toughen it, resolve it, or learn to safely work around it.” For instance, if your kneecaps bother you, consider using a neoprene knee brace with an open patella, and exercising to strengthen your quadriceps using a stationary bicycle. Keep your hamstrings limber and avoid squats, lunges and leg extensions, which put undue pressure on the cap.

When actively training, Chief Master In Ho Lee, 8th Degree Black Belt, says that you can avoid the most common Taekwondo injuries by keeping a “tight fist” and a “locked ankle.”

“If your hand is relaxed,” he explains, “your joints will pull out easily. But when you punch with a tight fist, you won’t get an elbow injury from overextension.” The same principle holds true for kicking. “Lock your ankle to avoid injury.”

Training for 38 years, Chief Master Lee advises you to think of Taekwondo as “the art of your body,” and suggests that you constantly strive to work on improving your balance, posture and coordination. “You can also prevent small injuries from becoming big ones through acupuncture and massage,” he says, “which keeps blood flowing and enhances health and healing.”

Chief Master Lee also cautions students to be sensible about their expectations. “Many students drop out after three to four months, when they realize they can’t do what they think they ‘should’ be able to do.” But Taekwondo is so much more than just techniques. “Getting involved in the spiritual and mental aspects will help you learn to love the ‘art’ as well as the physical side.”

Chief Master Lee also recommends good nutrition, and suggests the book Eat Right 4 Your Type by Peter J. D'Adamo. “It will help you understand the type of fuel your body needs,” he says. “Everyone’s needs are different.”  

And, he adds, “knowing and doing are two different things – a lot of people know what they should do, but they don’t do it!” Chief Master Lee recommends that you change your eating habits – permanently – to build and maintain health, strength and flexibility.

Staying Motivated through Illness or Injury

Sometimes, no matter how fit you are, an injury or illness will take you by surprise. “When that happens,” says Master Templeton, who also scuba dives, works out three times a week at her local gym and attends every National Football League Cincinnati Bengals home game, “your attitude is everything.”

She speaks from experience. In 2002, just after she got back from her Mastership, she learned that she had colon cancer. “Sure, it rained on my parade a little,” she admits, “But as I fought it, I kept working out and going to Taekwondo – and that made all the difference.”

Master Templeton also found strength from the outpouring of support she received from ATA friends around the country, and from what she’s learned through the spiritual side of Taekwondo. “I don’t think of a setback as a negative,” she muses, “but as something that happens for a purpose.” It might be to make us stronger, teach us a lesson or let us walk in another’s shoes. “It’s the whole Yin and Yang of life,” she says, “Everyone will have both bad times and good times – it’s a law of nature.” She believes so strongly in “balance” that she’s chosen a wordless version of the Yin and Yang as the symbol for her Tri-State ATA Black Belt Academy.

Chief Master Lee shares this philosophy. “If you are injured, it’s not the end of the world,” he exclaims. “Taekwondo is not just physical, it’s mental training too.” If you can’t train physically, you can still go to the do-jahng and observe. Chief Master Lee says there are four ways of learning: you can “look, hear, read or feel,” and that 60 to 70 percent of students learn from looking. Plus, by staying involved with your school, you can maintain your motivation, feel inspired and reinforce the habits, techniques and attitudes you’re learning – even when you can’t train physically.

“Balancing body with mind is what makes a martial artist,” says Chief Master Lee, who recommends studying Taekwondo history and culture through reading. If you’re laid up, try The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Samuel B. Griffith (Translator); and Promise and Fulfillment in the Art of Taekwondo by Grand master Sang Kyu Shim.

“Gaining knowledge and skill is not a one time event – it takes a long time to develop habits that will last for your lifetime.” To further that goal, Chief Master Lee says, “You can also ‘practice’ your forms and improve memorization by watching ATA instructional DVDs.”  

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