This probably applies to many arts - but my particular experience is Tae Kwon Do.

I love competing - and have been lucky enough to compete around the world in the adult black belt categories.
The successes have brought prestige to my club which has helped with club identity and membership.

Now as I age - and am facing competitors more than 10 years my junior - I start to feel myself slowing down and those high kicks take more energy than they used to.

I have a few years before I am considered a Vet (age for this varies from competition to competition). I would love to keep on competing always and the veterans category should be more of a level playing field again. So my question is this:

Should one carry on competing in the interim years - where I am too old and slow to really win in the adult categories - to remain sharp and hopefully be on the rostrum as a veteran competitor?
Or take a couple of years away from competing?

Obviously the answer to this is heavily dependant on the individual - so a good answer will list the considerations one should make.

  • You could always seek a federation that has age gradated categories. I am 51 and still compete quite successfully against my own age cohort. I am segregated from the 18-35ish year old beasts.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 14:24
  • @JohnP some of my competitions split 18-35, 36-45 and 46+ others just do 36+ (and one set on the circuit does 40+). I am more aiming the question at the latter years of those categories (so 30-35ish and in some respects 40-45ish as well). Your comment itself is a good start to an answer though (finding a tournament where there are more age categories/the splits are different is certainly something to consider)
    – Collett89
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 7:51
  • 18-35 is a huge range, and not fair to either end of the spectrum. Ours splits it 18-29 which I still don't like much. The rest of the groups are split 30-39, 40-49. 50-59. etc. If there are not enough in a ring at a tournament, the TD can combine some rings/ranks if needed.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 15:26
  • @JohnP that sort of competition might help me out in the short term - but I still bet at 38-39 I am going to be struggling to match those at 30. There is no perfect solution to this as people struggle in different ways at different ages (Some 38-39 year olds would happily take on the 18 year olds too). I just want to continue to do well and progress in my art and belt ranks (which are getting far apart) and medals are the more visible signs - learning to love the other aspects is the real target
    – Collett89
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


Always know your limits. One bad event, and your decision will be made for you whether you like it or not. And then what do you have to offer your students?

Taekwondo is fast becoming a young man's sport. Too often, my daughter, or other women in our dojang, had to accept a trophy after winning by default because there were no other competitors, or the competition was adjusted so that she'd compete in a different category, or that the event was simply cancelled. Besides a waste of money, it's a waste of lots of people's time - not just the tournament, but for the practice leading up to it. For older women, the prospects are even worse. Maybe that does not apply to everyone. But that can factor in one's decision to press on in competition.

Older folks can't - or shouldn't - be doing dangerous flying or twisting kicks; a blown knee, torn ACL, a bruised hip, a twisted ankle, or even a pulled muscle - these can spell disaster for older folks, who are statistically generally well-established in their day jobs and don't heal well from injuries.

If you are well-conditioned and you know the risks, by all means continue if you want.

As for me, I too am approaching an age where young kids can knock my block off - and I'd never know where it came from. Arthritis has set in, and aches and pains take a lot longer to heal than they once did. Competition is just too dangerous for me.

For me, I am an instructor, a boy scout leader and merit badge counselor, a soccer coach, a baseball coach, and a softball coach. I do photography and videography as well. And I volunteer at an Elk's lodge and our town drum corps. All of that, including my responsibilities at home, comes to a grinding halt if I experience said knee, ankle, or hip injury. So I stopped competing in sparring long ago. I compete in forms and breaking every now and then, but, I define my contribution to my style in terms of what I give back to the community.

As a result, I spend significant time reading up on relevant subjects, or going to seminars, and then passing what I learn on to my classes. In addition, I referee, I help administer gradings, and I assist in setting up tests, demonstrations, and tournaments. I no longer feel the need to compete to prove myself; rather, I give back what I've learned. Not to be (too) cliche, but, the light of a candle does not dim when it provides light to another.

  • 1
    I feel like - focusing on giving back in other ways is probably the most important aspect of this. Improving your own depth of knowledge and what you can offer students (as well as the continual self improvement technique or otherwise that we look for).
    – Collett89
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 7:52
  • You might need to define what you mean by older folks.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 20:50
  • 1
    uh oh. I guess each person is different, maybe can interpret for their own personal experience? I'm in my 50's and I struggle, but my instructors are in their 60's and 70's - and they have no problems.
    – Andrew Jay
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 21:10
  • 1
    Agree with @Wigwam here - older is totally subjective - some 60 year olds are incredibly fit and flexible - some 30 year olds (and younger) suffer with deterioration of their joints. For us keen martial artists we are likely all going to have to go through this at some point - which is why I specifically left age out
    – Collett89
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 13:41
  • 1
    @Wigwam - I get what you mean, but just wanted it clarified a bit. I am 51, I am fully healed from a freak achilles rupture, but I still do 360 jump spin kicks, 540's and a few other "trick" kicks in our creative/extreme divisions. There are quite a few older people that can still do these as well. But the rest of your points are well taken, and it is a good concern.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 15:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.