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I recently turned 50 and I would like to take up a martial art.

I have a some background in yoga so my flexibility and strength are OK:

I also run twice a week (10k~45 mins), so my cardio-vascular fitness is also OK.

I am interested in MA because:

  1. ..it will be a new challenge and I want to learn something new
  2. ..I've always wanted to do it but somehow I never did. I did judo as a child and regret giving up.
  3. ..I want to maintain my flexibility, strength and fitness

I would like to choose an MA which:

  1. ..is relatively easy on my joints. I have the beginnings of osteoarthritis in my fingers
  2. ..has an underlying philosophy. Ideally this should be compatible with yogic philosophy, but this is not essential. I know that the philosophy of Aikido is similar, but in some ways it is too similar (or maybe it isn't ?) I want to learn something new...
  3. ..does not require a lot of equipment.

Other points:

  1. I am not particularly interested in self defence, but if it came down to it, this would be a factor.
  2. I have zero interest in competing (sparring is fine!). My goal is personal development (and maybe make a few friends!)

After reading the answers to this question last month, I went to all my local gyms and took advantage of their free taster sessions, but honestly I loved them all and have no idea how to choose:

  • Aikido
  • MMA
  • Wing Chun
  • Muay Thai
  • Chinese kickboxing
  • Traditional boxing
  • Brazilian JuJitsu
  • Shotokan Karate
  • Shukokai Karate
  • Tae Kwon Do

How should I choose ?

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    How are the answers not be "do my art 'cause that's what I do" which are all personal opinions? No one, especially strangers with fake Internet points, decide for you. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse May 9 '18 at 18:43
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    From Meta discussion I take it that this is a valid question, and "quality control" should rather focus on the answers. I can see answers here to be useful for not-so-young people thinking about MA initiation. – Daniel Reis May 10 '18 at 16:42
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    My opinion/experience: Karate and Wing Chun would be the least harmful for your joints, and are the most philosophical from the list. Aikido and JuJitsu are known as martial arts with most accidents. MMA and traditional boxing have no philosophic background at all. Muay Thai relies on a very good physical fitness. Tea Kwon Do can also be trained without contact (traditional with breaking tests). Can't tell about chinese kickboxing. I would also add Chen Tai Chi and Baguazhang to your "wishlist". Hope my suggestions may help you. – YesThatIsMyName May 11 '18 at 10:14
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    With your age and strengths, I'd suggest Capoeira, but it doesn't sound like they offer it where you are. – Macaco Branco May 12 '18 at 18:01
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    ? Aikido has more accidents? I'm aware of only one scientific study and it didn't show that. Please support your assertion. – Mark C. Wallace May 13 '18 at 22:20
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You're doing well. At age 50, most people are slowing down, and their bodies are deteriorating, having long since abandoned strenuous physical exercise due to the various forces in their lives pulling their time and focus away (kids and career, typically).

The thing to realize is that your body adapts to whatever conditions are placed upon it. Regular martial arts practice will keep you in shape for the rest of your life. And there are many examples of people who kept on practicing martial arts well into their 80's and 90's.

If you're doing martial arts, your body will adapt to that and will become flexible, fit, and strong. If you go from sitting at a desk to sitting on a couch every day, your body will adapt that and become fat, rigid, easily fatigued, weak, and sickly. It's just that simple.

So you have the right idea.

Next, you mentioned having arthritic fingers. Sorry to hear about that. That might make it more painful for you to do anything grip related. I can't be certain of that, but that's what I'm guessing you would feel, especially decades from now.

So that means you should be more concerned about grappling arts, because the grip is highly stressed in those arts. It's not uncommon to hear this as a complaint of people training gi (uniform) based martial arts like Brazilian Jiujitsu or Judo. They get their fingers firmly wrapped up in their opponent's gi, and then as they thrash around, their fingers undergo a lot of torque which can cause sprains. They tape their fingers to help with this.

Read this article to get some background about why some BJJ people tape their fingers: http://jiujitsumag.com/finger-tape/

Again, I'm not sure that in your case this would be a big problem for you. You might never have an issue with it just because you're going to be more careful and aren't going to approach grappling arts at full force like a lot of young competitive grapplers do. And your partners aren't going to go overly hard on you if you're not going overly hard yourself. It's something you would have to experiment with by trying a BJJ class for a little while. You won't know until you try. Just don't sign any long term contracts.

Your arthritis might also exclude weapons based arts like Filipino Martial Arts (escrima / kali). Their stick fighting practice involves holding onto sticks very firmly while whacking them against opponents' sticks. That puts a lot of force on your hands, forearm, and fingers. Your fingers often get hit by accident, also, and it's not uncommon to have a finger break on occasion.

As for percussive martial arts like Muay Thai, MMA, Taekwondo, Karate, kickboxing, and boxing, they practice punching on heavy bags. This will put forces on your fingers and forearm. Again, depending on how your body reacts to it, it might be either bad or okay for you. You're going to need to experiment by signing up for a short period of time and trying it out.

Wing Chun practices with a wooden man dummy that involves hitting your hand against firm wood. Depending on the school, they might want you to really hit it hard, or they might be really soft. This is highly variable, so you have to look at what's going on in each school and talk with the instructor beforehand.

Aikido uses the grip, but the torque tends to be on the wrist instead of the fingers. In general, I think Aikido is a lot softer than most grappling based arts. And Aikido has a large percentage of older adults in its ranks. This might be your best bet for your fingers.

However, I have also observed a relatively larger percentage of out of shape practitioners in Aikido. So you're going to have to gauge that by looking at what kind of shape the black belts in each school are in. If you see a lot of overweight, out of shape black belts in a particular school, that's your answer. And that goes for any martial art school you come across, not just Aikido.

All of the martial arts you listed could present issues for your fingers in various ways. All of them generally improve physical fitness. So my recommendation for you is to approach it by first figuring out which martial art appeals to you the most. Don't worry about your fingers too much. Try it out for a few months, and then decide if it's something that you want to continue. If you're finding that your fingers are having problems, then you'll maybe want to look elsewhere instead.

Hope that helps.

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I wouldn't recommend a style no matter the bias I might have for any particular one. For example, Aikido is widely known as a very safe and "flowy" style - generally safe for most practitioners at any age and state of health. But I have seen some schools with absolutely devastating applications of bone breaking, tuite, and eye gouging. At the other end of the spectrum, Taekwondo is notable for its applications of high kicks, with many spinning and/or jumping variations. Such is not advisable to those with joint problems. But, there are schools who teach taekwondo with 70 year old beginner students, and there is no expectation of them doing any jumping or spinning of the sort.

So the style is irrelevant: what matters is the instructor.

And that is a recurring theme in any kind of "what style should I take" kind of question.

What's more, suppose we here actually agree that there is a style that you should take up. Then what if there is no school near you to take it? What if there is a school, but the cost is prohibitive? What if the instructor is a jerk? What if the students of the nearby cheap school are abusive to their classmates?

You ask "how should I choose"

My answer has nothing to do with style of martial art. Rather:

  • Does the instructor have knowledge of body physiology of older students?

  • Is the school near you?

  • Is the instructor knowledgeable in his or her style? (beginners won't be able to discern this)

  • Is the instructor a boob?

  • Are the existing students jerks?

  • Is the class schedule compatible with your work and family schedule?

  • Does the instructor provide ancillary studies which may benefit you, such as fitness programs, accupuncture, spiritual study, multiple styles of martial arts, meditation, or something else?

Also decide for yourself, what do you want out of martial arts. Is it self-defense? Sport? Recreation? Historical study? Weapons? Are you looking for your cultural background? Spiritual? Some combination?

Look for the school - not the style - which meets your expectations.

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I can relate to your question, since I practiced an MA as a young adult (Taekwondo), gave up at some point in my adult life, and then decided to come back to practice. At this age, the interest is more in keeping body and mind fitness, rather than sparring or competition.

This is a quite personal choice, so rather than recommending a particular MA, I think it's best to give advice on things to consider when making that choice.

Consider martial art characteristics and instructor style

When choosing a martial art (and instructor style), it is important to see the type and intensity of the techniques used. Combat sports tend to be more cardiovascular, or rely on fast and explosive movements. Some martial arts focus on hand and fist techniques, and others on close distance techniques, such as grappling and throws.

While general considerations about each martial art can be useful, you need to check the particular style of the instructor, since there can be some significant differences here. For example, in Taekwondo you can find instructors that make traditional technique an important part of practice, and others that only focus on the Olympic sparring sport. You can even find instructors that also know other MAs and like to do some cross training.

Since you are not particularly interested in sparring competition, you should probably look at how important this aspect it to the instructor (and most other people in class). If it is too focused in sparring, practice may become less interesting to you, and you would be best with an instructor that introduces a wider and more varied set of drills.

Factor in your physical limitations

A good advice here is to understand your physical imitations, and discuss that with the instructor. An arthritis problem might limit you to practice BJJ, but maybe not Judo or Aikido.

And you are more fit than the average, and clearly don't have problem with your knees (a common impediment), and can practice activities with more impact. So more intense sports/MAs things, like Taekwondo and Muay Thai can be good options. But you personal preference may be on "softer" MAs, so that is something to weight in your decision.

Consider your practice partners

Whatever martial art you choose, it is important to have adequate partners for practice. Look you will have at least one or two other persons with similar age or body constitution as you. Whatever the martial art, if your partners are all much smaller or lighter than you, it will surely provide a less interesting practice that when you have available partners with similar body constitution. Look if there are other people with goals or interests similar to yours. Do they prefer to play too "hard", or too "soft"?

Considering philosophy

On the philosophy side, combat sports (like sports in general), can teach you values like hard work and persistence. Martial arts also carry a cultural heritage that can be appealing or interesting to explore. But in my opinion the underlying philosophy should not be a central factor for the martial art practice, and does not need to be an important factor for your choice.

On equipment

Regarding the specific equipment used by each martial art, probably this is not a significant factor. You can practice any combat sport or martial art with little to no special equipment. More encumbering equipment will usually be available in the training room, provided by the gym/school.

What should you choose

You should start by checking if your physical condition rules out any particular martial art. Other that that, you should be able to practice any martial art until late ages (adapting properly to current physical condition, as with any physical activity).

So then it is mostly about personal preference. Do you prefer "softer" or "harder" practice? Do you prefer kicking techniques or grappling and throwing? Do you find particularly interesting the aesthetics or signature techniques of some martial art?

You can also factor in previous experience. You mentioned having practiced Judo, and enjoying it. Why not continue from where you left?

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I recommend wing chun to every older martial artist. Wing chun in my own opinion is a very beautiful art as you begin to open up as a new student to these full contact sports.

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    Can you explain why you think it's a good choice other than it being a "beautiful art". – Macaco Branco Jun 19 '19 at 18:56
  • The wing chun practice wooden dummy is very easy to learn step's to get new learners easier way into your branches of art. Can you explain why your comment was not a better answer to this question? – jehovahsays Jun 19 '19 at 19:31
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    :) You are right that I could probably try to expand my comment to an answer. I had forgotten I'd left one. As you can see in the comments to the question, we are looking at answers that provide justification other than "I do this art, so it's the best choice". In this case, the querent mentions joints, philosophy, and equipment among their criteria. Do you feel Wing Chun fits? If so, you may want to address those points. – Macaco Branco Jun 19 '19 at 19:50
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    I agree that I should address many more of those points. As soon as I log in on desktop I will backtrack to this answer and update it to specified justifications for the community. – jehovahsays Jun 19 '19 at 19:54

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