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For instance, why are there no MMA guys over 62 that can win championships? Is it that MMA techniques no longer work once you reach a certain age when fighting a competitive opponent? What is the deal? For example should MMA schools post a disclaimer that these skill wear off after a few years?

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    I can't think of any highly physical sport that has champion-level athletes in their 60s, why would you expect MMA to be any different? – Nuclear Wang Aug 23 at 15:07
  • So self defense is say an athletic ability? So when you hit 77 yrs old you will just hand over your wallet? Or is there a way to use techniques at any age? – Logikal Aug 23 at 15:10
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    Your comments are taking your question more towards Can a trained 60 year-old outfight an untrained 20 year-old? – mattm Aug 24 at 1:57
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    Your question as posed is about competing, in which case people are inherently fighting against the best in their region, or even globally at the highest levels, at a sport. As such, younger, fitter, stronger competitors are going to have the advantage against older competitors with a similar or even superior level of technical ability. – ukemi Aug 24 at 13:20
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    @Logikal: fighting is definitely an athletic ability. Have you ever even watched an MMA match? Given roughly similar technical skill, being able to hit hard, muscle the other guy around, absorb a punch, and push a pace for five minutes without gassing is absolutely essential. You cannot count on ending the fight with the first technique you land, and if you're not in peak shape, that's the only chance you may get before running out of gas and getting mauled. – Richard Metzler Aug 28 at 8:19
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It is also a simple fact of aging. You could look at any sport, and see the same thing. Champions in any sport at extended ages are outliers. Some examples of these outliers would be:

  • Al Oerter - Olympic Champion in track and field, winning medals in events into his mid 40's
  • Gordie Howe - NHL player, played in 5 decades, last game at 52 (All Star electee that year as well)
  • George Blanda - 26 NFL seasons, last season at age 48

There are many more examples in various sports (Ken Shamrock), but at some point, everyone starts losing muscle mass, reaction times slow down, etc. For a sport like MMA where there is a lot of reaction/reflex activity, that is a critical point. If you take a 50 year old and a 24 year old of equal ability and statistics (height/weight/reach, and so on), the 24 year old will win the majority of the time simply due to the fact of being younger.

There are also senior competitions, and age graded competitions where you compete against people of similar rank and age. In these you will find champions of all ages, it's up to you to decide if they have validity.

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If you compete in MMA for long enough you will get hurt. Every time you are gambling with your health. If you start competing young you won't get to be good when you are old. Or rather, you may be a good instructor or a good coach but you will never be a good competitor with the damage. If you start competing old, you may struggle to learn the techniques.

You do get plenty of older martial artist in the traditional styles. I have had instructors in their 30s 40s 50s and yes even in their 60s. One instructor is able to to axe kicks at 70... Why he does axe kicks I have no idea as no-one else in the style does but I digress.

Another way of looking at it is this: How many 61 year old soccer players are there? Why should martial arts be any different?

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    Why does he do axe kicks? Just because he can :) – slugster Aug 23 at 3:49
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Techniques require speed and power (some more than others)

Take a technique like a straight punch at range to the face. To land this punch, the attacker need speeds to move across distance to reach the target before defense can be employed. As a younger person, it may be sufficient to increase speed and power to be successful. If you are faster than everyone else, you can defeat defenses and be successful with punches at distance. As speed declines with age, a simple attack strategy built around the straight punch at range fails because defenses can react in time.

Strategy must be different with strength or speed deficiencies

If you are stronger and faster than your opponents, your fighting strategy can be simple and direct like the straight punch at range to the face. If not, you need different strategies. For example, the opponent may focus on attacking your face, but you attack the hands, which require you to cover less distance. Or you focus on redirecting an initial attack to close and attack with combinations that rely more on thought speed than physical speed.

Body maintenance is essential

To be able to fight into old age, it is essential that the body be maintained. If you shuffle around like a crippled old man, no fighting techniques you have learned will be of use to you because you will not have the power to apply them anymore. Note especially that practices that were successful in developing strength or speed in youth may be detrimental in the long term if they result in damage.

Championship capability in old age

My personal experience is that yes, martial ability can be maintained into old age. I have had instructors in their late 70's who were completely capable of defeating much younger and physically stronger fighters. But even these people think their younger selves were more capable than their older selves.

  • Pretty much my explination exactly. Basically, yes, but things (like all things) change. Strength and speed become less important, and strategy, experiance, and subtlty come to the forefront. – Atemi Sep 20 at 23:42
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Martial arts school attendance in general peaks sometime around age 17 or 18. Then it falls off. By the time you reach age 62, you'll be lucky to find even a single competitor.

This has to do with the fact that, for most people, their life changes when they head off to college or enter the workforce. They can no longer prioritize martial arts highly. Then when they get married and have kids, only a vanishingly small percentage of people still pursue martial arts training. The demands of their lives as well as their interests change over time.

That doesn't say anything about MMA not being effective for older people, or that older people don't retain skills learned in MMA practice. That's certainly not the case. There are a number of older MMA competitors that have higher skill level than much younger practitioners.

That said, older MMA practitioners will not have the same level of physical ability that much younger students have. And that's just because of what happens naturally as we age. We become more susceptible to bruising. We don't recover as quickly. We can't exert ourselves as much. We have joint pain and tendonitis as a result of years of damage and simply getting older. Our backs, elbows, shoulders, and knees give out on us. We don't put on muscle as fast or as much. We have higher levels of body fat. All of this is normal as we age, and it all works against us when compared against younger practitioners.

It takes a special kind of person to stick around into their 60's in MMA. Most will drop out long before that. Again, it has to do with changing life priorities, but also because it's hard on an older person's body. There are more gentle ways of staying in shape as we age. And the motivation to be a fighter fades over time due to a number of factors, some social / psychological, and some biological.

But aging effects are largely irrelevant in MMA competition, because of age brackets. Presumably your competition is in the same age category as you are. So that's not a big factor. It only becomes a big factor if a 62 year old is fighting a 25 year old.

Hope that helps!

  • Maybe even more relevant is that recovery and healing takes longer as you get older. Add to that the optics due to reduced recovery when your champions are limping and nursing broken limbs months after their fights and angry editorials about "nursing home fight clubs" and I doubt you'd have an easy time with sponsors. – Sean Duggan Aug 22 at 18:07
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    @SeanDuggan Recovery is longer as you age, yup. Thing is, though, martial arts in general is a barren desert past about age 30. And 30 year olds aren't "old". So to answer the original question of why we don't see seniors in MMA, the answer is just lack of interest, competing priorities, and biology. – Steve Weigand Aug 22 at 19:05
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    @HuwEvans I don't think anyone argued that 40, 50, and 60 year olds can't be found in martial arts. I'm arguing that 40 year olds are more rare than 30 year olds, 50 year olds are more rare than 40 year olds, and 60 year olds are more rare than 50 year olds. Etc. As age increases, martial arts participation decreases on average. – Steve Weigand Aug 22 at 19:20
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    @HuwEvans That's why I said "in general" and "on average" many times. There are always local exceptions, statistical aberrations. If all you know about martial arts is what you've seen at the Senior Center down the street, you might conclude 1) Tai Chi is the only martial art, and 2) Only old people do martial arts. But take a random sampling of lots of different martial arts, and the age trend I described will be seen. – Steve Weigand Aug 22 at 19:48
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    @HuwEvans Also, I'm not sure why you believe people with just "1-2 years training" are not martial artists. Anyone who does martial arts is a martial artist in my opinion. But the definition of "martial artist" really is irrelevant to the discussion. We're talking about people who are in martial arts schools. I used the words, "competitors", "participants, and "practitioners". I don't think anyone mentioned "martial artists". This seems to be another straw man argument you're making. – Steve Weigand Aug 22 at 20:31

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