Friday, June 29, 2012

Dennis Schaefer and the martial spirit

When he was 49 -- an age when too many folks begin permanently settling into their couches -- Dennis Schaefer began studying taekwondo.  Well, some people probably figured Dennis was too old for all that jumping and kicking and punching.  Be he wasn't.  Dennis is now 60, a third-degree black belt, and an instructor at the Asian Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio.  Oh, and by the way, in 2008 Dennis walked off with the gold medal for his age group in Olympic Sparring at the AAU National Taekwondo Championships.
  But wait.  There's more.  Dennis has been sharpening his fighting skills throughout 2012, looking ahead to this month's U.S. Taekwondo Association national tournament in Dallas, Texas.  Right, he's  60.  And right, he's once again going all out against the best martial artists in the country.
  In a recent Facebook post, Dennis talked about his upcoming challenge, and with his permission we're reprinting it here.
  "Next Tuesday, July 3rd, I will fight in the USTA National Tournament in Dallas, Texas. I have been training seriously since the first of the year and have accomplished my mission of qualifying for the middleweight class instead of the unlimited. Good news for me because the gold medal winner from the unlimited class in 2010 is back and bigger than ever. The hardest part of preparation has been making the weight but I have succeeded and I am ready.
  "At age 60 this might be my swan song. My philosophy is to never say never, but the practicalities of continuing my fight career are limited by age and the fact that most other guys 60 and over are chasing golf balls.
  "I am addicted to the training, camaraderie and the ritual; the single-minded preparation is a relief in today’s world. Aside from coaching, my future in the world of competitive Taekwondo sparring is hazy. But that’s projection; there’s still a fight to fight. And all of the experience that has come in the past 12 years of competing will not go to waste.  I am committed to bringing some form of martial arts training to my peers from here on out.
  "When we return from Dallas (my better half Mary will coach) I will be considering some new fields. Number one contender at this point involves reviving my running career and tackling the ultra-marathons.  No one to fight but myself."
  Whether you're 50, 60 or 70, you're not too old to begin martial-arts training.  If the spirit is willing, the body will follow to the extent possible.  We may not all turn into champions like Dennis Schaefer, but that's not the goal.  The goal is to push, to strive, and to achieve as much as you can.  The martial arts have much to teach you if you're open to learning.
  Let me add here that it helps to have a senior-friendly school, and it sounds as though that's what you'll find at the Asian Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio.  They have numerous adult classes as well as senior instructors, and they understand that older students will need some extra attention.  If you live in the Dayton area and have been thinking about taking up the martial arts at an "advanced age," give Dennis a call sometime.  His footsteps are worth following.
  You can find the Asian Arts Center at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The leg is mightier than the hand

A few posts ago I discussed and then in a short video demonstrated two highly effective hand strikes that you can use in a self-defense situation.  The first step, of course, was to block the incoming punch, and we talked about the high block last month.  If you stand and do nothing while an attacker is aiming a heavy punch toward your face, the game is over before it begins.  So you absolutely must DO SOMETHING!  And the first "something" is to execute the best, and most powerful, high block that you can muster.
   But suppose you just aren't confident that your hand strikes will stop a larger, younger opponent.  What then?  Well, for sheer stopping power, nothing beats the force of a well-placed kick.  So in today's post we'll examine an uncomplicated way to harness the power of the strongest muscles in your body.  This sequence of movements is something that does not require great flexibility or advanced training.  All it requires is average athletic ability and, more importantly, the desire to DO SOMETHING in the unlikely event you become the victim of an unprovoked attack.  If you are not certain that you are physically fit enough to execute these or any other techniques discussed in this blog, you should naturally speak with your doctor before beginning.
   Today's self-defense sequence is as follows:
          1.  Block the incoming punch.
          2.  Aim a quick, powerful front snap kick to the opponent's groin.
          3.  When the attacker doubles over [and if you land the front snap kick properly, he most definitely will double over] grab the back of his head with both hands.
          4.  Pull the attacker's face toward your knee, which you are raising with all the power that you can generate.
          5.  Final step, as always: turn and get away.  Everything we discuss in "Seniors in the Martial Arts" is about buying time to get away.  If you can talk your way out of an attack, always do so.  But if you can't, buy yourself enough time for help to arrive or to beat a hasty retreat. 
   Okay, you've got the steps.  Now watch an extremely brief video demonstration of how to put the steps together.  I have slowed each step down somewhat so that you can see the techniques more clearly, and you'll have to imagine that I'm facing a larger opponent.  In an actual self-defense situation, you would want each technique to be delivered with as much force as you can generate.
    Block, snap kick, and knee to the attacker's face. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And in addition to speed . . .

In my last post I talked about and demonstrated the importance of speed when executing self-defense techniques.  Without question, speed can help offset the raw strength of an attacker.  But you will make speed even more effective if you can put some muscle behind it.  In the unlikely event that you are attacked, you might as well have everything possible going for you.
     It is absolutely true that seniors can gain strength and perhaps even muscle size through smart resistance training -- that is, training with equipment that stresses the muscles.  Lifting free weights or using the fancy resistance machines that you can find at most gyms will do the trick.  You don't need to build the body of a Mr. or Ms. Olympia, fortunately.  All you need to do is build on the strength you already have.  If you've been working out at the gym for a few years, you're probably already where you need to be.  But if you've been avoiding exercise religiously, you have some work ahead of you.  The good news, though, is that your gains can be quite rapid as long as you approach the training sensibly and don't try to get all the work done in one week or one month.  Instead of the strength gains you're after, you'll end up in physical therapy after injuring yourself.
     Approach your strength training with the wisdom that comes with age.  First, remember that you were once 20 . . . but will never be again.  You may not like to admit it, but you aren't going to be as strong as you could have been way back when.  Neither will you run as fast or jump as high.  This is life.  So accept some limits on where the training can take you.  Second, learn how to execute your strength-building exercises properly before embarking on the comeback trail.  You can find plenty of good information on the Internet or in fitness books and videos.  You might also consider paying for a few sessions with a qualified personal trainer.  But the key word is "qualified."  The best way to find a personal trainer is to ask friends.  If they don't know, try your family doctor or the local physical therapy clinic.  DO NOT under any circumstances rely on the exercises you learned 40 or 50 years ago in high school.  Much has changed since then, and it turns out that some of the "fitness" training we received back then was flat-out harmful.
     Okay, so you're not ready to return to the gym quite yet.  What should you do?  A number of posts back I talked about the importance of stretching.  So begin there.  It's really important that you work on flexibility, but only after warming up before each stretching session.  Then you can work on arm strength with push-ups.  Have a lower-back issue?  Then rest on your knees while doing the push-ups.  Hey, you're not training to become a Navy Seal.  You're trying to gain strength without injuring yourself.  When you do your push-ups, be sure to get good extension of your arms each time.  If you cheat, you're only cheating yourself.  You should also work on strengthening your abdominal muscles.  Forget those nasty sit-ups we did in high school a million years ago -- you know someone holding your feet while you wreck your back in the name of strengthening your stomach muscles.  Look online for the proper way to execute sit-ups, leg raises, or other abdominal exercises.  Finally, get yourself a pair of dumbbells so that you can do arm curls for your biceps muscles.  You don't need massive weight.  Use light or moderate weight and aim for high repetitions at first.  Remember, the more patient you are about getting back in shape, the less likely you are to stop the entire process by injuring yourself.
     Speed is crucial to success in the martial arts, and it's a fabulous equalizer when you find yourself confronted by a younger, stronger attacker.  But speed AND strength is an even more formidable combination.  I strongly urge you to work on both.
     If you want to build the full package of speed, strength, technique, and flexibility, find a qualified senior-friendly martial-arts school near you.  Get yourself on the road to fitness and an effective arsenal of self-defense techniques.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Power of Speed

I'm a professional watercolor artist, not a physicist.  But back there in a dark, dusty corner of my brain I can still find a couple of equations that I learned half a century ago in my high school physics class.  I'm not certain that either equation is the right one for today's discussion, but they're all I've got.  If you're a physicist reading this post, please feel free to set the facts straight.
     The two equations are:
        -- F=ma.  Force equals mass times acceleration.
        -- p=mv.  Momentum equals mass time velocity.
     Now what do these two physics equations have to do with self-defense for seniors?  To my non-physicist mind they help explain why a trained martial artist can sometimes defend himself or herself successfully against a larger, stronger, and younger attacker.  Stated differently, they suggest that you and I as seniors can learn techniques that will help offset the physical advantages enjoyed by a younger opponent.
     You'll notice that in both equations -- one for force, the other for momentum -- a key factor is speed.  In one instance speed is represented by acceleration, and in the other it's represented by velocity.  Without splitting hairs over the differences between acceleration and velocity, I simply note that speed is directly related to a form of power.
     The importance of speed is something martial artists learn early in their training.  A fast strike, whether with a hand or a foot, generates more power than a slow one.  And, yes, there are lots of other variables -- your size and strength, the crispness of your technique, your stance, and such -- that we won't examine in today's post.   All the variables matter, but the key ingredient for senior self-defense is speed.  It can be a great equalizer if you are assaulted by a larger and stronger opponent.  I'll leave it to the short video at the end of today's post to demonstrate why speed is really important.
     An issue closely related to speed is the size of the striking surface.  Suppose you punch an attacker in the midsection.  If you strike with the entire flat surface of your fist, you'll generate less stopping force than if you strike with only two knuckles, which is the technique that is used in taekwondo and many other martial arts.  Concentrating all of your power on a smaller striking surface maximizes its effect on your opponent.
     A few posts ago I demonstrated two effective hand strikes that you can use in a self-defense situation.  You should review and practice those strikes.  But you should also keep today's post in mind: speed is critical to the effectiveness of your strike. 
     Next up is the short video.  Before you click over, take a look at this single blurred frame from the video, because you won't be able to see it at full speed . . . and I have no idea how to build slow motion into a YouTube
video.  Something else to learn.

     For the video, please click to The Power of Speed


Friday, June 1, 2012

It's called "the art of self-defense" for a reason

No matter what martial art you have studied or plan to study, one rule stands above all the rest: you're learning a highly refined art of self-defense.  The key word is "defense."  Never, under any circumstances, are the techniques you've learned to be used as offensive weapons. 
     Because so many young children are studying the martial arts these days, teachers from coast to coast are continually driving home the message that bullying others is forbidden.  The discipline of learning a martial art must carry over into life outside the training hall, and you must never use what you have learned in order to be the aggressor.  To do so would violate the most fundamental tenet of the martial arts. 
     But if you're 60 or 70 or older, the same rule applies.  If you're an active martial artist at, say, age 65, you're undoubtedly in better shape than most people your age, and you have acquired a body of knowledge that enables you to do some damage to an opponent.  You have also learned that modesty, restraint, and respect for your martial art require you to use what you know only for self-defense purposes . . . and then only if you can't walk or talk your way out of trouble.
     The higher your rank, the more humility you should possess.  This means, in part, not worrying about "losing face" by walking away from a tough-talking bigmouth.  Whenever you can walk or talk yourself out of a confrontation, that's the right thing to do.  "So why did I go through all these years of training?" you ask.  Simple.  No matter how much you seek to avoid conflict, you always run the risk of coming face to face with a situation that requires action.  And if the punch is coming toward your face, you need to respond quickly, as noted in my recent three-part "DO SOMETHING" posts. 
     Precisely how you respond to an actual attack depends upon two things.  The first is your psychological preparedness to defend yourself.  You need to KNOW, not just think, that you will not allow yourself to become a punching bag in the event of an assault.  The second is the depth of your martial-arts training.  Attaining a black belt does not guarantee that you can whip anyone who attacks you, but it certainly indicates that you will respond automatically when a fist or foot is flying in your direction.  The longer you train, the more automatic your responses become.  This is why a professional martial-arts school is vital to your development.  You will train with other students and learn what it's like to block actual punches and actual kicks under a controlled situation.  You can read about these things, but you'll never know what an attack is like until a fellow student actually attacks you under the watchful eye of a master instructor.
     If you have "retired" from your martial art or are just beginning to think about enrolling in a class, it's time to get moving.  The fitness benefits of martial-arts training are huge and well documented.  And the self-defense knowledge that comes with ongoing training can help keep you out of harm's way.
     Find a senior-friendly school near you.  Ask to watch a class before you decide to join.  And listen for words like, "This is all about DEFENSE."  A professional school is never a training school for bullies.