Friday, October 23, 2015

If You Attend Just One Tournament In 2016

Last month I urged readers to stay away from tournaments that don't respect seniors.  If the tournament doesn't offer a 60+ age division, don't go.  If it's a "WTF-style" event that for some reason eliminates one or more senior divisions, save your money.  Tournament directors should be promoting lifelong martial arts instead of "inviting" seniors to compete against 20-year-olds.
   This month I'm happy to point you in the direction of a tournament that treats our oldest and most experienced competitors respectfully.
      Black belt competitors 60 and over: no registration fee.
      Divisions for 60+ athletes?  Yes.
      Actual competitors who are 60+?   Absolutely.  The turnout was excellent last time, and the next version of this tournament will be even better.  The word has gotten out that this is a senior-friendly event.
   I'm talking about the 21st Annual Mercer County Nationals, to be held March 26th, 2016, at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.  Hats off to Master Ivan Mendez for once again putting the spotlight on senior athletes.  If you attend only one tournament in 2016, let this be the one.
    Show respect to those who respect you.  Hope to see you there.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Don't support tournaments that don't support you!

I try to keep this blog immune from martial-arts politics, because all I really care is about encouraging seniors to stay active.  My art is Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, but I'm on your side no matter what martial art you study.  Whatever it is, stick with it!
    But I can't remain silent about a topic that has become increasingly frustrating for me.  Too many tournament directors show no respect for the talents and aspirations of senior athletes, and today I'm urging you to stay away from tournaments that don't support us.
    Let me explain what I mean.  I'm 69, an active competitor, and the 2014 and 2015 USA Taekwondo National Champion in my division.  The last three words are key: in my division.  USAT and the World Taekwondo Federation offer a top age division of 66+, which means I'm able to compete on a remarkably level playing field with other guys who are no longer kids.  We train hard; we compete hard; and we love Taekwondo.  Thanks to USAT and the WTF, we're able to compete both nationally and internationally in some first-rate tournaments.
   That's the good news.  Here's the bad.  Most of the regional and so-called national tournaments that send me registration materials offer a top age group of, well, pick your number.   For some of them it's 18+.  For some it's 30+.  For some it's 50+.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically the tournament director is saying that if you're 73 and a serious martial-arts competitor, you can pay $50, $60, or even $70 to compete against people one-third your age.  Gee, what a bargain.
   Now I ask you, why would a tournament not offer 60-69, 70-79, and 80-89 divisions?  Is it the profit margin?  Let's think about that.  If you have a tiny, two-man division of, say, seventy-year-olds, you have to buy two extra medals, $10 each.  If you net $60 in registration fees, isn't that enough?  I think so.
   Or maybe the old guys are boring?  Hey, listen up.  If the folks in the stands can watch 5-year-old yellow belts spar, they can watch 80-year-old black belts do their forms.  In my experience the younger athletes are among the most enthusiastic about seeing the "old guys" do their thing.  And why wouldn't they be?  All of the young athletes will be old athletes one day if they stick with the program.  True?  Yes, true.
   How can any tournament director not see the wisdom of making an event senior-friendly?  How can you not show respect for athletes who in some cases have devoted 40 or 50 years of their lives to the martial arts?  How can you not feel honored to have some of these martial-arts pioneers out on the mat?
   I can hear it coming.  Some tournament directors will say -- and have said -- "Hey, 30+ means ANYONE can compete, including the old guys! The champion is the champion."  Okay, here's what I say.  If you believe that there should be only one champion, then stop offering age groups for the kids.  From now on let the 5-year-olds compete with the 18-year-olds.  Hey, they all get the same shot, right?
   To say that 18+ or 30+ or even 50+ is meant to include the seniors is absurd.  It's offensive.  It's disrespectful.  And this blog will no longer mention, much less advertise, a tournament that doesn't offer AT LEAST a 60+ division.  But I'll go one step better: if you sponsor a tournament that offers a 70+ category, I'll publicize the event here for free.  Just send me the tournament flyer, and I'll do the rest.

                                        Hats off to Master Ivan Mendez      
   Before leaving the topic of tournaments that accommodate seniors, I must mention the annual Mercer County Nationals held each March at Rider University in New Jersey.  The tournament director, Master Ivan Mendez, has made this one of the most senior-friendly events in the country.  I attend the tournament, and I support it fully.
   Here's why.  Master Mendez not only invites seniors, he goes out of his way to bring them in.  Last year he waived the registration fee for black belts 60 and over.  He offered both forms and sparring divisions for seniors.  And he even had a grand championship competition for the top seniors.
   Result: last year the number of senior athletes at this tournament doubled; almost all of those athletes have remained Facebook friends; and I expect the number of seniors to double again in 2016.
   I'll be writing more about the Mercer County Nationals as we approach the new year.  In the meantime, I salute Master Mendez for showing great respect for senior martial artists and for encouraging us to stay in the game.
   Best of luck to everyone.  Work hard.  Compete.  And please DO support the tournaments that support seniors.                      

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Where have all the old folks gone?

I'm writing this on the eve of the USA Taekwondo National Championships, one of the highlights of the competition calendar.  This year's event, which will host something on the order of 6,000 athletes of all ages, is being held in Austin, Texas, next week.  If you find yourself in town, plan to buy a ticket and check out some amazing talent.
   The talent in the older age divisions, I'm sad to say, will be in rather short supply.  Even though USAT offers age-specific poomsae [forms] competition for athletes of all ranks -- right on up to the 4th Master Division, for ages 66+ -- the number of seniors participating in this year's event is disappointing.
   The good news is that, yes, there are some older colored belts, yellow through red, participating.  This means that more seniors are taking up Taekwondo later in life and will eventually be competing in the World Class black belt divisions.  The bad news, though, is that seniors who already hold black belts seem to be disappearing from the competition trail.
    Taekwondo is not just for the young.  In fact, in many ways Taekwondo is better suited to the old.  Although Taekwondo certainly holds its own as a major competitive sport with an international following, it is more than anything a way of life.  It is a way of uniting mind, body, and spirit in a positive, meaningful, and life-enriching search for one's genuine self.  And its challenges and rewards remain active in your life long after your athletic capabilities have peaked.
   So this month's post is a plea.  If you hold a black belt but are no longer training, get back in the game.  And if you have never studied Taekwondo, visit a local school and take the first step toward a fulfilling lifelong enterprise.
   Now if you happen to be one of the few senior black belts participating in this year's USA Taekwondo National Championships, here's an interesting and instructive true story.  At a recent tournament I was, as is often the case, one of the few 66+ competitors, and because of that each of us was guaranteed a medal.  We just didn't know what color.  While waiting to perform, I overheard the parent of a teenage competitor say, "See how easy it is to get a medal?  Just compete in the 66-and-over group."
   Easy?  Well let's think about that.  It's certainly true that a 16-year-old competitor faces a greater number of challengers than someone who's 66.  But will that 16-year-old still be training half a century from now?  Will he or she still be competing?  Probably not.  Getting older happens automatically, but remaining fit enough to train and compete when you're closing in on 70 represents decades of challenges that have been overcome successfully.  Things like raising a family, holding a job, and overcoming health issues all work against the senior athlete, so there's nothing at all easy about being one of those few "old guys" who competes for a medal.
   If you're still competing at 60, 65, 70, or beyond, you have earned whatever medal you may receive, regardless of how many others stepped onto the mat with you.  Thousands of others could have competed . . . but didn't.  That makes you a champion, with or without a gold medal.
   Good luck, and good training.  Taekwondo for life!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Videotape Your Taekwondo Techniques

If you're reading this "Seniors" blog, you probably remember when filming yourself involved a movie camera, an 8mm cartridge, a projector, and a folding screen.  But you probably don't remember capturing your Taekwondo moves on film, because the process took much too long.
   Welcome to 2015.  Today you most likely own an iPhone or an iPad.  If not, a good friend of yours does.  And since videotaping your Taekwondo techniques is a two-person job anyway, call upon that good friend to play director while you play action star.
   We're now in June, and the halfway point of the year is an excellent time to assess your progress in  forms, or poomsae, as well as individual techniques.  It doesn't matter whether you're a beginner or a seasoned black belt.  Taking a hard look at your stances, kicks, strikes, and blocks always produces some useful feedback that will help you improve your Taekwondo skills.  And thanks to modern hand-held technology, shooting some video footage is quick and painless.
   Videotaping training sessions is something that most members of the USA Taekwondo National Poomsae Team do on a regular basis.  Even though a number of these team members are world champions in their respective age divisions, they realize that they can always improve something: the way the thumbs are held in a ridge-hand block; the speed and fluidity of a double punch; the foot position in a back stance; or the height of a side kick.  Eliminating even minor technical flaws can easily spell the difference between finishing first and fourth in championship competition.  More importantly, it can distinguish between the old you and the new you.  Taekwondo is about a lifetime of improvement, so you never outgrow the need for objective feedback.
   Why do videos help?  I offer two important reasons.  First, how you feel you're executing a particular technique is probably quite different from how you're actually doing it.  Example: we all sometimes feel that our kicks are sky high when, in fact, they're barely face high.  Even when kicking in front of a large mirror, you're likely to overestimate the height and speed of your kicks.  Watching a video can correct that misinformation.  You may not like what you see, but it's nice to identify problems in the privacy of your own home rather than in the center ring of a major tournament.
   Second, the nifty videos that an iPhone and iPad produce will allow you to zero in on particular frames and, if you wish, to print them out.  Why not capture your key problems in a series of still photos, then refer to them in the weeks ahead of a test or tournament?  Because we all have an infinite variety of techniques and combinations to master, we sometimes lose track of the movements that need extra work.  Tape a few pictures to your wall, and refer to them whenever you train.  Naturally, it may make sense to bring some of these photos to the dojang and let your master instructor comment on what he or she sees.  A little tough love never hurt anyone.
   If you're not videotaping your Taekwondo techniques, you're missing out on a simple but highly effective means of elevating your performance.  Before the year is half over, please shoot some video and see what happens. 
   Train well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Taekwondo After 65

No, that's not a misprint.  It's "Taekwondo After 65," not "Taekwondo After 15."  While it's true that many Taekwondo classes are comprised exclusively of teens and pre-teens, it's also true that a great many men and women over 65 are still active after 30 or 40 years of Taekwondo training while others their age are just taking up this rejuvenating martial art.
   As long as your doctor clears you for vigorous exercise, you'll find that Taekwondo can work wonders for your body and mind.  It's not quite a fountain of youth . . . but it's close. 
   If you're taking up Taekwondo for the first time or resuming your studies after a prolonged layoff, keep these two bits of advice in mind:
              1.  Set reasonable goals
              2.  Adjust to the biomechanics of aging.
   When it comes to setting goals, make sure you fine-tune your training schedule to accommodate both the length of time it will take to get in shape and the level of achievement you can logically expect.  If you want to join the U.S. Olympic team in six months, you'll be disappointed.  It ain't gonna happen.  No one 65 or older is going to be sparring on the Olympic stage, and no one at any age can go from a standing start to Olympic glory in six months.  But if your aim is, let's say,  to earn a black belt in three years -- and to get in wonderful shape along the way -- there's a reasonable chance you can get there.  You'll certainly get in shape.  Whether you earn the black belt on schedule is basically a matter of choice.  If you choose to put in the time and effort, you can probably succeed.  If not, you'll still be better off for all the work you've put in.  It's what you learn -- and not the color of the belt -- that matters.
   Throughout your training you must, of course, accept the realities of aging.  You don't need a medical degree to realize that athletes who are 65 and older face some challenges that kids 15 or 16 probably don't.  Even elite athletes begin losing something as they age, no matter how hard they train.  Flexibility, muscle mass, endurance, and quickness are among the numerous biomarkers that can be affected.  And at 65+ you may have joint or recovery issues that didn't affect you 50 years ago.  But, trust me, you can work around virtually any reduction in capability.  Just remember that you're competing with no one but yourself.  Taekwondo is about getting your mind and body in the best shape possible . . . and then maintaining that level to the best of your ability.  For how long?  Forever, naturally.
   Find a school that has a nucleus of adult students, and then speak with the master instructor to make sure he or she is prepared to work with someone your age.  You should not be expected to train immediately with a group of 30-year-olds.  But once you've grown accustomed to the program and carefully eased yourself into a better level of fitness, you'll most likely be keeping up with everyone else in the class.  You know your body best.  Set reasonable goals, and recognize that whipping an older body into shape takes some time.
   Good luck, and good training. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Inviting Seniors to this New Jersey Championship

An exciting new tournament is just around the corner, and, yes, there are separate divisions for Taekwondo seniors.  The First Annual New Jersey President's Cup Championship will take place on Sunday, April 19th, at South Plainfield High School.  And this could easily become one of the most important annual events on the New Jersey martial-arts calendar.
   One reason is that the tournament director is Master Kevin Vigneri, who is president of the New Jersey State Taekwondo Association.  If the name sounds familiar, that's because he's the same person who has successfully run the annual USA Taekwondo New Jersey State Championships.  In other words, we have here someone who knows how to organize a major event.
   Another reason is that the President's Cup will also serve as the official team trials for the New Jersey State Taekwondo Team.  Team members will represent the State in other 2015 tournaments.
   And finally, the President's Cup has made room for seniors.  In addition to all the usual younger age groups, the tournament features 41-50, 51-60, and 61+ divisions for older competitors.  And that's why I'm excited about this new event.  I'm tired of tournament directors limiting competition to the kids, so I will do all I can to support tournaments that acknowledge the value of keeping our most veteran Taekwondo athletes in the game.

   The President's Cup will feature competition in four areas:
          -- WTF forms (for competitors affiliated with the World Taekwondo Federation)
          -- Open forms (for all non-WTF athletes)
          -- Sparring
          -- Breaking
   Competitors will be grouped by age as well as belt color, from white to black.  And although the tournament will begin at 8:30 a.m., adult athletes won't have to check in until 3:00 p.m.  This, by the way, is a really big deal.  I'm sure that many of you have had the experience of showing up in the early morning, as required, and then not being called for your event until 5:30 p.m.  Thanks, Master Vigneri, for devising a better system.
   For more information about the First Annual New Jersey President's Cup Championship, you can click over to President's Cup online or email "MasterVigneri at"  [Use the @ symbol when emailing.  We don't show it here in order to deter spammers.]
   Hope to see you on April 19th!  Good luck, and good training.

Monday, March 2, 2015

On March 28th, a Senior-Friendly Major Tournament

One of my favorite all-styles tournaments of the year is the Mercer County National Karate Championship, held every March at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  And to celebrate the event's 20th year, Master Ivan Mendez has put together an outstanding program that includes special touches for seniors. 
   Black belts 60 and over compete for free and will be able to contend for Grand Champion belts, cash prizes, and a special crystal trophy for the Outstanding Senior Athlete.  But no matter what your age, this is a tournament you should not miss if you live anywhere close to Central New Jersey.  Rider University is easily accessible from all N.J. points as well as Metro New York, Philly, and almost any location with access to I-95. 
   For more information, including a list of ring assignments by age and belt color -- yes, ring assignments posted nearly a month before the event! -- please click over to The Mercer County Nationals.
   In case you missed it, I'm reprinting below an earlier message about the Mercer County Nationals.  Hope to see you at this exciting and important event.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Senior black belts compete for free

You just ran out of excuses.  If you're a black belt and are at least 60 years old, you can compete for free in the 20th annual Mercer County National Karate Championship, to be held on Saturday, March 28th, at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.  This is an outstanding event that offers a total of 145 separate divisions covering forms, weapons, and sparring.  And you should be part of it.
   While it seems that many, perhaps most, tournaments are pushing older athletes to the sidelines, Master Ivan Mendez is determined to make the Mercer County Nationals a comfortable home for the 60+ crowd.  And, yes, this is a really big deal. I'm 69, and I would like to compete well into my seventies.  But I have to say that the thrill of competing loses something when the top age group is, let's say, 35 or 40.  Competing against someone half your age just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
   Tournament director Mendez has been working hard for several years to attract seniors to the Mercer County Nationals.  His was one of the first tournaments in the area to raise the top age bracket to 60+, and his is the only tournament I know of that waives registration fees for black belt seniors.  "We're encouraging our most seasoned martial artists to come out, compete, and enjoy each other's fine talent," he says.

                            Above: some of the trophies awarded at the
                            Mercer County Nationals in recent years.

   By the way, a portion of the tournament proceeds will benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, widely known for its pioneering work in saving children with cancer and other catastrophic medical conditions.  Last year's tournament attracted nearly 450 competitors and 725 spectators, so this is an event that can do a lot of good for a fine charity while treating participants to a first-rate martial-arts experience.
   The Mercer County Nationals will feature competitors from a wide variety of styles, so whatever black belt you hold is your free ticket in, as long as you're at least 60 years old.  But it gets better.  The Ancient Warrior Society, an organization that honors an elite group of Taekwondo masters and grandmasters over the age of 50, will be providing an impressive crystal trophy to the 60+ athlete who is voted Outstanding Senior Athlete by the tournament's staff.
   If you're 60+ and still competing, circle the date and find your way to Rider University for this important tournament.  But what if you've already stopped competing because you got tired of being matched with 30-year-olds in every tournament you attended?  Well, you have three months to work on your technique, and that's plenty of time for a veteran black belt.  Ease back into training, and by the end of March you'll be ready to show your stuff against other athletes your age.
   Have questions about the event?  You can post them here, if you'd like, or you can contact Master Mendez directly at  But whatever you do, plan to attend!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Get serious, Taekwondo seniors!

If you're over 50 and wondering whether there's a place for you in Taekwondo, listen up.  Yes, there's a place.  It's called USA Taekwondo, an outstanding organization which the U.S. Olympic Committee recognizes as the National Governing Body for the sport of Taekwondo in America.  And, no, you don't need to be an Olympian to benefit from joining.  So if someone has suggested to you that Taekwondo is only for the young, please read on.
   One of USA Taekwondo's primary missions is to provide first-rate tournaments at both the state and national level, and this is where USAT really sets itself apart from the crowd.  In many, perhaps most, tournaments I attend, the top age group for competitors is often 30 -- and sometimes younger.  And, yes, there's a message in this: if you're "old," don't bother showing up.
   But USAT takes a radically different approach.  I compete in what's known as poomsae, also known as forms.  And USAT's top age group is 66+.  That's not a typo.  The top age group is 66+.  So if, like me, you happen to be 69, you don't have to compete against athletes who are 18, or 28, or even 58.  You can compete against athletes your own age.  And that's a really big deal, because most of us don't get faster or more flexible as we get older.  
   There are numerous USAT poomsae age divisions -- covering all belt ranks as well as both male and female competitors -- but those of primary interest to readers of this blog are the following:
         66 and over
    Notice that at the upper end of the age groups there's a bit of compression -- 61-65 and 66+.  This makes perfect sense, since the older you get, the more difficult it is to compete against younger athletesI look forward to the day when USAT offers an age division for athletes over 70.  This would reinforce USAT's loud, clear message to the entire martial-arts community: seniors are most definitely welcome here!
   By the way, if poomsae isn't your thing, you will also find age divisions for USAT sparring.  In this case, however, the top age group is 51 and over.  I haven't asked why this is so, but I suspect it's a reflection of the number of interested competitors.  While a great many senior athletes still compete in poomsae, most of us have retired from sparring.
   So what should you do?  Join USA Taekwondo, of course.  Here's an organization that is highly senior-friendly, sponsors annual state tournaments from coast to coast, and runs an impressive National Championship every July in order to select our country's international competitors.  Annual membership is only $35, and you can get all the info you need at USA Taekwondo Membership.

   AN IMPORTANT REMINDER:  For senior martial artists who live in or near New Jersey, don't forget about the upcoming 20th Annual Mercer County Nationals, to be held on March 28th at Rider University.  Thanks to tournament director Master Ivan Mendez, this has become an important senior-friendly event over the past several years.  And this year he has taken the friendliness a step further: all black belts 60 and older pay no registration fee.  How much more of an invitation do you need?  
                                        Outstanding Senior Athlete trophy   

   Also new at the tournament this year will be a crystal Outstanding Senior Athlete trophy sponsored by The Ancient Warrior Society, a non-profit organization that honors some of the country's most respected Taekwondo masters and grandmasters for their lifelong achievements.  Tournament director Mendez and his staff will be selecting the recipient from among the day's top senior performers.
   For more information on the tournament, please click over to Mercer County Nationals.
   The martial arts belong to all of us!  No matter what your age, it's time to get in the game.  I wish you much success in your training.                                               

Monday, January 12, 2015

Building a championship attitude

Let's begin today's discussion with two key facts: 1) not all champions have a championship attitude; and 2) you don't need to be a champion in order to possess a championship attitude.  If you're even moderately puzzled by these two statements, read on.
   Have you ever encountered or read about a champion who lacked a championship attitude?  Of course.  We all have.  In all sports and at all ages you can find gifted athletes who capture gold medals without ever living up to their potential.  They do just enough to get by, and they never seem to learn how to spell team.  And, yes, some of them even make it to the professional level, where they become frequently traded malcontents who blame their shortcomings on those around them.  You find these guys in the NBA, the NFL, and just about every pro team under the sun.  They're the woulda-coulda-shoulda crowd.  They would have, could have, and should have been great if only they had nurtured a championship attitude and pushed themselves to the limit.  But they didn't, and for that they blame everyone but the guy in the mirror.
    Fortunately there's another side to this coin.  We've all met or read about someone who was born without great athletic abilities yet whose accomplishments reflect an outsized championship attitude. A year ago I attended a New Jersey martial-arts tournament and had the incredible experience of watching a 50-something guy compete in both forms and weapons while sporting an artificial leg.  It gets better: at one point in his form, he removed the prosthesis, tossed it to the side, and did the rest of the form on one leg.  He would have been a champion in my book even if he hadn't captured two gold medals -- which, by the way, he did.
   But there are champions, many of them, who never win medals.  Some of them compete in tournaments, and some don't.  Yet they share some important championship characteristics.
     1.  They measure success not by medals or trophies but by personal achievement.   You know when, let's say, you've done your best form ever.  When everything comes together and you've done the best you've ever done, you're a winner.  You don't need a gold medal to feel like a champion.  You've done the best you could possibly do, and that's enough.  You then set the next goal and move on.  This is the mark of a championship attitude.
     2.  They applaud the success of others.  Honestly feeling good about the accomplishments of other competitors is more than just good sportsmanship.  It's a reflection of a championship attitude.  By respecting the hard work and talent of others, you acknowledge that all martial artists are part of something larger than themselves.  Another person's success doesn't diminish your achievements; it reinforces your commitment to your training and your personal goals.
     3.  They willingly share what they know.  When a competitor is willing to help you improve a technique -- perhaps showing you a more effective way to execute a particular form -- he or she is demonstrating a championship attitude.  The message is loud and clear: helping others master a martial art matters more to me than the risk of being outpointed.  Selflessness is the mark of a true champion.
   The secret to success in Taekwondo or other martial arts is really no secret.  Do the best you can.  Always.  You may never win a medal, but you can be widely recognized as a man or woman who always maintains a championship attitude.
   Here's to your success.