Old guys in the martial arts

Kris Wilder just put up a cool blog post about old guys in the martial arts. I liked it a lot. Go read it first and then the rest here will make more sense.


Ego in the martial arts.

I loathe egotistical and narcissistic bastards. The kind of guys who use their wit to rip into people, just because they can. Or those idiots who constantly have to prove they’re better/stronger/tougher/etc. than anybody else. I think that’s bullshit, but that’s just me. I’ve been told I’m a loner by a truckload of people so maybe I have a skewed vision here but: who cares what others think? I couldn’t care less about the opinion of some 21-year old who’s been training for five years and feels he needs to correct me on my technique or explain how wrong I am by spouting off a couple blanket statements. Those brilliant gems of intelligence like:

Expect to bleed in a knife fight.


The vast majority of fights go to the ground; it’s been proven!

It makes me want to give them a “Stupid!” sign and tell them to go stand in a corner.

What my teachers and those people I look up to say, that’s what matters to me. If they tell me I’m messing up, I’ll listen up and try to correct what I’m doing wrong. But anybody else? If they don’t like me or what I do, that’s not really my problem. I can’t please everybody.

I guess it’s an ego thing when people feel the need to prove themselves, even if nobody else thinks they need to do that. Just like the guy Kris mentioned with his picture of Joe Lewis. Who cares about that stuff? It’s not like you become a better fighter by having your picture taken together with a guy who kicks ass? Just like you don’t become any prettier by standing next to a supermodel. In fact, the opposite is usually true…


That old guy knows a few tricks…

And then you meet the proverbial old master. The man who’s been training hard for 50 or 60 years and to whom training is just a part of his daily life. It may have given him a lot of things:

  • Health
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-defense skills
  • Peace of mind

And much, much more. But to a large degree, what he can do in the martial arts is not who he is. His fighting skills are just a part of him, perhaps not even such a big one if you look at all the rest.

Case in point, my tai chi chuan teacher. He’s not in his ’80s just yet but he’s no spring chicken either:

He was a successful track and field athlete, competed at a high level. He’s been training martial arts for decades now and has been teaching for a long time. He’s both a good martial artist and a good teacher. On top of that, he’s also a good person. Ask any of his students: he always has a smile ready and patiently explains things to you (I should know because I’m a slow learner).  His own teacher says he’s a good man, so it’s not just me.

After more than ten years of training with him, his own teacher mentions something about art to me, because it came up in the conversation. Turns out my teacher’s a talented artist too. He just never felt the need to brag about it. But he’s really good, has been featured in galleries and was in the finals of one of Belgium’s biggest art contests. On top of that, he chose one of the hardest forms of making art: etching in zinc plates with a steel needle (give it a try someday and you’ll know what I mean.) And then he makes huge displays like this one here.

Patrick Couder

But unless I ask him about it, he doesn’t mention it, at all. Which is a far cry from having a picture in your wallet with some martial arts celebrity. And it’s an example I try to follow. Which is why I’m not overly impressed by some of the things I’ve done when other people are. Primarily because many others have done the same thing, but much better than me. But even more so because I don’t define myself in just those terms alone. Martial arts are an integral part of my life and personality, that is true. But they’re not the biggest part, not by far.

So if I can help it, I’ll eventually become the old guy who’s smiling and shaking hands at the martial arts tournament. So much better than being some guy who still desperately needs validation by others as he enters the twilight of his life.


Here’s part two of Old guys in the martial arts.



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  1. “Martial arts are an integral part of my life and personality, that is true. But they’re not the biggest part, not by far.”
    Yes! Thanks for spelling this out so clearly. Just two weeks ago I had a similar revelation. It was because of a conversation with a fellow martial artist. By now I am pretty sure that you can generalize this to other areas of life. However, I always was someone that was interested in a lot of different things, so this might just be the other extreme talking… :)

  2. That’s a good one! ;)

  3. Regarding old guys and martial arts, your readers may find this of interest:


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