Under: karate, martial arts, Self-defense
11 Jul 2015


[Disclaimer: This post is speaking specifically about older men or women that find themselves being threatened with lethal force by younger men or women – so a true fight or flight, if fight… it is for your life – so no holds barred defense including is the ultimate response. I am not endorsing mayhem or killing in the course of a normal lower-threat self-defense scenario.]


Sadly I was disappointed while searching videos of old men (or women) fighting in perceived self-defense situations. Youtube is full of that kind of stuff nowadays due to cell phone cameras. So the real question, “Can older aged men (women implied also) train effectively for fighting?” really came to mind and spurred this post. I intend to frame this argument from the perspective of an old man trained  as fighter in his youth (my situation) in the martial arts of some kind. While my art is Kenpo – you could interchange almost any striking art with the same issues to overcome.


As a young man karate students are taught to avoid fights, walk away, deescalate and maybe even run away! This is all an attempt to avoid needless carnage for perceived slights and needless fights over quarters at the pool table (I don’t know where that came from). As a young man – hormones surge through ones body and everyone (men and women) are preening for each other. No one wanted to look weak and many did not let challenges to their man or woman hood go. They defended their honor! Even most martial artists ignored the advice to walk away and digressed to fisticuffs at the drop of a hat.


Well fast forward to late middle ages to the elderly and you will find many that the mind is still willing but the body does not respond so well. Even among martial artists (the subject of this article) you will find old men that will fight a younger man at the drop of the hat. I will argue that older men cannot fall prey to their youthful horrormones [misspelling intended] and actually have to use some of their fast dissipating grey matter and fight smarter at old age if they expect to win. It does not matter your rank or how many fight stories you can tell your children (grandchildren?) about what you could do in your youth! Them times is not now!!!


So please review the first part of this video about some common sense deescalation techniques that while all should consider – old men have to do in order to put up a reasonable defense!



The thing that is especially right about this video for the older martial artist – is you should not give up any of your tools. Let me repeat, “YOU SHOULD NOT GIVE UP ANY OF YOUR TOOLS! That means you already have life throwing in with the sand man to skew the odds in favor of the younger fighter – why let the attacker know you can fight? AND if you can talk your way out of a fight – that is a win for you? You got out of a dicey situation without a scratch.


But you may be thinking – the youngins thinks I cannot fight my way out of a paper bag! I’ve got news for you – the whole world thinks that old people are used up and cannot fight their way out of a paper bag. You’ve got nothing to prove.


But if you have to fight anyway – what you have done by trying to deescalate is give the young attacker a false sense of security – because if you are afraid – you cannot fight – you will be easy. Well I have learned one thing the hard way – talk is cheap and does not matter anyway. It only matters what you can do – if you have to do it. So ignore insults and try to back away from an attack – and if you have to mount a defense – you will have one more initial advantage.


Now how can middle and old age men that are martial artists train to fight? Firstly if possible – don’t stop sparring even if you have to shorten the round and increase the breaks. If you school only does kick boxing (heavy contact), ask for lighter contact (you know – you don’t heal like you used to – why get too banged up trying to sharpen your chops?). When I started martial arts – we did a lot of point karate and a bit harder in the school… that is semi-contact – meaning medium to hard contact to the groin and body and light contact to the head. With padding that is not too bad but I’d ask your sparring partners to use medium force to the  groin (use a banana cup) and body and light contact to the head. This is ideal  so you can still experience the timing, speed, tactics, and aerobic benefit of sparring to keep your fighting skills up in case of an attack!


But what else do you need to do differently? Depending on how you were taught – learning initial moment (so the first punch or kick actually hits something) is key. Remember almost how good of shape you are in – the younger fighter is going to be faster, stronger, and able to take more abuse then you are. Luckily most guys cannot fight. But you cannot depend on that especially if you are defending your life!


When I was younger I could and did fight up to 6 guys at a time. I had no problem attacking and moving in half-circles until I only had one or two guys facing me and attacking again. One of the fights was a running fight up and down a street to thin out the attackers before I attacked again. I won those fights and all of the fights fairly easily. I was in shape and understood initial movement as well as critical distance.


Well fast forward almost 40 years and you know that fight or flight response I was talking about? I cannot keep up with a younger man aerobically. No way so flight is not an option. So say I end fighting (in self defense for my life and limb) a younger marital artist in his prime. Can I win? Sure but I cannot be stupid.


So my order of defense tactics include [see disclaimer above]:

  • Avoid – avoid known bad situations like bars and drunken youth parties – you are no longer a spring chicken!
  • deescalate  –  I’ve seen too many fights over a quarter on a pool table – try to back away – let the instigator think you are afraid/show him some respect
  • flight – no longer an option for older men/women unless you were in a vehicle – don’t try to run – you will just be sealing the attack
  • surprise – always an option – especially if the attacker things you are afraid
  • be first – as with the old tournament days – no sense letting an attacker size you up – attack with overwhelming force/lethal strikes
  • lethal strikes – you opponent is at least 30 to 50 years younger than you – your only chance at survival is to take him out
    • eye shots – if he cannot see or eyes are watered – he cannot hit you effectively
    • groin shots – if he is in that kind of pain – you can take him out and have time to get away
    • if he grabs you – bite his throat – then poke his eyes – kick the groin – and have time to get away
    • if he grabs you – grab a finger and break – then kick him in the groin – poke his eyes to have time to get away


Keep in mind lethal – mayhem type of strikes (eye and groin strikes) are easy to do with initial movement if you opponent does not understand that (I would say most martial artists don’t understand that even though the late Joe Lewis taught that for years).


As a fellow martial artist I will only say to not only practice your traditional techniques/katas/ and sparring – but include some light bag work. The bag work should include mini drills that allow you to practice initial movement, critical distance and various combinations. I like to do bag work like the wind sprints of my youth – throw attacks at the bag in rapid succession and when I’m tired – walk it off for a minute – start over. That is not only an excellent workout but a way of getting ready for your “two minutes with anyone” that I often let my students know of my fighting ability now. I’m older and simply cannot recapture my youthful aerobic fitness. So I will have to depend on old age and wisdom to get me through any attack!


I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about old men training for self-defense.

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6 Responses to “Can Older Aged Men Train Effectively for Fighting?”

  1. StrykerToby Says:

    Hey John this is a great write up. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight. As we get older we need to structure our training accordingly.
    Some of us have injuries that keep us from moving like we used to.

  2. Dr. J Says:

    This is so timely for me, John! As you, I am older and very committed to recapturing my youth. Okay, I’ll buy a Harley for that, lol. As you, I am committed to being the best martial artist I can be. It’s a challenge being older, and the path has it’s ups and down for sure. Thank you for your sage advice, Sensei. I am complying with it!

  3. Kim Says:

    I know belief & faith will only get you so far in the fight game. I understand completely what you are saying here. So I believe I have the faith to achieve this current goal by working hard and doing as I am instructed. Fortunately I have a very skilled and wise instuctor! “The use of the head abridges the labor of the hands”

  4. Jim M Says:

    Good stuff, Sir.

    Personally for me along with – Avoid and Deescalate, other key components are Cognizance/Awareness. True, our reflexes are slightly slower and that ability to flee might be reduced in speed and distance. However, I dare say our minds are still pretty sharp and with age comes wisdom, so I would even say we can each still assess a situation quickly and accurately. Watch and listen or as I’ve told people, hear with your eyes and ears. (And keep your mouth out of the equation.)

    With all that passive dialogue said, I think you’re right – when it’s go time, do the job. Be fast, be effective, be efficient. I have no preconceived notion of delivering a spinning heel hook to the head, but I know I can take out a knee.

    As far as training with age – I’m a firm believer in stretching, cardio and moderate weight work. I shadow box/train regularly because I’m supposed to watch the impact to my damaged, aged shoulder. So while my bag work is limited, the muscle memory and reflex drills still keep the right reactions active.

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi John,

    Good stuff here, and very relevant for me! You are so right in saying sparring is important. It keeps the distance, timing, and flexibility up. Also, I am finding that BJJ is a game changer for endurance, strength, and complementing the stand up game.

    Also, us old guys have a lot less to prove, so much less likely to ever get into it in the first place. But beware, experience and treachery beat youth and strength every time!

  6. Ed Says:


    Glad to see you mentioned Jow Lewis.

    Even though Joe was in his sixties he was still someone to be reckoned with.

    We are never too old to hone the fundamentals and principles.