I believe a person interested in studying martial arts can start at any age. Because I am one myself, I have a special spot in my heart for brave souls who first step on a mat at mid-life or even in their golden years.
But there are a few things that we older late-starting martial artists need to keep in mind when we start training.
1) WORK YOUR WAY UP TO PHYSICAL CHALLENGES
It is not unusual for martial arts classes to be optimized for people in their teens or early twenties. That especially includes the physical fitness part of class.
You may feel like you either can't or won't cut yourself some slack - do fewer reps of an exercise, for example - because you don't want anybody to think that you aren't capable of doing what's asked of you or that you aren't willing to work as hard as the young'uns.
The thing is, you aren't in your teens and twenties. Pushing yourself to behave as one physically opens you up to risk of injury (more on that below).
As an aside: you might not know how to do the exercises being asked of you, so go ahead and ask for instruction on how to do it properly so you don't get hurt.
I learned that the hard way myself, when we were challenged to do a ridiculous amount of jumping jacks about two weeks into my martial arts career. I ended up straining my Achilles tendons in both legs and paid for it with not hardly being able to walk the next day.
So take your time and work your way up to the number of reps you've been asked to do, especially if you haven't been doing other physical fitness before joining the martial arts class. Talk to your instructor about the process of starting with fewer reps or slower and what's expected. If the instructor makes you feel bad or wrong that you're doing that - find another school, as that instructor is going to get you hurt and that's not worth it.
2) IT TAKES A LOT LONGER TO HEAL
All physical activity can invite a bit of strain or minor injuries. But when you are older, these small things you might shrug off in a day or two as a teenager might take longer than you expected, so be aware that you may have a longer period of recovery than your younger peers in class.
In the case of that strained Achilles tendon I mentioned above, it hobbled me for a couple of days and I was hurting for about two weeks. I have had nagging injuries to various tendons and whatnot that took weeks and weeks to heal, where I know that younger peers were better in a day or two.
3) ACCEPT YOUNG PEOPLE BEING IN CHARGE OF YOU AT TIMES
One thing that I found a bit irritating, personally, was people in their teens and early twenties being put into a position of authority over me. It felt... condescending.
You have to let go of the impulse to be irritated by "snot-nosed kids" bossing you around. That person may have been training since they were a small child and may have a decade of training under their belt.
In this situation, they're the grown up here, and you're the kid.
I got over this by thinking of it this way - I am helping them learn how to teach. Once I did that, having some 17 year old kid correct my stances over and over was far less bothersome.
4) YOU ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THE NEED TO PRACTICE
I have known many older newbie martial artists who just aren't practicing at home like they should.
It may seem impossible - work, family obligations, and other considerations and commitments make your schedule tightly packed. I get that. I have the same problem.
You must carve out time - 15 minutes a day, 30 minutes every other day - to practice something from your martial arts classes. It could be basics like stances or striking or whatnot. It could be working through your forms, if you have them.
Whatever it is, you have to practice it often in order to improve over time.
You and I already know this - we'd make our kids do it. But we have to make ourselves do it too.
5) DON'T WORRY ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK
When I first started, I was really worried about what other people thought about me. How good I am at what I was learning, if I was a "real" person of whatever rank I was, etc. I also worried what non-martial artists might think about my pursuit of my new hobby - is it weird? Do they think I'm crazy to acquire bruises for fun at such a late age? It was a considerable worry for me.
Let all that go.
Your journey is yours. Do not worry about or compare yourself to others, especially folks who have been in the martial arts since they were very young. You can't and won't look like them - and that's okay.
And for Pete's sake, who cares what anybody else thinks if you like the martial arts? It's FUN. Don't let other people not understanding it ruin it for you. It doesn't matter.
Lots of people start martial arts later in life, even if we are a minority in our individual classes. Hundreds, maybe thousands, every year. You're not alone.
So if you started late, or are thinking about starting late, I want to encourage you to keep training. It certainly changed - and I believe prolonged - my life, definitely for the better.
Do you have any tips for the martial artist starting out later in life? Let us know in the comments!