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Karate and Longevity

There is a saying that Shorin-Ryu instructors live at least to the age of 85. Of course, this is not always true, but there is a certain element of longevity assumed in Karate training. Is it true that Karate instructors live longer than the average person?

With respect to the Shorin-Ryu saying, you have to keep in mind that this is an old saying. Today, people live much longer than they did in the past. In Okinawa before World War II, a person living to the age of 85 might have been special. Today, I would think that many people surpass that age. In fact, many people live past the age of 100 in Okinawa.

In a recent Barbara Walter's special about longevity, it was mentioned that about 84,000 people in the United States are over the age of 100!

So living to 85 is not that extraordinary of an accomplishment today (it is a good thing, just not that unusual).

I can think of three reasons why Karate training might enhance longevity. The first has to do with self-defense. If a person uses Karate to save his life, his life will obviously be longer. If he did not know Karate, he might have died and had a shorter life.

I do not know of many Karate instructors who claim that Karate saved their lives in this manner. In fact, two instructors I asked about this, said that their lives were saved (or they avoided bad injuries) because of Judo. Both had fallen off ladders at work, and landed flat on their backs on hard floors. But their Judo training helped them to take a safe fall and only suffered bruises rather than broken bones.

The second reason Karate might enhance longevity is because it is a regular form of exercise. Tai Chi people often emphasize this aspect of their training. But is Karate exercise really better than other forms of exercise? If a non-Karate person were to spend as much time exercising as a Karate student, would the results be the same, worse, or better? I guess that it all depends.

I know some Karate instructors who are in excellent shape. I also know others who are in poor shape. Some of the later have suffered injuries during their Karate careers and now have weak or injured knees, backs, necks, etc. To the extent that Karate training results in long term injuries, it takes away from a good quality of life. That is why it is so important to emphasize safety in Karate training.

Lastly, Karate training keeps a person mentally active. This is especially true when a person teaches. It is intellectually stimulating, to learn, practice and teach Karate. I think that this helps to keep people mentally young and active. This has a positive effect on the person's health -- an active person is generally a healthy person.

But there are also negative mental aspects of Karate -- politics, ego, rank, titles, awards, etc. If Karate becomes negative, it can also have a negative effect on one's health.

I do not know whether Karate is the best exercise in the world. I would think that scientists could come up with some regimen that enhances longevity. But I think that Karate training is, or can be, an excellent form of exercise -- as long as it is not too severe. Some Karate instructors literally beat themselves to death by severe training. For what? If the objective is a long life and a good quality of life, these objectives must be factored into training.

I would like to suggest a new saying -- Shorin-Ryu instructors live to 110!

As a note, there is also a saying that Goju-Ryu instructors do not live long. I am not qualified to comment on this. Kanryo Higashionna lived to be quite old, while Chojun Miyagi did not. Who can say why? But if I were a Goju-Ryu student, I would want to consider how my training might increase or decease my longevity.

I do think that one key, of any form of Karate, is to learn to remain as relaxed as possible until the moment of impact (kime, kikomi, etc.). Karate students should be cool, calm and collected.


Charles C. Goodin