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Is There an Age Limit for Learning Karate?

Usually, when someone approaches the dojo and asks if they can start practicing despite their age, the sensei automatically repeats that there is no age limit to start learning. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about some practitioners who started on this path after their 40th birthday, for example, and who managed to master the art to reach the coveted black belt. Amazing and motivating! But not everyone is able to trust the experience of someone else who could, they need scientific information to back it up. Investigating a bit about it, this finding arose: There is a graph called cortical homunculus that represents the parts of the brain that govern our body. There are two types, one response to the sensory part and one to the motor.

A neurosurgeon doctor named Wilder Penfield, ran studies on this graph, a long time ago, in the 50s. At that time the surgeries in the brain were done without any anesthetics since the use of total anesthesia was very risky and the brain tissue is not sensitive to pain. So, a local anesthetic was applied to open the skull of the awake patient while the surgeon performed the surgery.

During this type of surgery, Dr. Penfield stimulated different parts of the brain using small electric shocks and consulted the patients about what they felt, this allowed him to know where he should operate. This way the patient recounted different sensations ranging from seeing lights, hearing certain sounds, smelling something in particular or feeling tingles in different parts of the body.

With this technique, he managed to create a map of the brain and the physical regions that each zone reigns. Nowadays, scientists continue to delve into this research through transcranial magnetic stimulation, obtaining excellent results and high accuracy. Based on this knowledge about the body and the brain, a group of scientists conducted an investigation back in 1995 and developed a document called “Modulation of muscle responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation during the acquisition of new fine motor skills”. In this work, they designed an experiment that made possible to map in more detail the area of the brain destined to control certain movements.

With this work, they showed that even adults show plasticity in different stimulated brain areas after a few days of practice. Demonstrating that something so simple as practicing any activity, over time will cause the portion of the brain destined for voluntary muscle movements to grow, this work for any kind of motor activities like learning to play an instrument or practicing karate. Hence greater areas of the brain are stimulated, therefore, the greater will be the plasticity of the cortical motor areas in adults. The brain of an adult, regardless of age, is not closed to mastering new skills. The only difference is that an elder may need a little more time to master certain movements naturally.

For those who don’t do any physical exercise regularly or have been sedentary for a long time, they should remember to start slowly, listening to their bodies to avoid injuring themselves. Nobody is too old to start this activity. So if you couldn’t start as a child, don’t regret it… You can start now!

Posted In Blog, Karate

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