You probably read the title of this article and the first thing that came out of your mouth was “Yeah, but … [insert seemingly valid reason why you’re too old for wushu here] … “.
Recently, while taking a few old articles out of the Wushuzilla and Wushu Adventures attic and republishing them here on the website, I noticed that a very common question (especially on the “An Approach for Beginners Starting Wushu” article) goes something like this:
“I’m XX years old. Is it too old to start wushu?“
“I’ve been training for XX years but now I’m XX years old and I think I’m getting too old for wushu.“
Here is the tldr; for you: You’re not too old to start/continue wushu.
But, naturally, the reason I say this goes a bit deeper.
As Simon Sinek’s book title says, it is important to always “Start with Why“.
Your purpose for doing wushu is the key to determining whether or not wushu is right for you. Why did you start your wushu training? Why are you training now? What are your goals with wushu?
I’m going to quote myself by reposting an (edited for clarity) reply I gave to Alex, a commenter here on the blog. He trained wushu earlier in life and took some time off. He started up again at 21 years old and asked if I thought he should continue training or if he had a chance of reaching a “respectable level”.
My reply to him was …
“I think the real question is, do you enjoy practicing wushu? The truth is, that is the only thing that really matters. If you enjoy it and you find it fulfilling, then practice. If you don’t enjoy it and don’t find that the challenge of wushu is something that you want to have in your life, then you might want to find something else to do.
The tricky thing is that having a goal is, by its nature, temporary. Once you reach a goal, then what do you do? There needs to be an underlying interest or passion for wushu that will keep you practicing through the difficult times or the times when you don’t have a specific goal.
Also, “respectable level” is sort of a vague thing. So, how you define “respectable” will determine whether or not you can reach it. But at the end of the day, if you peg your desire to reaching a specific level then you might not enjoy your practice of wushu. But if you already enjoy the process of training in wushu, then no matter what level you reach, it will still be enjoyable. “
What is your why?
For the time being, let’s put the issue of age aside.
Most of us aren’t professional athletes in China so our livelihoods don’t depend on training at a world-class level or reaching a specific competitive rank. That means our “why” for wushu is probably intrinsic, not extrinsic. We train because we choose to, not because we have to.
And if that is the case, then what is your intrinsic motivation for doing wushu in the first place? I would wager that the majority of people reading this started wushu because they fell in love with some aspect of the art/sport. Aesthetics, culture, artistry, athleticism — whatever the reason, it put a fire in you to start wushu and begin this (often incomprehensibly brutal) sport.
If you haven’t started training yet, then I’m also going to wager that you probably want to get started because something about wushu appeals to you. There is something about wushu you really like (even if you can’t specifically put a finger on it), so you want to do it.
How is this relevant to the issue of age? Well, because if you do something because you love doing it, then the age you are is secondary if you still enjoy what you are doing. If you love going for long drives, will your ability to compete at the Indy 500, or becoming a rally car driver affect that feeling?
Often the “why” you do something creates situations where you come up with specific goals. But when your goals start to define your “why”, then the tail is starting to wag the dog.
Your Goals vs. Your Why
It is relevant (and probably redundant) to mention that having a “goal” is not the same as having a “why”.
A goal is a specific destination. A why is more of an emotional journey or deeper purpose.
In other words, you reach a goal, but you express a “why”.
One could even say that the goal is an expression of your “why”. But of course it is only one of many possible expressions.
A goal is temporary. Once you reach it, you no longer have that specific goal. But a why can be eternal. It is the entire purpose behind why you do something in the first place.
Also, you can have many goals along the path to fulfill a specific “why”. But it less common to have several “whys” along the path to achieve a specific goal.
This is why I generally don’t consider my goal nearly as important as my “why” or purpose, because the purpose is related to my overall emotional commitment to doing something, but a goal is one step along that continuum.
If your goal is to make $100,000 a year, would you stop working once you reached that goal? If you loved your job, or if it fulfilled a deeper purpose in your life, you would keep working even after that specific goal is met.
If your goal is to compete at the World Wushu Games, would you stop training in wushu if you achieved that rank? If you loved wushu, you would keep training regardless of how you did in competitions.
The How of It All
Now, of course, how you train might adjust or adapt over time. Often the “how” depends on the specific goal, even if the “why” is always the same.
for example, if your “goal” is to qualify for your national wushu team, then you will probably have to train for the requirements of that goal. How you train would be different than if you were training for a demonstration or performance.
And, if your “goal” with wushu is to reach a specific level or accomplish a specific competitive rank, then your age does play a factor in whether or not that goal is attainable. But that is just one goal and there is a specific method (or “how”) to achieving that goal, and this doesn’t change your overall “why”.
In my opinion, the goal of wushu shouldn’t define your desire to train, it should only define your method of training and your focus while training. Goals are good motivations to maintain a certain level of focus or intensity. But often those aren’t sustainable in the long run.
The purpose of goals and motivation
But that’s okay. Wushu doesn’t have to be about bringing 110% intensity to every training session. That is a great way to burn out. I’ve written in the past about how motivation isn’t a good thing to rely on to keep you going with your wushu training.
I like to think of motivation and goals as tools to help you along your journey of being a lifelong wushu practitioner, rather than the reason why you practice wushu in the first place. As a result, I tend to be happier about my time with wushu over the long run.
In my life, I have a lot of times where I don’t train in wushu and a few times where I’m more intense with my focus in wushu training. And I learned to stop beating myself up about the natural ebb and flow of my enthusiasm.
The times away from wushu make me appreciate wushu much more. And my times of training in wushu is always much more enjoyable when I feel that I am there because I love to be there, and not because I’m focused on a singular goal.
The question isn’t really if you’re too old to start or train in wushu.
The real question — at least for me — is, “are you too old to love wushu training”?
And to me, the answer is most definitely “no”.