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On Being a Doctor-Recommended Balance Teacher

By Rochelle Brenner

I was talking to my friend, who is a world class orthopedic surgeon.

He asked how adult classes were going. I told him about the 75-year-old who just got her Black Belt. I told him about the 68-year-old grandmom who works as hard as all of her grandkids in class, and rarely misses a day at karate. I told him about the woman still kicking after pneumonia and a scary COVID hospitalization.

He asked what kind of training they do. I explained that what they do is physical movements that make sense for their bodies. They get stronger, faster and improve their balance by doing blocks, stances, low kicks and other traditional martial arts movements.

“Balance?” he asked. “Can you do balance training?”

“Yes, that is what I do. To kick you have to stand on one foot.”

He said that there’s a huge need for balance training right now and he sees that frequently in the medical world.

He told me to look it up. Here’s what I quickly found from the CDC.

  • Deaths from falls went up 30 percent since 2007.

  • Doctors and therapists recommend strength and balance training to avoid falls.

  • Over 800,000 people are hospitalized every year for fall injuries including hip fractures and brain injuries.

The doctor explained that if there’s anything he could do to improve the lives of older adults, it would be to encourage them to improve their balance. He said that the impact of falls is devastating. He hears about functioning, healthy people and they fall, and it’s the beginning of the end. Sometimes it’s a matter of weeks. If they could avoid that fall, they’d potentially live better, longer.

Then he added, quite humorously, “Why do you even teach martial arts? You need to be a balance teacher.”

“I am. I teach balance and student balance improves. Even their doctors say their balance improved,” I said. “It’s challenging. We coordinate left and right, both hands and feet, changing directions, it’s all there.”

“Yes, but, martial arts is intimidating for older people. The uniform, memorizing the moves, the bowing. Forget all that. Teach balance.”

My mind quickly flashed to all the older people who laughed at me when I invited them to train in martial arts. “Oh, I’m too old. I could never do that.”

None of my protests or attempts to allay their concerns worked. They see kids doing karate and don’t see it as accessible.

So I took my friend’s advice. I put up a Facebook ad with the stats on falling and invited people to Balance Training through Martial Arts. No requirement for a uniform or bowing … at least not in the beginning. Just older people with limited movement committing to learn to move better in their daily lives.

That ad got 500 likes. I think this struck a nerve, a need, that wasn’t being served.

The balance-based session starts Saturdays in March. You can register here for in-person classes or on Zoom. Private lessons are also available.

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