Achieving wellness through Martial Arts

Photo by Photo by Charlein Gracia - Accessed on Unsplash

Motivated by hunger in such a late-night hour, the then 27-year-old Gary Ng decided to go downstairs of his home in Calgary to grab a snack in the fridge. But as he felt the cold from inside the fridge, the next thing he saw was pitch-black.

He passed out.

Almost immediately, he woke up and items were scattered on the floor. Although still feeling a bit nauseous, he tried to go upstairs but in the middle of his steps, he fell again. His mother and his wife heard the loud thump on the floor and ran to his rescue.

Lying down, Gary could see the worried faces of his loved ones but as he tried to move his mouth or any part of his body, he suddenly realized he couldn’t. “It was like an out-of-body experience,” Gary recalled.

After a series of tests in the hospital, it was determined that what Gary had was called a Grand Mal seizure or what’s also known as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure. It is caused when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It’s usually a sign of having epilepsy but can also be triggered by extremely low blood sugar, a high fever or a stroke.

Talking about his experiences with his doctor, they have determined that Gary, earlier that year, unknowingly had a milder episode of grand mal seizure. But because the episodes were so far apart, they told Gary that he needed to be vigilant on having future episodes.

Now at the ripe age of 63, it has been several years since he last had a Grand Mal seizure episode, and he owes much of it to maintaining an active lifestyle and engaging in various Martial Arts, all the while being a financial accountant and a loving father to his family.

The Mauritius-born Gary is one of the esteemed coaches in the Champion’s Creed gym in Calgary. It’s a well-known Martial Arts gym with world-class facilities that specializes in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Wrestling.

Although he is usually seen teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in this gym, Gary is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to Martial Arts. He has years of competent experience in Hapkido, Taekwondo, Kenpo and Karate.

As people reach the ages 50 and above, the dread of old age inevitably comes along. According to Aleksey Belikov, a researcher on aging, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease are only few of the old-age associated diseases that exponentially gets worse as people grow old.

After moving to Calgary from the UK at around his early 30s, Gary stopped engaging in any kind of routine physical activity that he used to do. Because of that, his body and his health drastically changed.

His seizure incident became a wake-up call that it was time to focus on his health. “I need to take care of my body if I want to see my children grow up,” he said when recalling the incident.

But what has drawn Gary to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was what Roy Harris, his former instructor, had said in one of their seminars. Roy Harris said “You have to let go of power, speed and athleticism because as you get older, these are the very first things that go away,”.

Gary was already around his 50s at the time and has noticed that he was not getting any faster than his colleagues in his former gym. This was when he realized he needed to find a new avenue for being active.

“No matter how good you are at something, sooner or later age will become a factor,” he added.  But when he heard those words from Harris, it hit him. It made him feel safe and realize that there was still a chance for him to be physically active and fit in a way that his old age would not be a hindrance.

Only 1 in 5 adult, and older adult Canadians, achieve the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, based on the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, according to a 2013 report by Statistics Canada.

While it has been proven time and time again that being active reaps healthy benefits, most adults are reluctant to engage in physical activities mostly because of some perceived barriers that they have built for themselves. According to the National Academy for Sports Medicine, this can include fear of injury, depression and anxiety, being self-conscious and more. A lot of this comes from the feeling of not being good enough to engage in activities that require being active.  

With someone like Gary, he was fortunate enough that even at the current age of 63 he had found something that not only he enjoyed but also keeps him active.

Because of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in particular, Gary had maintained healthy relationships with his family and loved ones. He had also found a community where he is welcomed and well-respected, and more importantly where he feels safe and enjoyment.

Some people might also think that having a physical activity while maintaining a nine-to-five job will only diminish the value of the work that you put in. But for Gary, Martial Arts has become his outlet after stressful days at work. It was his insurance that he will go home ready to be a caring father and husband to his family.

Although because of his old age, there were also some things that he knew he couldn’t do anymore. But when asked about it he said, “I might not be able to do some of the things I’ve done before, especially if it’s in a certain intensity, but I am doing it. I am enjoying it and not a lot of people can say that.” He also added that people around his age should not compare themselves to others just because they might have lost some of their physical abilities.

“For me this [being a martial artist] is the meaning of happiness,” Gary shares when he was asked about how he looks at Martial arts. He also emphasized that Martial Arts has now become more inclusive. People from all walks of life, not so young, not so limber or agile, nor as fit as the stereotype martial artist, are now joining the Martial Arts community.

This might mean that many people of his age might be more encouraged to join it as well. In this fast-adapting society, many communities especially ones that deal the taking care of our physical bodies have created more avenues to cater people from diverse backgrounds, even the ones in the much older community.

As Gary had said, these people who had the courage to join something that can be intimidating and scary deserve more than just a pat on the back. “They deserve respect, encouragement and a helping hand,” he emphasized. When asked if he has a certain age in mind where he would stop engaging in Martial Arts, Gary answered: “For as long as I’m having fun, I’ll keep doing it; that’s what I always teach my students as well – to have fun,”. Gary’s persistence shows us that no matter what age, there is a different kind of joy in being active and healthy.