You Ain't What You Used to Be
Face it: you're getting old.
Not just you, but everyone. Including me. But after reading my awesome summary of martial arts and learning about everything you've ever wanted to know, you decided to choose one. You're training. You're finally pushing hard, and doing better, but oh God why does it hurt even when you don't go that hard?
And yes, it hurts, but hurting is good, right? It means you're getting stronger, right? Not always. Especially not if you're an older adult who has obligations outside of whatever workout you're doing. You come home from training, and your joints hurt for days. You spar hard, you train hard, and you even fight in tournaments (yes, I'm projecting), and sometimes you feel like it's just too much for your brittle bones.
Yes and no.
While it's true that training in your 30s and beyond requires different strategies and thinking than being one of the hotshot kids/teens, there's a lot of opportunities for "adults" to be perfectly good martial artists in their own right— as long as they accept that they will not be 21-year-olds full of piss and vinegar on the mat.
RICE Isn't Just a Carb
Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Those four words should be your mantra if you're an adult athlete, and the same goes for martial arts. There is no escaping the fact that as we get older, our bodies just don't recover like they do when we are young. That doesn't mean that we can't work hard, push ourselves, and even achieve greatness... it just means we have to take a different route. Making sure to make a prolonged cooldown as part of your routine is part of getting stronger. There is no shame in taking a rest day, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either 18 or doesn't understand the basics of physiology.
Icing every time you work out hard will not only help you to recover faster, there's also evidence it helps you to hurt less as you recover. If you only do one thing, I recommend making it icing. Yes, it hurts, and yes it's a pain, but you will thank yourself later.
Also, and I mean this seriously: don't be afraid of the occasional ibuprofen dose. Reducing swelling and being out of pain is a helluva lot better than sitting in agony the next day. Anyone who tells you that you have no choice but to accept hurting is probably just some sort of ascetic anyway.
Accept Who You Are and Build on It
This one admittedly took me years. I had a hard time not comparing myself to the young fighters who fought like young fighters. I was always bothered by not being able to kick as high or keep my stamina up for as long. Now I accept that I'm just who I am, and there's no shame in it.
Sure, I can feel bad every day that I'm not a really flexible high kicker, or that I don't have the speed and explosive power of the resident 20-something wunderkinds, but I also have a full-time job and obligations. We do what we can with what we've got. Be happy with being you, and the rest will follow.
For me, this has meant focusing on being a mean puncher with occasional low kicks and body kicks to keep the opponent off guard. Those fancy high kicks? Not in this lifetime for me, at least. Is it perfect? Nope. But I'm also not aiming to be perfect. I'm aiming to be the best possible me.
Don't be Afraid to Say "No"
I don't mean saying no to trying to improve or even trying out a martial art (say yes to that!), but don't be afraid to say no to instructors who ask you to do something that hurts or you just don't feel comfortable doing. If you hurt, don't be afraid to say, "Gotta sit this out today." There's no shame in listening to your body. Knees hurt? Avoid exercises that hurt them. Hips hurt? Focus on low kicks. You get ONE body. Don't let anyone ruin it for you. If your instructor can't understand this, then you need a new instructor. Seriously.
It's a Marathon, not a Sprint
Yeah, I know, how cliche. But it's still true! So many people have come and gone in my dojo who have given up after a few months because they go way too hard, get injured, and can't stick around because of those injuries. Don't waste the rest of your life on trying to win the race now— because you will lose. If you start in your late-20s/early-30s like me, you will never catch up to the people who started as teens. It just won't happen. So get on your own path and keep jogging. That's all there is to it.
Also note that this can apply to anything else (except for sprinting). You want to get good at something? Expect it to take a while. And yes, it's even harder when you're older (pesky time and less-plastic brain and all that.) But so what? Because after all...