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February 3, 2020

For much of our existence I believe many of us think we are immortal; the discovery this isn’t true normally comes gradually, especially if the thought pertains that the lifestyle one is leading hasn’t changed much in many, many years. The belief is constant that the same lethargy, same semi-hedonistic attitude, same substance abuse (whatever your poison!) has served well for ages and looks set to do similar favours for years yet. It flatters to deceive!


I was 61 when I looked seriously at the bathroom scales for the first time probably in this century and realised short, fat people like myself were not noted for longevity. What to do?

The internet helped and a series of combat disciplines listed before me. Despite a lifelong affiliation with rugby I didn’t want to punch anyone…and I certainly didn’t want to risk being punched! But what was this BMF thing??

It was local, affordable, uncomplicated and even had military overtones which would probably help with motivation when the day seemed bleak. I had to try the free session and arrived at Verulamium Park, St Albans at the appointed time one August evening, 2011.

“We muster here”, said our instructor, and about forty of us (with me the only newbie!) lined up for the class. “We’re just going to jog into the middle of the field (about 100 metres) to warm up” he continued. I looked at the task ahead. No bother, I thought and, as I was still refereeing rugby matches regularly, I knew I’d trot happily on with my new comrades. 15 seconds and about 50 metres later I had a new certainty…I was not going to get out of the park alive! My lungs seemed to drag along the grass and weighed as much as a railway wagon and I discovered there was a big difference between a leisurely stroll occasionally blowing a whistle and any form of sustained effort. The hour took an age! 

At the end, this was my Damascene moment: I was still breathing despite all evidence to the contrary! Endorphins buzzed through my system as I started the short walk home. So chuffed was I that signing my joining papers had seemed no problem. I hope not too many motorists saw my inane grin as I ambled up St Steven’s Hill.

I progressed and improved. Over the years I’ve learned that I’m very strong (for an old man!) and I still can’t stand running. As an old style front row forward, I can sprint ten metres very quickly; ask me to run into a different postcode and I have great difficulty raising any enthusiasm. Yet there are bad days and good days and happily the good far outnumber the bad.

Some things don’t change even when group membership does and that is the essential good nature of the people who choose to charge around their local park, sometimes carrying heavy weights or, even, each other! I don’t consider myself a miserable old codger (not yet anyway!) but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve turned up for class not in the best of humour. I fail to recall ever leaving the group without a smile. That sort of therapy is priceless!

Age is a big consideration in my case. I take an almost perverse pleasure in being the oldest male in our particular chapter and I would thoroughly recommend our choice of exercise to folks of my vintage. You will gain friendship and your fitness level may surprise you (eventually!) I would also like to pay a particular compliment to two of my fellow sufferers, Eva and Sandie, both of whom are fractionally older than me. The photo above shows these two ladies; the grim looking one in the middle is yours truly. When this pic was taken, our total ages added up to 204 years! It’s now better than 210 and we are still going strong!

I gained an insight a few years ago when a lady joined our group and she seemed to be a little reticent in fully joining in with her first few sessions. When I asked why, she said she didn’t want to join a group where she was the oldest. I reassured her she had some way to go before that happened and showed her the ‘three musketeer’ photo referred to above. One day, towards the end of the class, she was lagging behind on our final jog back to warm down so two of us trotted back to keep her company. Her pace quickened and she returned to ‘base’ with little trouble. “Thanks for getting me back”, she said. “We didn’t get you back”, I replied “YOU got you back!”

I’ve had various health issues over the years, some ongoing; that’s just a factor of age. Mind you, with what I’ve put my body through in the past, the surprise may be I’m still here to write about it! The thought occurred to me some time ago: what kind of state would I be in now if I wasn’t involved in a discipline like BMF? I’ve had great support from so many in our group during my “ups and downs” and I take much pleasure in thanking everyone who has wished me well and offered encouragement.

We all take a pride in turning out regardless of the weather; that’s a major part of what we do and why we do it. It’s not masochism (least I hope not!), it’s more a test of resolve. One of my fondest memories (at least in retrospect!) is of the time almost exactly three years ago when we carried out a perfectly ordinary class when the thermometer read -7C! You don’t get that feeling of achievement on a gym treadmill!

Our instructors keep us focused and provide a variety of exercises which would vex a rugby coach. They cope admirably with classes consisting of between two and fifty participants and seem to remain even-tempered throughout, a great professional outlook.

I can’t say our activities will suit everyone, yet we have a huge variety of folks of all different interests, lifestyles, sizes and ages who benefit from and contribute to our classes. You won’t know until you try. If you’re reading this and, like me years ago, you’ve come to a crossroads of whatever sort, come and meet us. Find out why we do the things we do. Then tell us!!

By Brian - St Albans Member


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