Over the years, since I started BJJ I have had numerous conversations with older grapplers with respect to their concerns regarding entering a BJJ competition.
After getting past the initial hurdle of embarking on a course of BJJ study at an advanced age, the next question an older grappler often faces is: Do I need to compete to get better?
The answer I believe is clearly no. Many folks enjoy the benefits of the BJJ lifestyle without feeling the need to compete. Still there are some older practitioners who would like to compete, but are reluctant to “pull the trigger.”
For those folks, I’ve listed some of my reflections on the matter below.
1. Don’t let others place limitations on you
In many cases, your contemporaries, and sometimes your family and friends, will not understand why you feel it necessary to engage in such a vigorous activity as BJJ when you are older. Listen to your “inner voice”. Don’t let their potential misgivings keep you from pursuing your goals.
2. Don’t place limitations on yourself
Believe in yourself! We have all faced difficult situations by this stage of our lives, and come out the other side. If it is what you want, go for it!
3. No man (or woman) is an island
While BJJ is often thought of as an individual athletic activity, I’ve found that simply is not the case. As BJJ participants, we are dependent on our professors and training partners to continue and progress in out chosen activity. Let you professors know of your competitive aspirations, and work with them to devise a competition training program for yourself. The same can be said of your training partners. Let them know that you plan on competing and work with them to help you prepare for the competition. If they are not willing to do so, then find new training partners! When it is their time to compete, be sure to pitch in and help them.
4. You don’t need to know 10,000 techniques to compete successfully
Most competitors seem to focus on a limited number of techniques in competitions, their “A” games. As older grapplers, we often face limitations on the techniques available to us. That is OK. There is a famous Bruce Lee quote that goes something like this: “I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In preparing for a competition, chose the techniques you want to focus on and practice them endlessly. This doesn’t mean not to be aware of other possibilities, just don’t let your lack of clear mastery of those techniques prevent you from entering a competition.
5. Practice your stand-up game
BJJ competitions begin from a standing position, while most schools start students rolling from their knees. A student who intends to enter a competition must train their take-down game, as well as become very familiar with techniques to safely pull guard. Defenses of take-down attempts, as well as attempted guard pulls, should also be addressed.
6. Prepare like a professional
Professional and Olympic caliber athletes do not go “all out all the time.” Working with their coaches, they plan a schedule leading up to a competition. The training gradually increases in intensity over a period of time, and then decreases in intensity over the last couple of weeks prior to the competition. In that way, the athlete has “something in the tank” left for the day of the competition.
7. Have a plan
Competitors who have a plan for a match generally fare better than those who just “wing it.” While things won’t always go exactly according to your plan, having one gives you more confidence and allows you to function more effectively during a match.
8. Know the rules
BJJ matches at the masters level are pretty short. Often, they are only 5 minutes in length. A firm knowledge of the rules can be extremely beneficial during the course of a match. For instance, when I first started competing I was not aware that the opposite leg had to be extended when you were on top of your opponent in a knee on belly position before the referee would award you the points. That knowledge allowed me to win a match I otherwise would not have. Most masters level BJJ matches are decided by points, not submissions.
9. Fear and anxiety
All of us experience fear and anxiety as the time for us to get on the mats approaches. Perhaps the levels of these feelings are increased in masters competitors since it may have been many years since they attempted anything as stressful as a BJJ match. Focusing on the entire process of the match, rather just on the potential outcome may provide some relief. Also, once the match has started, I’ve found that I am so involved in the movements of the match, that much of the fear and anxiety I felt prior to the start of the match has greatly diminished. I think it is safe to say that just about every master has overcome some very difficult situations in their life. Keep everything in perspective. A BJJ match is important to you, but it pales in comparison to the importance of many other aspects of your life!
I have had older individuals approach me about their concerns that it may be somewhat difficult to be successful in masters grappling competitions without the use of some form of pharmaceuticals. All of us older folks no longer are blessed with the amount of hormones we had flowing through our bodies in our twenties. Frankly, its just the natural order of things. I’m sure there are specific medical situations that require such things as testosterone replacement therapy, but prevailing in a BJJ competition certainly isn’t one of them. Taking any form of drug merely to gain an athletic advantage (not talking about Tylenol, Advil or Aleve here), particularly in a combat sport where our opponent’s physical safety is at risk, is simply unethical!!! Moreover, any master contemplating entering a BJJ competition should not let their concerns about drug use prevent them from pursuing their dreams!!! Rather, work within the BJJ community to eliminate the problem!!! We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard, leveling the playing field for everyone!!!
I wish you all continued success in your training!!!
BJJ Purple Belt
2018 World Master Champion