Finding Your Way – Older Grapplers Should Consider Planning Their BJJ Journey To Achieve Their Goals

When I first started training in BJJ some six years ago now, my only plan was to survive. I was getting my butt whipped on what seemed a continuous basis every class.

Every night, I shuffled into the house and my wife would ask how my day was. After listening to my daily tails of woe for several months, she stopped asking.

Frankly, on the occasions when I called her from the emergency room, she did not seem overly surprised. Every morning when I got up from bed, I would kind of roll out horizontally, since a vertical stance just wasn’t happening at that point.

Some might ask why someone of an advanced age and purportedly sound mind would continue putting themselves through such a “meat grinder.”

Hard to answer, but I found myself spending an extraordinary amount of time during the day, and in the middle of the night, thinking about BJJ techniques, and how I could improve my status on the mats.

In other words, I was hooked, and there was no going back!

After about a year or so of training, it became readily apparent to me that there were certain things that I could do better while rolling, and other things that were a heck of a lot more problematic.

For example, from the beginning of my training, all the senior belts that I was rolling with told me that I had extremely strong grips. I really was not aware of what that meant in terms of BJJ, since I was so new to the game.

Also, I learned that when I was successful in placing an opponent in closed guard, they often had a very hard time escaping. Again, it took me some time to understand the importance of that ability.

On the other hand, things like open guard and “flying berimbolos” were an entirely different matter. Maybe some folks were successful at being sprinters and gymnasts, but I soon determined that I wasn’t one of them.

As I entered the blue belt ranks, I decided that one of the best ways to facilitate my continued progress would be to organize a BJJ training plan.

My plan would include what I had learned about my inherent abilities up to that point, would chart a course for me to follow along my BJJ journey and, ultimately lay out my goals and how I hoped to achieve them. I did just that.

It is my hope that some of the things I learned while drafting my plan, as well as implementing it, may be of some benefit to you in reaching your goals.

1. Be honest

We all have some aspects of our game that are stronger than others. Analyze yourself from a distance, as if you were a coach observing an athlete.

Do you move well? Are you strong? How are your grips and your hooks? What about your endurance, do you tend to “gas out?” Do you fight better from the top or the bottom. What about your takedown game? Are you coachable, or do you tend to go off in your own direction?

The questions are almost endless, but an honest assessment of your current abilities is really necessary before you can have any hope of moving forward.

2. Don’t focus on the negative

When we were young students in school, we would show our parents our report cards. We could have earned an A in seven of our subjects, but our parents would focus on that one C that we got in math. The questions would start, “Why aren’t you concentrating more?” “You are not trying hard enough.”

Look to your strengths, not to your weaknesses. At our stage of the game, it is likely that we are not going to become as fast or agile as twenty-five year olds, no matter how hard we try.

But, if we have long legs, how best may we use them? If our strength is good, how can it be used to our advantage? In my own case, since my grips are strong, I like to play with the “Lasso Guard,” and part of my plan revolved around its use.

While I am not suggesting you ignore your weaknesses, I have found that focusing on your strengths is likely to give you more “bang for your buck.”

3. Have short term goals and long term goals

Setting up a training plan that only includes goals that can be achieved after several years is really not a good option.

Most athletes (even us older folks) train much better with a combination of goals that span both shorter and longer periods of time.

For example, a short term goal can be to work on a new form of closed guard break over the course of a month until you can successfully use it in the majority of cases (nothing is absolutely fool proof). A longer term goal could be to win (or medal) in that local tournament next year.

4. You don’t have to advertise your plan to everyone

When I drafted my plan, I only let two individuals (besides my wife), know that I had one, my professor at that time, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, and my coach at that time, Alex Ecklin.

I organized my plan into a Power Point format, gave them each a copy, and asked them for any feedback they might have. I wanted them to know where I wanted to go, and how I planned to get there, but did not feel any need to let everyone else know.

To do so, may have made me appear arrogant and pretentious, which was the last thing I wanted. Nor did I want to reveal my “game plan” to all comers.

5. Update your plan regularly

Your plan should be a “living document.” As you evolve in your BJJ journey, your strengths, weaknesses, goals and timeline are also likely to evolve.

The output you hope to get from your training plan is to a great extent dependent on the continuous effort you put into it. Take it down from the shelf on a regular basis and evaluate if changes are needed.

I speak with my current Professor, Master Marcio Stambowsky, and current coach, Pedro Minc Baumfeld, at systematic intervals to determine if training changes are needed.

As always, I wish you all the best in your training and your life.

Tom Corrie
BJJ Purple Belt
2018 World Master Champion