Over the last few weeks, I’ve posted several articles about some of the things I’ve learned through my participation in BJJ as an older grappler.
It has been so very gratifying for me to hear from many people all over the country, and frankly, from some other countries, relating to me their experiences as older students.
Along the way, several folks have let me know that they were discouraged at this point in their journey and considering stopping their training altogether.
Consequently, I spent some time thinking about the issue and have listed some of my conclusions about it below. Hopefully, my reflections will help those practitioners wrestling (no pun intended) with the decision.
1. You are not alone
I believe many of us have to deal with the “go or no go” decision many times along our journeys. The first time it happened to me, I was a white belt and had been training for about four months.
I was rolling with another white belt who I will call John. John was 22 years old. He was a personal trainer who looked like he was cut from stone. He was fast as a cat, and very agile.
We were about the same weight and height, but he was 43 years younger than me. One day, John submitted me from behind 5 times in a 6 minute roll using pretty much the same move every time.
I walked off the mat that day not being sure if I wanted to ever come back again. I am fairly stubborn by nature, and really don’t like the idea of quitting something before I’ve reached my goals.
When I considered the roll with John, I realized that I allowed him to play his open guard game, a game in which I could never match his speed. I have good strength and determined my best chance with John would be to keep him in closed guard, make him play my game, and slow him down until an opportunity for me to go on the offensive came along.
That game plan made all the difference. I am still training, John is not. We all have self-doubts, bad days, and sometimes bad months! If at all possible, stay the distance and look for the light at the end of the tunnel!
2. Try to minimize the times that you really place yourself in harm’s way
BJJ is a very physical activity. In the general course of training, at any age, there exists the possibility of suffering an injury. Numerous and prolonged injuries tend to take the “wind out of our sails,” especially as older grapplers.
As I noted in a previous article, choose your training partners wisely. If someone is getting out of control, stop the roll! Don’t let your ego get in the way. Also, tap early and tap often.
I recently read an article by one of the world’s top no-gi practitioners who said that in an average training session he taps about a dozen times. He is trying out new moves all the time, and doesn’t expect that they will work from the get go.
I have had my share of injuries along the way, many of which could have been avoided with a little more prudence on my part. As a white belt, I was rolling with a younger, heavier fellow who didn’t like the idea that he couldn’t open my closed guard.
As a result, he stood up and “body slammed” me to the mat. Had I had a bit more experience, I would have realized that if I had opened my legs as he started to lift me off the floor, the whole incident could have been avoided. By the way, I didn’t open my guard even after the body slam (stubborn).
3. Consider some private lessons
Although they can be expensive, and most folks can’t afford a limitless supply, judicious use of private lessons when you feel the need to “jump start” your training can be very beneficial. I’ve found that they can give my training a real pick me up since as an older grappler who has certain limitations I often need to have moves customized for my use. I remember coming home from a private I took with Marcus Tinoco on Lasso Guard and telling my wife what an incredible learning experience it was!!!
4. Consider a managed break
If you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, consider taking a managed break from BJJ training in which you abstain from rolling, but continue your off-mat training activities. Giving your body a chance to heal, and your mind a chance to reflect on where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you would like to go can do wonders for your morale. Have a definite time period in mind. Don’t make it too long. Two weeks will usually do the trick!
5. Don’t compare yourself to others
We are all on different paths. One size does not fit all! Draw up a plan based on your needs and goals. Tell your professor your thoughts and ask for his or her recommendations regarding how to move your training forward. Including them in on what you would like to achieve, and asking them for their guidance greatly improves your chances of reaching the “promised land” and shows them the respect they are entitled to.
6. Remember when you were young
Rolling on the mats, often with much younger folks, allows us to relive the joy we felt in challenging physical activity when we were young!!! It acts as a type of “fountain of youth,” for both our bodies and minds. Win or lose, the benefits inure! Be loath to give those up!!!
As always, I wish you all continued success in your training!!
BJJ Purple Belt
2018 World Master Champion