3 Ways to Train Safely in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as You Hit Middle Age

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One evening I dropped into the academy for one of my training sessions. While sitting on the mat I had a chance to observe the students rolling; particularly the ones with the peppered grey hair. I wanted to see how they handled the younger faster students. The older students who were heavier often overexerted using mainly what I term as “old man strength”, this helped them survive the roll against lighter opponents. However, when matched with the younger athletic twenty year old student in the same weight category or higher, the results were not as favorable. Without understanding proper leverage the older practitioner not only gets tapped more often but can risk injury.

There is a term used during sparring by strikers such as boxers which is, you hit as hard as you want to be hit. This rule of thumb is often respected during sparring although there is always one person who decides to go a little harder. This leads to their training partner equaling their intensity leading to complaints such as you are going to hard. Well, if you don’t want to go hard then respect the rules otherwise don’t complain.

The problem here for all practitioners of the combat sports is you cannot be young forever. Everyone gets old someday and father time will rob us of our youthful physical skills. The only time an old guy gets stronger with age is in the kung fu movies. They always beat up all the young guys, even 20 at a time! In real life, not so much. However, occasionally it happens but the odds of it happening are very low. One does not have to look to far for evidence as we see legends such as BJ Penn, Randy Couture, or Chuck Liddell fall victim to father time.

So what is left you may ask? Well you could lift weights to add more strength but that really will not compensate for bad technique. You can go harder during rolling sessions but you will incur more injuries. I want you to think about this wisely, many of the students I’ve seen practicing martial arts in their twenties rarely practice past their thirties. By the time they hit their forties there is a sharp downturn. Even at this stage many are crippled by some long term disability, osteoarthritis, scar tissue from multiple knee surgeries, aches and pains that last throughout the day. Never mind students in their fifties and up, I can count on one maybe two hands on who is still training.

The problem for me is getting through to these young guys to take care of their bodies before it’s too late.
So what is the long term solution? I’ve outlined some of my findings which have kept me training and feeling youthful at the age of 47.

1. Adopt a Personal Growth Mindset

Change your view of rolling from a competition win at all cost mentality to a learning self-discovery perspective. A rolling session to me is like playing a casual tennis game with a friend. You volley back and forth occasionally hitting the ball into places which forces your partner to work for the points. It is not an all-out war. This time should be used to analyze your mechanics, your opponent’s tendencies, how you react to change, and to create new solutions.

When two people go hard for the entire roll, nobody learns anything. Especially for the older practitioner and recreational participants who come train for health and wellness. All of the sudden the rolls no longer become fun as a result they drop out.

2. Tap Soon and Tap Often

We use this moniker a lot but many don’t follow it or are reluctant to do so. It is not the end of the world if one does tap. It is certainly not shameful if you tap to a lower belt especially if they are a competitor or not. I can say this with great confidence, there are probably world IBJJF purple belt champions from the adult division who can tap me. Does that mean I’m a lesser of a black belt? No not at all, I still have more experience and knowledge then they do. Remember what I said about everyone gets old. Think about this for a moment, the UFC champions can probably kick the crap out of their coaches but why do they still have them as a coach? It’s because of what is in the head of the coach, their wisdom, knowledge and depth of understanding of fight science. So the next time you get tapped by a lower belt, look at all the factors involved: age, size, experience (some white belts have been training for 4 years) etc. Thank them for the roll, learn from your mistake, and start again.

3. Be Grateful

Showing gratitude is so important when it comes to your mental health. It not only helps you minimize your stress but helps you gain perspective on what is truly important in this world. Your so-called major personal problems in life all the sudden don’t seem that bad anymore. Too often people take it to personal when they get tapped out, they become angry, and even stew about it for hours or days. Not only does this waste your precious energy; energy that can be directed to other useful things. It also raises your stress hormone levels such as cortisol which impacts your health.

When I walk through the gym doors I don’t think about who I am going to tap, or be fearful of who will tap me. All I can think about is how beautiful it is to be alive, training, free of disease at the age of 47. I notice all the little things that bring me joy; my students, discovering which techniques worked and which didn’t, and sharing laughs with everyone for those few hours.

Lots of people in this world will pay their life savings for the opportunity to be able to experience these moments we take for granted. As the old saying goes, “Father time is undefeated, and you can’t be a gladiator forever.” Stop and think about that for a moment.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.