3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started BJJ After 40–Some Straight Talk For The Older Practitioner
It seemed like yesterday when I decided to return to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I had taken a ten-year ‘break’ from the sport after getting married and starting my career. When you’re in your twenties and thirties, you think you have all the time in the world to get things done.
Time is the only resource we have that’s non-renewable. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I was 40 when I put my Kikskin Gi back on and felt like I was ten. I remember my instructor seeing the Gi and smiling; he told me I was wearing a relic.
Great. The sad part is it was practically brand new still because I bought it right before my layoff.
Everyone has their own story about why they got into training. Mine was a little different. I had a family member being bullied at school, and I wanted him to get some self-defense training and thought BJJ would be the perfect solution.
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It turns out he decided against BJJ and pursued another path. I can’t say the same for me though. I began thinking about training again with the full realization that time was passing me by and if I didn’t do it now, I never would and then have to live with a bad case of the ‘what ifs.’
So with this background in mind here’s my advice for anyone over 40 who are considering taking up this beautiful art.
- You’re going to have nerves. Get over it. Yeah, it isn’t fun, and the adrenaline you’re feeling in your stomach can make you nauseous. You thought this feeling was left behind in high school or college athletics. Accept the fact that you are going to be the nail for a while. Once you embrace this, it becomes easier. I won’t say your nerves go away entirely because they don’t, just the reasons change. Here’s your secret weapon – TAP. If things get bad (and they will), tap. It’s that simple. It keeps you from getting hurt or going unconscious. The only thing that gets hurt is your pride. Read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday before you begin training. It will help, you can thank me later.
- Take it slow and be patient with yourself. You will see others around you who seem to pick up technique effortlessly, that’s OK, more than likely they’ve been doing it for a while, or it’s a repeat of a technique they’ve done before. Unless you are in a strict beginners only class, you will have a mix of belts from first-day white belts all the way to ten year black belts. That’s what makes this art so amazing though. Think about it, a ten-year black belt is learning the same technique as you but is processing it at a much higher level. Where you are concerned with making sure your grip placement is correct and following a paint by numbers approach the black belt is tying it into other moves he uses and deciding where it fits on the canvas of his arsenal. Stick around long enough, and you’ll be doing the same thing.
- Enjoy your time as a white belt. As you progress in the art and get promoted here’s what happens: A target magically appears on your back. Everyone is gunning for you. They see the color around your waist, and they want to prove themselves, or they see you as a viable threat. Right now though? No one expects anything of you. Matter of fact they are waiting for you to quit. Does that sound harsh? It’s not. The fact of the matter is too many people get in and can’t handle the damage their pride takes. But that’s not you. You understand this is a long game and if your mental approach is solid you don’t worry about ‘losing’ or ‘getting tapped’. This is where being a little older can help. You have seen enough of life to know that things that are worthwhile take work and discipline. You have complete freedom to explore techniques and ask questions. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself that you ‘should’ have a blue belt by a particular time. The belts come when they come and are a consequence of training, not a result.
This is an exciting time for you.
You are not just in an art, you are in something deeper. Don’t be surprised if some of your closest friendships begin to develop within the confines of the mats. As crazy as it sounds, it’s difficult to put into words the bond that develops between two people trying to strangle each other.
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An important component of training is continuous learning. But not just any learning. You need something tailored to your age and training style. Something that plays into your strengths and gives you the best possible chance of being successful against younger, stronger and more flexible opponents.
You may be older but you have something the younger player doesn’t. Patience. Take your time and learn a handful of effective moves that work with your body. Check out our series on Foundations of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by Bernardo Faria. You aren’t looking for the fancy moves at your age. You want something reliable. This series on the fundamentals is your answer. Each DVD breaks down critical components of each position both top and bottom. From pressure passing to pin escapes the scope of this set will keep you busy for years to come.
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