Keeping Up With the Young Grapplers When You're Not
More and more people are stepping onto the BJJ academy mats. People of all ages. Jiu Jitsu is an amazing martial art where everyone, regardless of gender, age, or overall athletic prowess can start and with time, perseverance and relentless dedication, can ultimately achieve their black belts. Regardless of your current age, none of us are getting any younger, and if you've started BJJ in your 30's, 40's or even later, you may already be feeling the effects of Father Time on your body.
BJJ Fanatics recently asked Tom DeBlass, who himself recently reached his mid-30's, an age when many high level athletes are entertaining thoughts of retiring, what his thoughts were for maintaining a good mindset as an older grappler. Specifically, should older grapplers be comparing themselves to their younger counterparts and trying to chase their physical prowess.
DeBlass has stated in past interviews many times that it's very important to EVERY grappler's development top not compare themselves to other people and instead to focus on improving themselves. This goes doubly for the older grappler. In his opinion, they should not focus on their younger counterparts, instead focusing on their own development and realizing the limitations that come with age. This does not have to be a negative thing though as we explore below.
Don't Compare Yourself to the Younger Grappler
There is a natural human tendency to compare yourself to others, regardless of the situation or activity. Just as we need to teach our bodies not to react in ways, that while ingrained, do not put us in the best possible situation, i.e. when mounted, it's a bad idea to try to bench press the person off of you because you may find yourself caught in an arm lock. We also need to constantly remind ourselves to not obsess about our physical ability, especially when we are older grapplers in comparison with younger grapplers.
Studies in exercise science have shown that our overall physical ability, i.e. VO2 max which is an indicator of physical endurance, tends to decline as the decades pass. In addition, other factors including a decrease in muscle mass and bone density can have an impact on your overall physical potential.
With that said, there are no studies that show the ability to MAXIMIZE your potential decrease with age. In other words, the younger grappler might have a much broader or larger physical POTENTIAL, but what percentage of it are they actually using? Whereas the older grappler with perhaps some diminished potential physical, could be focusing on themselves and developing a much higher portion or percentage of their physical potential.
For Tom DeBlass, the goal he has for his students is always for them to become the best version of themselves that they can, both physically and in other ways. If the older grappler spends all of their time using their younger training partners as a measuring stick, this will lead to frustration, injury, or even worse--someone leaving jiu jitsu forever.
Focus on Your Own Improvement
There are distinct limitations that come inherent with being an older grappler. Your gas tank might not be as big, or your ability to roll hard day after day, may be compromised, but according to DeBlass, this is part of the nature of grappling. There is no fountain of youth and by accepting the inevitable aging process, you can move past it and focus on improving your skills.
Work on the positions that enhance your game. Do lots of reps of different techniques that you want to tighten up on. Shakespeare has said that old age and trickery or cunning will beat youth in the long run.
Wisdom and experience can make up for many of the physical differences between the older and the younger grappler. Older grapplers are going to have to be more aware of their dietary needs, eating better more nutrient filled foods to provide themselves with the best overall nutrition for energy and recovery. Older grapplers are going to be more cognizant of their needs for rest and recovery as well, making sure that they get the proper amount of sleep and rest time, which will promote maximum rejuvenation after hard training sessions.
Younger grapplers face other stresses besides being youthful and perhaps not eating as healthy as possible or spending some of their rest time up late playing video games or partying, they may not have the financial or family stability that an older grappler might possess, so lifestyle stresses could have an impact on their ability to develop.
By working smarter than the younger grapplers in the academy and using the patience and wisdom you've earned over time, you will better maximize your potential on the mats. Jiu Jitsu is about efficiency and thankfully, the younger grapplers typically don't think in terms of efficiency. They're busy chasing the new tricks, while the old dogs are spending their time getting better at the old ones.
Relentlessly Embrace the Grind
As we shared in a previous article, one of the core qualities that is important for Tom DeBlass is "relentlessness". As an older grappler, you will embrace the spirit of the tortoise in the old fable and work your way slow and steady to the finish line, in this case the attainment of your full potential.
By recognizing the nature of BJJ as a marathon, rather than a sprint, you will be much better equipped to make incremental improvements safely over time. This will take a lot of work and reps, but as a seasoned athlete with years of life experience and the ability to understand and respect your bodily cues, you will best be able to reach your goals.
Time truly waits for no one and eventually, every grappler if they stick around long enough, will become the proverbial older grappler. Though our physical attributes and abilities may wane over time, by being smart and focusing on your own development and not comparing yourself to others, you will be able to continually evolve as a martial artist, a competitor, and most important an older jiu jiteiro. By not worrying about the things you cannot change, like the advancing years and the physical changes that come with it and focusing on what we can truly control, like our training routines, schedule and nutrition, we can make sure that we do not go gently into that good night, but instead rage, rage, rage against the light and stay on the mats as long as we are able.
One of the best things you can to as an older grappler is work to fill any of the holes in your game, or add to your knowledge of particular positions that fit into your current game. Let's say you are a lazy half guard player and want to improve your ability to be offensive from bottom half guard. For this, BJJ Fanatics would suggest Tom DeBlass' best-selling "Half Domination" 4 volume series which covers all of the bottom and top-half secrets that Tom has been honing for 15 years. Check it out here!
Or let's say you want to get a better at your top game, you will want to take advantage of one of the most successful grapplers and coaches who also happens to be over 40. Fabiano Scherner's new 4 volume set "Mastering Jiu Jitsu After 40: Top Game" is available here from BJJ Fanatics!