What Can You Learn from Old Person Jiu Jitsu?
Let's talk about "old person" jiu jitsu. I say "old person", because the previously cliched "old man jiu jitsu" is a little out of date, especially with so many female grapplers out there. We all face the march of time equally, so let's just call it "old person" jiu jitsu from now on and join together in the joys and pains that being an aging grappler can bring us all.
Who exactly is the older grappler? At what age does someone officially join the ranks of the older grapplers? This is definitely something that can be argued, but for the sake of this article, let's say that once you break age 35 and begin to slouch slowly towards 40 and beyond you are now in the realm of the older grapplers. Once we figure out if we are the older grappler on the mats or if we have older grapplers in our midst, we need to ask, what can we learn from them? Do they have lessons they can teach us, or are there stories of the glories days of pressure passing to be suffered like Grandpa's stories about the good old days?
Let's figure out what we can take from these folks or if we are these old folks, how can we approach our games to get more out of our training and to inspire the young bucks to follow in our footsteps and become older grapplers too, because at the end of the day, isn't that everyone's goal?
As someone who started training in jiu jitsu at the age of 36 and who is working on his 10th year training, I can't really speak to what it's like to grapple in the prime of their life. It was because of a back injury that I actually began jiu jitsu and I credit BJJ, along with the help of my chiropractor for rehabilitating my injury. I don't know what it was like to have an endless gas tank when I trained and be able to roll endless rounds. I don't have any memory of being able to be out all night partying and come to class and have a great session. Diet has been one of the biggest challenges to maintain, but I can honestly say, cleaning up the diet and losing some extra weight is the best jiu jitsu technique I ever learned.
There are a number of things that can be learned from the older grapplers in your academy. And if you're an older grappler yourself, ask yourself if you embody these principles of the "old person" jiu jitsu mentality.
Old Person Jiu Jitsu Teaches Patience
The older grappler loves a slower pace. They understand that foundation principle of jiu jitsu that as long as you can defend, you are not losing. This is not to be confused with stalling. The skilled older grappler is always working, but many times working in terms of centimeters instead of inches. The younger grappler might fall prey to the notion that the older grappler isn't doing anything, but in reality, hips might be turning slightly, grips may be tightening, along with many almost imperceptible changes.
The older jiu jitsu player knows that it's more important to take your time and make sure a technique is executed well. The older grappler makes up for the difference in athleticism in comparison to the younger grappler, with a confidence that what he is using will work. They're not looking to be fancy. They're looking to get the job done and willing to wait it out.
Old Person Jiu Jitsu Teaches Persistence
Outside the mats, the world's older grapplers have a lot to contend with whether they are full time world class black belts who own schools, travel to teach seminars, spend as much time training for their own competitions, all while juggling the struggles of real life. The average older jiu jitsu practioner who is a hobbyist training 2-3 times a week, more than likely has job, family, or other responsibilities that compete with their BJJ training.
Jiu Jitsu has a way to teach us all the joy and frustration of constant persistence if we stick with it long enough. Add to those innate elements, the pressures of the outside world, and it can be quite daunting when you think about it. This persistent overcoming of challenges can bleed into the older grappler's actual game and approach.
They are more likely to see a particular sequence through and stick to their game plan. Take one of the classic old man passes, the Over Under Pass for instance and the self professed older style grappler Bernardo Faria (who ironically is in his early 30s). Bernardo is such a fan of this pass that he has essentially developed a way to defeat most guards and put his opponents into a position where the Over Under Pass works perfectly. It was only through persistent trial and error that he was able to develop this depth of knowledge about this powerful pass.
Old Person Jiu Jitsu Teaches Protection
Whether the older grappler started years ago when they were much younger or came to the BJJ mats later in life, by the time we cross the threshold from our twenties into our thirties and beyond, we all will have to contend with the changes that make themselves known.
Our bodies become less durable and forgiving. Hard training sessions will take more out of us. Those same sessions will require longer recuperation periods to bounce back from. Muscle and joint soreness is something that most over 30 athletes contend with every day. Aspects of our lives that we didn't really have to think about become part of the formula for keeping us on the mats. Things like our sleep patterns and our nutrition begin to become increasingly important.
In the past, we might be able to get by our just a handful hours of sleep and a diet filled with, let's just say, some not so clean things like junk food or fast food. Once you reach your 40's and beyond, it becomes crucial to get a minimum amount of sleep, somewhere in the range of 6-7 hours minimum with more being ideal to be able to bounce back from tough training. Similarly, what and when we eat must be consciously addressed. Gone are the days of eating fast food and heading to class. No more late night junk food runs or nights at the bars drinking our favorite beers. These indulgences must be monitored and minimized.
In this quick video, world champion Bernardo Faria speaks with grappler Pat Worley who is an avid practitioner and competitor in his 60's about his experiences keeping himself on the mats. Check it out below.
Before stepping on the mats, the older grappler is more likely to do a good warm up. Once we begin to advance in years, there begins to be an appreciation for the warm ups and stretching. In our younger days, we rush through the stretches and the drills in an effort to get to the "good stuff". As we advance in age, we realize, it's all good stuff and without a proper warm up to our bodies, muscles and joints, we are more likely to get injured and lose precious time on the mats.
Adding recuperative activities like mobility work for our joints and yoga can go a long way towards increasing the longevity of our BJJ career. Yoga has a way of bringing in restorative blood and nutrients to tissues and sinews that have been stretched and battered in class.
Old Person Jiu Jitsu Teaches Practicality
Old man jiu jitsu is extremely practical. The focus is on moves and techniques that share common elements or themes. Old man jiu jitsu is usually characterized by its use of heavy pressure and gripping with the goal of keeping the opponent locked into place and unable to escape. Pressure passing from the knees is a hallmark of most "old style" practitioners because it nullifies the use of many of the current fashionable guard games built on flexibility and mobility.
As an older grappler, there is usually a tendency to hone in on fundamentals and concepts that can be the common denominator between multiple techniques. Having one aspect of a move be able to be used in several moves can help with ease of execution when put in bad spots when you need it. Strong grips on the belt or lapels when passing can be utilized when stapling someone down in side control.
Old person jiu jitsu is not just all about pressure passing from the knees and half guard. There are so many more fundamentals and concepts we can take from their games no matter what level and age we are.
Ten time world champion and MMA veteran Fabiano Scherner has put together all the secrets to "Mastering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu After 40" in this instructional that you will want to check out.