Aug 042009
 

“I’m going to be 40 in a couple months, and I just started BJJ in May of this year. I’m trying to convince some friends to join who are a couple years older, and they think it’s crazy to even consider in their 40s.

However, I’m trying to convince them that they should look into it as long as they are in shape and don’t have any major medical problems.

How old is everyone on here who practices Grappling/ BJJ/ or Wrestling?

When did you start?”

I read the post above on an online forum and it really got me thinking about my own start in BJJ. I started just after my 36th birthday and am pushing 39 now. Without hesitation, I say go for it. If you’re interested in BJJ, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just take that first step and try it out.

There are so many excuses I’ve heard over the last few years. Probably the most common is, “I’m too old for that.” Probably a close second is, “I’m just not in good enough shape.”

Helio Gracie, pictured above, was on the mats until days before his death at 95 years old. One of my favorite guys at the school, Chris, just got back from an extended stay in Brazil. He’s going to be headed back soon and I’ll be sorry to see him go. He’s a funny guy. He was telling this story of one of the guys that he routinely trained with, in his 60’s or so. His impression was awesome… picture Chris stooped over, one hand on his back and one held up saying in a thick Brazilian accent, “Oh, take it easy on me. I’m just an old guy.” Chris then mimes the action as he describes having his face just mashed into this guy’s sweaty, chest hair, tapping to some kind of standing neck crank. Turns out the guy is like an 8th degree red/black belt and has been training since he was a child.

The point is Chris got his ass kicked by an old man. No… wait. That’s not the point. The point is that BJJ is an art that is gentle enough that it can legitimately be considered a life sport. Barring injury, one can plan on enjoying BJJ for a long time. Not only that, but BJJ, if done well, can greatly increase one’s quality of life by keeping you fit and strong, particularly through your core.

And the best thing is, you don’t really even need to be in shape. BJJ x3 per week will get you into shape. I trained as often as I could, listened to my body and set goals that were realistic for me. I dropped 40 lbs in the first 6 months of training and feel much better now than I did at 25. If you wait until you’re in good enough shape to train, you’ll never get there. That’s just human nature.

So, for those of you who are over 35 or so and train in BJJ, what got you into it? What are your thoughts?

And for those of you who want to train BJJ but haven’t taken the plunge yet, what’s your excuse? What’s holding you back?

Now, we’ve all seen the 18 to 25 year old wrestler who is fast, smart, agile as a friggin monkey and strong as a full grown mountain gorilla. For the rest of us, I’ll share some of my opinions on getting started. Being 35, 40 or however old isn’t a reason to not do things you want to do, but do it smart. At 38, I’m not as resilient as I once was.

If you’re older than 35, particularly if it’s been a while since you’ve been athletic, I’d recommend getting a physical and talking to your doctor about your intent to train in BJJ. BJJ is an intense workout and you want to make sure that your heart is healthy and that you’ve identified any obvious physical issues that will need to be dealt with. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, joint issues or anything like that won’t necessarily mean that you have to avoid training in BJJ, but only you and your doctor can figure that out.

Listen to your body. The kids that train 6 days each week are to be commended, but I just can’t do it. I’m good for 4 classes per week plus some open mat and light rolling outside of class. I get too beat up to take care of my family if I overtrain. Particularly when you start, listen to your body. If you train smart, you’ll train forever.

Consider vitamins and supplements that work for you. I would definitely suggest supplementing your diet with fish oil, but once again, this is something best discussed between you and your doctor. The best thing my doctor recommended for me was to super-dose on fish oil. He recommended between 8 and 10 grams per day. More than glucosamine/chondroiton or any other supplement, fish oil has been like WD-40 for my joints, particularly my gimpy hip. It’s good for my heart, too. But that’s just me.

Finally I recommend that you commit to giving it at least 6 months, no matter how bad you feel, barring injury of course. Depending upon your conditioning, it’s going to take a while for you to even get your heads above water. I spent the first 3 months just struggling to make it through class and get to a point where I could move afterward. I’m sure that many of the guys at my school doubted I’d last… I was that guy who comes in, sweats like crazy, looks like he’s about to keel over and often pukes in the bathroom after a 5 minute round. I was that guy. Hell, to a certain degree, I’m STILL that guy.

Fortunately, in spite of the nausea induced haze, I was having so much fun I just had to go back. Eventually, my conditioning got better… still questionable, but better, and I was able to engage my brain enough to learn some jiu-jitsu.

Barring any medical reason to the contrary, if I can do it, anyone can.

 Posted by at 2:04 pm

  24 Responses to “Don’t let ______ be your excuse”

Comments (24)
  1.  

    I started when I was 35. I've been a lifelong tubby geek but felt irresponsible having no self defense knowledge at all. 40 wasn't too far ahead and if I was going to do anything athletic in my life I'd better get started.

    The first few weeks I remember having joint pain, but after a month or so it passed. The second month was frustrating because I had put a lot of time into bjj and still couldn't do much. I had committed myself to three months so I never considered quitting. After three months my body had learned what not to do and I had worked myself up to three classes a week plus a little Judo.

    Most of my struggle is learning how to operate my body at this level. Some pains are minor and ignorable and some need real rest. I strained a muscle in my abdomen, for example, ignored it, and made it worse. But most things just go away, or disappear as soon as I get on the mat.

    Recently, I've been trying to finally improve my poor diet and conditioning, not because of the usual abstract reasons, but because they're interfering with my jiu-jitsu.

  2.  

    Thanks for the advice. Im only 22 but I seem to be making up excuses not to start like im too busy, well im not that busy because i spend alot of time looking up bjj and absorbing all the info i can on it. I think i really like it and i havent even tried it (besides on a friends trampoline with some youtube videos). Its inspiring to see a family man do something besides work,most guys just go home and watch tv, good job man. P.S. we just had a baby not long ago i guess thats a good excuse haha

  3.  

    Mike, my experience is much like yours. I was going to mention diet, but I'm glad you did. I have found that the same is true for me. I eat better because I find that I feel terrible at class if I eat crap. I try to hit the gym at lunch because I know it helps me on the mat. Very good point, and I have found that my own experience has been much the same.

    Anonymous: Thanks for your comments. I WISH I were 22 again and had the opportunity that you have. Being a good father and husband is my #1 priority, but part of that is being healthy and happy. My family supports me, and I support them. While baby is a very good reason to put off training, only you'll know when the baby has become an excuse. Good luck to you and your family, and I hope you find a good school.

  4.  

    I'll be 50 on my next birthday. I began training martial arts at 34. Saturday I trained at Rickson Gracie's school in L.A.

    I teach and or train 6 times a week.

    Just do it. Face it, at 40 you are going to be sore getting out of bed in the morning anyway. Now you will at least have a good reason you are sore.

    Mark "oldman" Cook

  5.  

    Great post. I'm a young buck at 34, but I'm always amazed at the excuses people offer up for not training. I run my own business and I have a family (two daughters and wife), and I still manage to train 3-4 times per week. We have students in our club that say that they have no time to train.

    It's not about time. It's about priority.

    I do wish my fingers would heal up faster though. I haven't had all fingers 100% in two years now…

  6.  

    I'm 45, I started BJJ 9 months ago (I started Karate only 7 months prior to that with no previous MA experience). Luckily I was physically reasonably fit from outdoors work, though I was never into sports.

    I find BJJ physically challenging only when I'm not 100% well, usually from overtraining (I generally attend 4 classes per week and do several other MA classes as well). I certainly went through the stage of being sore all over, wondering if it was normal to feel like being run over by a bus :-) . I've had an injured shoulder but my body is holding up quite well. I wasn't overweight to begin with, but I've dropped 4kg over the last few months and I'm now thinking of eating more and better stuff. Also, I have acquired a small library of stretching and looking after my body type books… A sportscar needs regular servicing and good fuel :-)

    I love Mark's quote:
    "Just do it. Face it, at 40 you are going to be sore getting out of bed in the morning anyway. Now you will at least have a good reason you are sore."

    How true!!! I stagger out of bed most mornings, wondering if I can ever get my back and legs to work. And then as if by magic, by class time and after a warm-up it all functions again and I manage all sorts of contortions. And if it hurts more the next morning, I don't mind because it's way too much fun to roll.

    I would urge anyone to give it a go if they want, and to make time. No excuses! And don't let the young, strong and flexible kids put you off.

    The exercise and the self defence aspects of the sport are good, but I do it because I enjoy the challenge. And because of that, I'm even going to try a comp shortly.

  7.  

    This is a great article. I am 36 and grew up playing sports. I played lacrosse through college and mentally did not want to deal with the gym any more. I would go and be mentally out of it. Couple that with the fact that we moved to a very hot climate and I was out of exercising for about two years. As a note…I have always been a person that works out faithfully 4-6 times a week so this was a big change for me. The result of that time was just not being very happy over all.

    I finally had enough with being out of shape and it became a priority so I spent some time trying to find something that fit my need for mental engagement, ability to get me in shape and also had physical contact. Having played lacrosse and hockey I enjoy the physical aspects of contact sports.

    I came to Jiu Jitsu after looking at many of the martial arts and MMA. It is definitely the most mentally engaging. It is physically challenging and has enough physical contact without being a striking art.

    I have been doing it for about 4 months and am addicted. I train about 4-5 times a week. I can also concur that the first couple months are really hard for two reasons.

    1. Physically BJJ is hard and it will get you in great shape. I lost the 25 lbs that I had gained. The good news is that you will reach this fitness level so don’t quit early. Push through…the rewards are there.

    2. Since BJJ is an art that uses leverage as opposed to strength as its primary source it is not something that you can walk onto the mats and be great at. I have always been a good athlete and could pick up any sport and be generally good at it. Not BJJ. I could use my strength to help but I was getting tossed around and tapped by people much smaller than me. It was humbling and frustrating. I tapped ALOT!!! But I slowly learned more moves and better understood some of the concepts around base and leverage. Now even though I have a ton to learn I have enough knowledge that from most positions I can think of a couple/few moves to transition to and have some idea what the other guy is working for. One thing I would share with anyone new to BJJ is know that you will get frustrated at this point. There are hundreds of moves and time is the only thing that will help. Even if you feel like you are not learning and just getting tapped all the time…YOu are learning. This may not become evident until somewhere in the 3-6 month range when a new white belt shows up and you realize that you can move them around at will and use the moves you have learned to escape, sweep, choke, armbar, etc. I think this is the time when you finally realize that you have been making progress. You also realize you are now in decent shape because while the new white belt is gassed after one roll…like you were when you started. You grab a sip of water and are ready for the next roll…and the next. Great feeling.

    Don’t let age become an excuse. I work full time am married with 1 & 2 yr old boys. My wife and I sat down and we talked about expectations. She shared with me what she needed from me and when she would prefer I work out and I shared with her what I was hoping to get out of my training and the time I thought it would take. We make sacrifices to support each other. I try to train during lunch and at times the late class after the boys are down. Sometimes she needs me to skip training so she can have a night out. We protect our weekends so I rarely train then but she is very supportive of the BJJ. She sees me back in shape and much happier. My diet is better so that training can be more effective.

    Sorry for the ramble but this is a great article and I would encourage anyone thinking about BJJ no matter what his or her age to do it. I wish I had started this many years ago but am just happy I started at all. Don’t wait any more. Set up a time to try out a class and commit to a few months. Set expectations fairly with your loved ones and try to work it out. You will be glad you did. I can promise you that.

    Good Luck Rolling!!!

  8.  

    I was looking for a sport to replace rugby after many seasons of wearing out my knees. I thought BJJ might be a good fit with the contact aspect minus the running. At 37 I started in reasonable shape. Now at 40, I think I might be in the best shape of my life.

    Better than the fitness benefit is the wonderful journey of aquiring a skill that is so dense and vast. It's great to have a new obsession with such an upside at this point in my life. It makes me feel a bit like a green kid again, but in a good way. The body is even holding up well, so I'm planning many more years of growth.

  9.  

    Thanks everyone for your insight. I agree with you all completely. Henno, your comment about feeling like a kid was great. I have said something similar to friends many times. One real advantage any grappling art has over any striking art is that you can spar at 80 – 100% all the time but remain safe and in control.

  10.  

    I started at 36 also (been doing it 2 years). When I started I was the WORST. During every class I would nearly pass out and have to go outside for air and sometimes I would dry heave (luckilly I knew better than to eat before class).

    But I kept at it, eventually going to class 5x a week and eventually got my blue belt. I've been off the mat for a couple of months now with a broken finger, but I hope to be back in a couple of weeks.

    I've had other injuries (broken toe, sore ribs, sore neck, hyperextended elbows etc.), but I don't think it has to do with age (it just takes longer to recover).

    I did martial arts most of my life, but this was the first non-striking art I did and it's very humbling. I will keep at it until I get a black belt.

  11.  

    Great Post Steve. I have students telling me all the time that they will join when they are in shape. Guess What !! They never join.

    I tell them just join. And I will help you get in shape. I am not going to push you beyond what you can handle

    Z
    http://www.fusionmma.com

  12.  

    hey steve,

    thanks for the post! i started one year ago at 34. i kept putting it off due to chronic back and neck spasms until my little cousin convinced me to try out a 6 week introduction.

    well i have to say after a year of it, my neck feels alot stronger. no back spasms either. but i did have my share of "growing pains". bjj is by far the most satisfying of the martial arts i've participated in. i'd have to say that i am completely addicted.

    i appreciate this post because i may have to take some time off to go back to school. hearing that folks are starting up at 39 and later gives me comfort. when i get back to it at that age i won't feel discouraged or alone.

    all around good blog by the way!

    wombat from bjjboard.com

  13.  

    We just started adding grappling to our class schedule. I'm afaid at 46 to start because if I get hurt then I can't teach.

    Graf's ATA Martial Arts

  14.  

    Earlier this year I fought a guy who was 69 years old. He judo swept me with ease and I had to work real hard to get my armbar in eventually. We've now become friends and he will celebrate his 70th birthday next month. and he is still training – in fact he entered an amateur MMA contest last month too.

  15.  

    This was a great post! I will send this link to my friends who are contemplating starting bjj in their 40s.

    Paco

  16.  

    I started training at 38, I am almost 40 now, and had not trained or competed in anything since I was in high school. I drove by the local BJJ school just about everyday for six years! I always told myself one of these days I am going to try that but always found some excuse why I couldn't do it.

    I have always struggled with weight and was so out of shape that walking a flight of stairs at work winded me.

    I was driving by the school one day and immediately pulled my car in, walked into the school and said sign me up. I did not take a single class or anything I simply said sign me up and it is the best thing I have done for myself.

    I went from barely being able to do the warm-up to competing in my first tournament in 23 years, wrestling tournament in high school, in which I took first place!

    In fact a week later I recieved my blue belt!

    If I can go from barely being able to walk a flight of stairs to winning a tournament then anyone can. I have dropped 35 pounds and have recently adjusted my diet in hopes of losing more.

    So all I can say is quit making excuses about age or weight or shape and just go do it!

  17.  

    Thanks for the comment, Schrambo. That sounds familiar! I think you might have been in worse shape than I was. :)

  18.  

    Gee thanks :-P

  19.  

    Hello, I love all your blog posts, keep them coming.

  20.  

    any 50 YO’s beginning BJJ? I wonder if I’m the only crazy out there! If so, what’s your experience? :)

    •  

      There are some and you’re not crazy. Of course, you’re going to have to take care of yourself and a lot depends upon your fitness level. I’d recommend talking to your doctor first, and take things at your own pace. Don’t try to keep up with the 20 year old phenoms!

      Good luck, and keep in touch. I’d like to hear how things go.

  21.  

    Hey Daniel,

    This post is late and I truly hope you’ve made the decision to begin training. I’m about to turn 53 in September and begun training in BJJ as my primary martial art just over a year ago. I’ve been doing some BJJ as an extension to my karate for several years, but never consistently enough for it to ever make a real impact.

    I absolutely love this aspect of my training and can’t imagine not having it available to me. In fact, I’m going to enter my first tournament in October in Toronto. This is not something I had originally planned on doing, but have reached the point, where I’m going to give it a shot and see how I do.

    The bottom line from my perspective, is that at our age, you just need to “train smart” Easier said than done I’m afraid, as I’d still like to think I’m 20. There are going to be times when you’ll just have to let your ego slide and tap. No one ever wants to, but we all have jobs and other responsibilities we need to deal with in the morning. But man, the benefits are just so tremendous. It’s a great way to get into shape, build your flexability and stamina.

    As Steve mentions and I echo his words from experience, do the best you absolutely can each class and leave it on the floor. You’ll soon begin to know your body and what you can and can’t do…

    Hope you took the first step and good luck with your training.

    This is a great site Steve and now that I know you’re here, I”ll be back frequently.

  22.  

    Hi all. I was 40 last October and started training BJJ in May. After too long putting it off due to shift work and the balance with relationship etc I decided it was now or never. I was pretty fit prior to training and I try to train as often as I can, although that is usually 2-3 times a week. I have been a fan of BJJ for years and needless to say I am loving it. I feel fine…usually with only a few aches.
    I think more stretching on off days would be helpful for me but I would say ‘If you think fancy it, go for it. There is nothing to lose. You can only gain from the experience’.
    New friends and an interest that helps keep you fit is never going to be a bad thing. Get cracking and enjoy yourself.

  23.  

    Hey guys, great posts; I just found it while looking for sympathy on the web. I started training roughly a month ago at 39. I love the sport. My muscles take it okay, with lots of understandable soreness. I never worked out before this. 5’11″ 200lbs. I have found that I become super out of breath, tapping due to exhaustion more than submission. But I trudge ahead, because it’s enjoyable, and because I know it will improve with time (it better!!!)

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