The Perils of the Older Grappler
With the increasing popularity of Jiu-Jitsu throughout the United States and the world, more people are turning to BJJ as an alternative to going to a conventional gym to get a “workout.” BJJ is no longer reserved for the MMA fighters, but rather inclusive for everyone. People of all ages join BJJ for many different reasons, including those well into their prime.
As I moved into a new decade this week (40), my body and mind haven’t seemed to follow suit. While I admit that starting BJJ at 30 has definitely kept me feeling younger than my body actually is, I’ve definitely had to change my training and way of thinking as I slowly head into a new Masters division. It has become more about training smarter (not harder) for longevity specifically.
Being an older female and a higher belt nonetheless, has brought a lot of challenges to training. My mind says that I can hang sparring with the younger, smaller colored belts; but the reality of training with a 20-something-year-old is ROUGH. Rough, meaning physically and mentally. I often forget that when I’m comparing myself against my younger training partners, that they are in fact, much YOUNGER than me (and in probably better shape). I know for sure that I’m not the only one that feels this way because I see it a lot when people spar and there is a definite age differential.
But this is where the real struggle lies: the mind. This is probably the common struggle for those who are in their mid to late 30s – 50s – Your mind tells you that you want to train 5-6 days a week because you love BJJ. You can’t get enough of it and want to learn more, train more, spar more. But you work 40 hours a week, maybe you have a family too… which makes you tired. So, when you do go to train, you try to expend as much energy as you can in training because you want to see results. You want to feel like you are training hard, getting a workout in, getting hard rolls in – so you train with the young blue belt… and then in a freak accident, you get injured. And now you’re out for a few weeks longer because your body takes more time to heal than when you were in your 20s. The struggle is real, my friends. And your ego, no matter the belt level and age, is very much present because you want to prove that you CAN train hard and train with younger people.
Being older on the mat also comes with making tough decisions about training like not training with certain teammates to ensure longevity and not letting anyone (especially a professor) shame you or make you feel bad for doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, Jiu-Jitsu does keep us young. However, the reality of getting older is that being in shape because of BJJ only takes you so far. You still need to take rest days (sometimes more than usual), get adequate sleep, and fuel your body correctly (as well as supplement it) in order to keep it in top shape for your actual age and to keep you on the mats as long as your body will allow it.
Getting older sucks… but training Jiu-Jitsu makes it suck less.