If you are over the age of 30 and you’ve never done any athletic activity in your life, if you have physical limitations, injuries, or if you're overweight, you can still train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Its an incredible workout, a mentally challenging sport, it’s great self defense, and it’s a lot of fun. But, the best part is, with a few customizations, jiu-jitsu can work for anyone. Unlike basketball where everyone is expected to do a lot of the same physical things, in jiu jitsu, there's elements that you can trim in the game to make it work for your body, how you move, your ability level, and your age.
At 38 years old, I experience first hand a lot of the same challenges that our 30+/Masters level jiu jitsu players face. The number 1 challenge I see with my 30+ students, that we all deal with from time to time, is that we all still think we’re 20. At 40 & up, people still think they are 30. Keep going up in age & you’ll see the same thing. People in jiu jitsu, and in so many other activities push themselves to do things the exact same way that they used to do them 10-20 years ago.
If you’re really looking to be successful, training like a 20 year old when you’re 35 doesn’t make any sense. The physicality isn’t there the same way that it used to be. But, the main problem with trying to do things at 35 the same way you did when you were 20, is that you completely skip over the best thing you have going for you, something the 20 year olds don’t have.
20 year olds train with muscle, successful Masters level BJJ players 30 & up train with their brain. And guess what, brains can win. 30+ players, your brain is your biggest muscle in jiu jitsu. If you’re being too physical, you're either going to hurt yourself or hurt someone else. You have to outsmart and out-strategize your opponent. You may not have the same physical strength that you had when you were 25, but you're smarter than you used to be.
When you begin to understand that as an older BJJ player that your brain has to work first, before the strength, you can start understanding and mapping out a different style of game. Then you practice the techniques through repping, and then you practice those reps through training.
I give private lessons to people from all over the country. One of my private lesson clients from Arizona is a black belt who loves to compete, loves jiu-jitsu, and he has a great understanding of the sport overall and his role in it. He understands his age. He understands the limitations in his body and he ‘plays within himself.’ Because of that awareness & his willingness to work with what he has, he’s had great success in jiu jitsu with that strategy. He recently won the Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships at black belt. If every student can learn to ‘play within themselves,’ and develop THEIR best game, not the game that is best for the person next to you, you will reach levels of success in the sport that you didn’t realize you were capable of, especially when you get started later in life.
I like to say that if you could carve a brain out of a 40-year-old or a 50-year-old then put it inside of a 20-year-old with the physical ability and the mental ability, you would have yourself the perfect machine, a perfect athlete. But unfortunately, it takes experience and years to learn some lessons on what works & what doesn't, what got you injured & what didn't. At any age, you can physically get stronger. You can get more flexible, but when you're rolling in that moment, in that match, you are what you are. You have to understand your body and understand what you’re working with right now, and how to use it to the best of your ability.
One of the most important factors in your success as an older BJJ practitioner is your academy. You have to have the right environment and the right group to train with. If you go to a gym full of professional fighters and you're 37 you're looking to do jiu-jitsu as a hobby, that's not going to be a good fit. You have to find the right academy that has that same kind of vision that suits your needs as a practitioner. Your academy and your professor are the number one influence that will shape your game through the course of your training journey. So, when you’re interviewing academies during your trials, as yourself, "Do I see myself being able to be successful here?,” “Do they work with other people like me?” “Will I have a team of training partners that make sense for me to train with?” “Is this the right fit?,” “Will they understand how to work with me based on my age, my body, and my background?”
Not only will these questions keep you safe, influence your style, and help you to be successful, but they will almost guarantee that you have the fun camaraderie that you might have had in sports back in the day. If you find people in your academy that are like you, that are facing your same challenges, and coming back every week on the jiu jitsu journey with you, you’re much more likely to keep training and make this part of a healthy lifestyle for years to come.