I decided to learn more about BJJ because I had heard about a Martial Art family called The Gracies. They were the pioneers that made BJJ one of the most popular martial arts in modern day. At one point they offered $100,000 to any fighter who could beat a Gracie Family in a fight. Each time someone took the challenge, a Gracie took them down to the ground and submitted them.
My first experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) was on a seven day BJJ Seminar on a Cruise with Royce and Rorion Gracie!
Imagine being out at sea, outside in the sun, working out for seven days with the First Family of Jiu Jitsu. Not just working out, but grappling and learning a brand new Martial Art. My background is in Kung Fu where we spend very little time on the ground. After the cruise and seven days of hard work, I felt I had learned a ton, but I barely scratched the surface of what BJJ really had in store for me.
My interest in this unbeatable art was peaked!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the famous Martial Art of BJJ, it’s a system where one uses grappling and wrestling moves to control an opponent until they submit or pass out from a choke. A submission means they are giving up. You can lock joints, apply chokes, or many other ways to get someone to submit. We also call it “tapping out”. Basically, it’s BJJ’s safe word. There’s a high learning curve because there are decades of knowledge to drill and learn, but the concepts of BJJ are very basic: Fight Smarter Not Harder.
After that seven day seminar, I decided it was time to pursue BJJ and get my skills to a higher level. My only problem was finding the time! Between running my businesses and being a parent, I had limited time to train.(let alone start another martial arts discipline as a white belt) So I got in any BJJ training I could. Between training with friends and some seminars I advanced my knowledge, but I knew it wasn’t enough and I needed formal and consistent training.
In my 40’s, I started training BJJ full time and joined American Top Team where I put on a Gi and a BJJ white belt. Honestly, it was the best decision in my martial arts career. It’s a humbling experience learning something completely new, and I was addicted to being a student again.
I also decided to compete for the first time in decades just to prove to myself that I still had it. I competed at NAGA, IBJJF, and NEWBREED. Something was missing though… I realized I had lost my passion for competition. I didn’t get the same high from being a competitor as I did when I was 20’s. All I really wanted was to train, learn, and improve at BJJ.
Except now… I’m 55 years old. My body isn’t as nimble and I’m not as agile or strong as I was when I was in my 20’s or even 30’s, and I definitely don’t recover as fast.
The beautiful thing is that as long as I train smart I’m pretty sure I can healthily train BJJ well into my 60’s and 70’s.
In BJJ we learn through drilling, repetition and live training (we call it “rolling”). Your body has to learn the motions before you can apply them with intensity. If we logically think about the opposite learning method: Train as hard as you can as fast as you can… we quickly realize we are exhausted within 30 minutes of class and we have 30 more minutes of training where our brains, muscles, and spirit aren’t functioning at 100%.
So I figured if this could help anyone at all I’d write this…
Here Are My Tips For Training When You Get Older:
1) Always Properly Warm Up
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten my age, jumped right into a class, and tweaked or pulled something. Now…I get all my joints and muscles warm before I do class, and honestly this goes for outside of BJJ as well.
2) Pick Your Partners Wisely
Normally I train as hard as I personally can, and I expect everyone in class to do the same, we are all improving. It just so turns out that a 55 year old going as hard as they can is much different than a 25 year old. So I make sure when I’m rolling with younger practitioners that I’m using less power and conserving my energy. People don’t see me as a 55 year old man, they see me as a higher belt and want to see what they can pull off.
3) I Take Small Victories When I Can
It’s no longer about seeing how many times I can dominate someone when I roll. To me, any day I can train and come out without an injury is a successful training day for me. I help improve the lower ranks so that one day they will take my spot in the higher ranks and help others improve as well.
Other small victories include listening to my body. When I feel tired or stressed, I make sure to properly warm up and train light that day. Sometimes my body just isn’t ready to train even though my mind is begging me to jump in there and drill.
4) Fight Smarter Not Harder
One of the tenants of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! Many students are in their 20s or 30s and they are also in prime shape, so I have to fight smart. Their skills continue to get better while practitioners at my age try our best to maintain our stamina and improve our techniques to gain leverage. I have to make smart choices about who I train with.
5) Listen To Your Body
Every day my body feels different, some days it feels great and I take advantage and train harder. Other days my body is sore from the day before, so I know it will take longer to warm up before I can train at 100%. When you are young, you take this for granted and do not understand why older people are sore or tired, but that’s just the process of aging. Don’t fight it, adapt to it.
There’s a fine line between working hard and overworking.
6) BJJ Is Magical
I can start a class feeling 55 years old, warm up, drill, roll, have fun and feel 24! But when class ends and my body cools down… BAM I’m 55 again. I think that’s why a lot of the older community starts training. It helps you feel young again, and the workout helps your body fight aging (as long as you train smart!).
My goal is not to submit every opponent I roll with, or win the next competition. My goal is to train BJJ and other martial arts for as long as I can! I know I will have to adapt my training as I age, but at the same time, I believe my strategy and technique will improve to outperform the younger generation of Jiu Jitsu. I plan to keep it that way for as long as I can.
If you are in your 40s or 50s and have any qualms about joining a Martial Arts class, I highly suggest you to find the right school, join a class, and start enjoying the gift of Martial Arts! Just follow my tips and you’ll do just fine.
Training Martial Arts and being around a positive community is one of the most rewarding hobbies. We all have limited time to invest, and I’m glad I invested in something that keeps me healthy, young, and happy!
About the Author
John Wai opened his first martial arts academy in South Florida in 1997. He specializes in Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, Sanshou & BJJ. Visit his academy’s website at JohnWaiMartialArts.com or Instagram.