Out of all the hesitations we encounter daily at our Jiu Jitsu academy, being “too old” is definitely one of them. First, in my estimation “old” requires further definition. One of my previous Sensei, with whom I quite agree with, told me years ago that “old” is when you stop evolving, life is after all about improving daily. On a similar note, my mother who is on her way to achieving her blue belt (the rank my father holds) has always told me that if you want to stay young you should surround yourself with young people. My parents both having just turned sixty nine years old, with kids and grandkids and such, are no spring chickens. Back to our definition of “old” (I’m starting to hate that term) we routinely see 80 year old’s in our gym, improving their health by ways of strength, mobility, etc. yet we come across adults in their twenties and thirties who claim to be too old. Mind you, my dad competed in his first tournament at age sixty seven! So the answer is a flat out, hardcore NO! You are not too old! In fact, as soon as you start thinking you’re too old, well let’s say you’re on your way.
One of the biggest fears as I understand is getting hurt and this is not only completely warranted and reasonable but a healthy and natural fear. Our team has definitely listened to their share of horror stories, in terms of incoming students’ first experiences at other schools, in Jiu Jitsu that would deter most people from continuing. One story I’ll relay was from a student who had left a local academy to join ours after taking a year off from Jiu Jitsu. Why did he take a year off you might wonder? Well, because on his very first day he participated in full sparring with no prior experience and broke his ankle during his opponent’s takedown attempt. Now, it’s hard to place the blame on his partner or him but two things immediately come to mind. The first is that this student deserves all the praise in the world for being brave and courageous enough to give Jiu Jitsu a second try after rehabbing from ankle surgery. Second, is that should never happen! As a Sensei if there were some sort of licensing structure within Martial Arts yours would and should be revoked… At the very least under serious scrutiny. Now it’s not to say that accidents won’t happen, but this was more than likely on the preventable side. We believe that white belts have no business sparring (with some exceptions being wrestlers, MMA fighters, Judokas or anyone really who possesses the appropriate level of mat experience) for safety reasons. That doesn’t mean that a white belt should never feel the physicality involved in grappling. Many after all are here for the proven self defense system of Jiu Jitsu and deserve to learn how to safely and effectively gain control of an opponent. That is why the sparring we do is “positional based” also sometimes known as partial or situational training.
What that means is that rather than coming in starting standing up (as Jiu Jitsu tournaments or how fights often occur) and doing full rounds (5-10 minutes of sparring generally until submission meaning someone taps out due to a choke hold or joint lock) we remove the variability in the beginning by having students spar for a minute or two with a specific objective like say “trying to pick up the opponents’ leg while not allowing them to pick up yours”. This allows students who are just starting out to focus on a small and simple area of the art while still getting a workout and being physical, at the same time this minimizes risk and provides them ample time to develop the proper reactions and techniques of breaking their fall and going to the ground before it happens for real. It also makes training more enjoyable by progressively exposing students to sparring in the form of a game that over time will build the parts needed for them to have complete Jiu Jitsu where they are comfortable defending and attacking from Standing, Bottom and Top positions. We use this concept a TON in our kids program to develop a healthy relationship with competing until they are emotionally mature enough to handle full sparring. This helps prevent unnecessary injuries, bad feelings and damaged egos.
We also try to constantly remind students that the journey is long so it’s important to have fun, learn and improve your physical fitness over time. In this case less is more, as no teacher or student for that matter wants anyone to get hurt in the training room. Nor should they. Our first of the Six Blades is Family and Jiu Jitsu is certainly more enjoyable when you take care of the people who are on the same path of self improvement as you. As you progress you will learn that the relationships you form on the mats contribute greatly to the longevity of your journey as they will help provide a source of motivation and camaraderie especially on days where you aren’t really feeling it. The best teams, from the Golden State Warriors to the Navy Seals, continue to push each other in the direction of their respective goals.
Now, as we age there are some considerations worth shedding light on. As I mentioned, both my parents train Jiu Jitsu and I feel as if I am doing the opposite of pushing them. Oftentimes I am telling them not to spar and watch class when they aren’t feeling at their best. Again while there are no guarantees in life, training injuries are definitely something that can and should be avoided at all cost, it’s an overused and somewhat corny phrase but “consistency is key” and your training approach should reflect that. You’ve likely heard the term of “working smarter not harder” and when your Jiu Jitsu is not meant to be competition oriented (which should be the case for most beginners) it’s more about understanding the art which comes from consistent attendance over time. We take pride in the fact that we have worked hard to develop a culture which encourages constant learning and prioritizes attendance over going super hard especially when it means missing days. Especially as you age, it takes longer to recover and it can be easier to get injured so we want to help our students to think long term in this regard and focus on learning the skills they need or want to over time (1-5 years of we’re being specific).
Your health will also play a big factor, making sure if you’ve got some extra belly fat that you eventually develop a healthier relationship with food and exercise. It’s also important to be strong whether that means having better posture, building a little muscle, or being more flexible. We take pride in our students who started their journey completely out of shape and went on to make fitness a priority resulting in lifelong changes that can result in a ripple effect through their family and friends. When you think of a Martial Artist like Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan you imagine someone with vitality who is active and capable of engaging in many of the activities they enjoy (hike, bike, swim, yoga). There are a lot of directions you can go so just keep in mind that you don’t need to learn everything in one day, remind yourself to trust the process and develop a routine that accommodates consistent repetition over a lengthy period of time.
Another factor that we find to be important here is the idea that training should be goal specific. If you’re going to the gym and you’re not sure why, it’ll be easier to give it up on the days you don’t feel like it. Our youngest members start at age 4 and our “wisest” or “most advanced in age” as we like to call them are up to 80 years of age! With such a disparity in age, experience, backgrounds etc. there are a plethora of reasons to train. Self defense, the art, health and fitness, the community, the lifestyle, competition, and I’m sure there are plenty more! What you should take from that is to make sure that you know your “why” as Nietzsche said “A man with a why can endure any how.”. Next make sure that the academy you select is a good fit for you. If your goal is to defend yourself and one day test yourself in competition, an academy who doesn’t spar may not be the right fit for you. In contrast, if you’re looking for a place to call home and the gym you come across doesn’t seem to prioritize safety and cleanliness run for the hills! We’ve all had a bad experience or two when it comes to food but that hasn’t stopped us from eating. So we hope you continue to try Jiu Jitsu and find the right school that will help you reach your goals and meet your needs by making it apart of your lifestyle.
Don’t take my word for it, here’s what Matsumi Onda (yes my mom kept her own last name) had to say! I avoided editing it to maintain its’ originality which I found to be powerful and cute at the same time.
Why do I do Jiujitsu or why do I like it.
“I had a fascination for martial art before but didn’t think it was for me. I felt I’m too old and too weak for it. In our family, we have six kids and ten grandkids, five of our kids, and six out of ten grandkids do or have Jiu Jitsu and so does my husband. I would go to tournaments and watch our family compete and when they talk about it, I felt like it was Greek. And when one of the kids told me Jiu Jitsu is more like movement than technique, that was like a confirmation for me to try it. That was like four years ago. The more I do it, the more I like it. It’s good for our body, mind and spirit. Recently I found out that I have arthritis in my hip and knee, and osteoporosis, four fold of fracture compared with a young adult. But it made me want to do more Jiujitsu. I bond with the people I train with and the coaches are very helpful and friendly. An old dog can still learn a new trick!”