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Jiu-Jitsu and the Mature Athlete: A Letter to a Former Student

As a man ages, he needs to get wiser in how he uses his body. Eventually, everyone declines as aging sets in. The biggest mistake I see is middle-aged men trying to compete and train like they did when they were younger. Even worse, is comparing their performances from their their younger days to the present day and the feelings of disappointment in the disparity. This will always be a source of frustration. No one can continue to dominate forever.

You must acquire the grace to feel satisfaction in the moment. Improvements for the man over 45 will be subtle; the days for big gains and big strides are over. Improvements will come in other ways than increased physical prowess. Thankfully, the mental game continues to improve, forever. Things like learning to quickly relax, better breath control, reducing panic in uncomfortable situations, trickery, and of course, not hesitating to tap just as soon as you get caught -- struggling and fighting out of submissions is a young man's game and beneath the mature athlete. What's important for the older BJJ practitioner is to immediately acknowledge his mistake in getting caught in a submission hold in the first place. Simply tap and continue playing.

Many upper belts are loath to submit to a lower rank. This is another ego trap that will end in pain and injury. A large, strong, athletic blue belt will give an old black belt a really hard time, so it's important to face this and not be afraid of tapping, early and often.

Another suggestion is that you stop competing with your students; be extremely selective with whom you train. Have a few trusted students toyou work with, and stop rolling with the really heavy guys. Their extra weight makes it to easy for you to get injured. When you train, restrain the urge to dominate. Destroy your need to constantly prove yourself or your assumed superiority -- it's an ego trap.

When sparring, see how little energy you can expend. Use only about 25% of your strength most of the time. Play a lot of defense. Forget your concerns about position. Some guys fight tooth and nail to prevent someone passing their guard, as if it's a tournament or competition. Forget all of this competition-style training, instead refine your game to be playful and relaxed. Enjoy working the bottom and playing defense as much as working on top.

Make your objective about timing, setup, trickery, etc. Quit sparring for short matches and instead wrestle continuously for 20 to 30 minutes at a slow, relaxed pace. Your body should feel fantastic when you finish -- never beat, sore, or abused in any way. In fact, you should feel like you could have done more. I repeat: forget the competition game.

Master Helio Gracie once told me that modern competition jiu-jitsu is the anti-jiujitsu. The sport game is a form of jacketed-wrestling which places a premium on speed, power, and stamina. This was fun when I was younger, but I've realized it isn't the proper milieu for the older athlete. Genuine jiu-jitsu requires none of those things, because real jiu-jitsu isn't competitive. This is why the majority of the time should be spent training with good white and blue belts. They are more like what you'd run into in a true street fight. Learn to relax, and trick them without using power. This is a fun game. And if it's not fun, then you shouldn't do it.