Updated: Feb 12
Pictured foreground left to right: Tracy Hopkins, Relson Gracie, and Douglas Brown
Pictured left to right: Dale Ullom, Douglas Brown, Elmann Cabotage
Note: This blog is a little off subject from my usual blog.
Are you too old for Jiu-Jitsu?
Let me preface this blog with my credentials. While I’m by no means an expert in Jiu-Jitsu, I am becoming more and more of an expert on being old. I'm 47 years old and started Jiu-Jitsu when I was 44. I am a Relson Gracie blue belt under Tracy Hopkins and a John Saylor Shingitai blue belt under Dale Ullom. Like a lot of you older UFC fans, I’ve been a fan of Jiu-Jitsu since Royce Gracie first kicked everyone's asses in the first UFC back in 1993. I wrote this blog because I see the question of age asked a lot.
The easy answer to whether you're too old to start is yes and no.
Let’s say you’re reading this blog and you’re 40, 50, or even 60 years old and wondering if you should start learning the gentle art. Well, it’s complicated. To answer, I first have to defer to your own motivations. For me, I absolutely have no regrets in starting because I've always wanted to see if I could indeed do it, but never had the stones to actually try. In saying that, Jiu-Jitsu has done far more than just appease my curiosity of the sport. It has improved my confidence, made me a better lieutenant at the fire department, given me a skill that can never truly be mastered yet can be improved upon every day, improved my cardio, and introduced me to some great people among many other benefits.
I believe a person cannot grow unless they challenge themselves. After three-and-a-half years of learning this martial art, I must be growing like mad.
So, there you go, right? Sign up and get started. But just like an annoying infomercial, wait there’s more. If that was the gist of my blog, then I don’t think you got much out of it.
Your first concern is probably injuries. Yeah, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. Injuries are a real possibility. Jiu-Jitsu isn’t twiddling your thumbs, after all. It’s a physical martial art. So far I’ve had tendonitis in my shoulder after breaking a piece of cartilage from an awkward roll, a dislodged rib that’ll never be quite right, and a broken nose from a wayward elbow. That’s ignoring the occasional backache, sore ankle, or jacked-up neck. But here’s the rub. I’ve also thrown out my back while sneezing too early in the morning, broke a toe accidentally kicking a table leg, and needed stitches from a clumsy use of a pocketknife in the recent past. I guess what I’m saying is I’m clumsy. Ok, that’s not entirely what I’m saying. I’m saying you can get injured doing anything in life. I’m not going to lie. Minor injuries should be expected if you take up Jiu-Jitsu and more serious injuries are definitely an increased possibility. Is it riskier than free solo mountain climbing? No. But it’s not crocheting on the couch either. You have to ask yourself if the risk is worth the reward. Only you can answer that.
Before you decide, let me give you some more information. Age is going to hamper your recovery time to some extent. That’s a fact. Remember when you were 25 and you pulled a muscle? Remember how before you knew it you were back to normal and probably quickly forgot you ever hurt yourself? It’s not like that when you get up there in age. It’ll take longer to heal from even the smaller injuries and frequent soreness. An injured back might mean you’ll need to miss a couple weeks of class and not just a couple days. A hard evening of open mat might mean you should take the next day off. Training every day, despite your mind’s desire to do so, might not be the best idea at this stage of your life.
If you take up this challenge, you'll have to be smart and disciplined. If you have a nagging injury, you might have to step away for a minute . . . or a month. No one wants to take a break once they really get going, but you have to read your body more now than when you were younger.
Here’s another issue with age. You’ve heard boxers say they could see the openings but could no longer respond once they got older? Well, that can be true in Jiu-Jitsu too. That doesn’t mean you can’t take up this art, it just means you’re not likely to become the next Rickson Gracie. When I’m doing Jiu-Jitsu, I sometimes see things and think about them too long to actually pull them off. I can’t always, to borrow from an old saying, pull the trigger. It’s the same reason they say kids learn different languages far easier than older people. Jiu-Jitsu is a different language. It’s Chinese for how your body moves. I have no doubt you can learn Chinese if you try, but I’m willing to bet it’ll be harder than if you were a teenager. Jiu-Jitsu is the same way.
When I started Jiu-Jitsu, I did so with my 12-year-old son. While he isn’t obsessed with it like I can sometimes be, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t pick it up with a fraction of the effort that I do. He’s 16 now (actually he’s 16 on the very day I’m writing this) and he’s a beast. He has grown to 6’2, 175 pounds and is as strong as an ox. I can’t beat him anymore and that sucks for a dad. Which leads me into my next point.
How big’s your ego. Jiu-Jitsu will humble you. I’m going to say that again. Jiu-Jitsu will humble you. If your ego is too fragile for you to lose despite how hard you’re trying, then you’ll need to check that ego at the door. You will almost definitely be submitted far more often than you’ll do the submitting. I rolled last night with my 29-year-old friend who tapped me no less than ten times during our hour or so session. I tapped him a big fat zero times. We are both blue belts. Talk about humbling. I’m not a guy with a huge ego to begin with, but even that made me feel like I haven’t learned a thing. Learning Jiu-Jitsu is at times highly discouraging. Can you live with that, dust yourself off, and still go to the next class?
You might say, “Doug (that’s my name, BTW), some of this shit has nothing to do with age.”
Well, that’s the point. There are a lot of reasons to start or not start Jiu-Jitsu. While age is definitely an issue, it shouldn’t be your only determining factor. Are you too old to go skiing? Play softball? Yoga? It’s all physical in different degrees. If your answer is yes to any of those, maybe try chess instead. But if you know yourself, and you believe you can take it a little slower and more cautiously than when you were an Adonis in your twenties, then walk into a local class and give it a shot. Showing up’s the hardest part anyway.
Just know this: if you go into a Jiu-Jitsu school once, you run the high risk of starting something you just can’t stop. You might soon find yourself explaining to your wife or husband why you’re late for dinner yet again. Or why you’re constantly slipping out of the house for “just a quick roll with some friends.” You’re going to be apologizing a lot for boring those around you with Gracie this or Gordan Ryan that. YouTube will become your best friend. Think rabbit holes. You’ll soon be reasoning to family why you suddenly have five Gis and are constantly hogging the washing machine (but not the dryer since Gi’s can shrink if you dry them). Your non Jiu-Jitsu friends will soon grow tired of watching the UFC with you because they’re sick of hearing how, “Clay Guida could have choked Michael Johnson out if only he had hidden his hand behind Johnson’s head during that rear-naked choke.” Sometimes your friends just wanna watch the damn fights without the play-by-play.
So, should you start Jiu-Jitsu at your age. Nobody can answer that but you. I’m glad I started, despite the aches and pains. But that's just me. The easy answer is no you're not too old to start. The harder answer is maybe age isn't what's stopping you.
If in Jiu-Jitsu they say sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail, why do I always feel like the piece of wood?
Thanks for reading. Go roll and be merry. And choke someone the fuck out. Cheers.
Douglas R. Brown is a husband, father, Firefighter, Paramedic, and four-time published fantasy and horror author. He is also a Jiu-Jitsu wannabe who is taking today off because he did two open mat sessions yesterday and evidently was also in a car accident. Though he doesn’t remember any car accidents, something must have happened to make him so sore this morning and to be for some reason writing this bio in the third person. Check out his writing if you’re a fan of fantasy or horror. Just click on the “Books” tab above.
Tracy Hopkins school is located at 2859 S. High St in Columbus, Ohio.
Dale Ullom's school is at 14450 E. Broad St., Reynoldsburg, Ohio.