The art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has been spreading in popularity throughout the world with people from all countries and backgrounds taking interest in martial art. With such a wide array of people, there is a question that usually pops up and that question is, “Am I too old or unfit to start training Jiu Jitsu?”
The short and simple answer to this question is simply “NO!”
Whether you are approaching your 70th birthday or struggling to lose weight, it is never too late to start anything in life, Jiu Jitsu included! There are students out there that start training in their 40s. As long as you have the spirit and discipline there’s not much to stop you. There’s a saying that explains our sentiment pretty accurately and it goes,” You are not too old to train Jiu Jitsu, but you will get way older when you don’t train Jiu Jitsu”.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can and has been adapted for people from all walks of life at every age. People from 9 years to 90 years and from total beginners to elite athletes, Jiu Jitsu can be adapted for you. These things aren't much of a factor in technical skill, however physical ability is where there will be variation. But fear not! Past injuries and health concerns can definitely be worked around, just be sure to listen to your body and make sure it gets the proper amount of recovery for whatever stage you are in life. Just remember that your progression in your training is unique to you, wear BJJ Gi and enjoy the journey at the pace that fits your lifestyle.
Is There a Cutoff Age to Start?
There is no age cutoff to start training. The late TV show host and author Anthony Bourdain started training at the ripe age of 58 and even earned his Blue Belt! Jiu Jitsu is a great example of something getting better with age. Some of the renowned masters of the art kept training well into the later years of their life and BJJ may be the reason they were able to maintain such a high level of fitness. Master Carlos Gracie trained well into his 60s and Master Helio Gracie was still training students near the end of his days at 95 years old! While they may have been training since they were young, they are great examples of age not being a limiting factor in practicing the art.
Although some sympathy can be felt for those who ask this question as all of us at some point have felt nervous about starting something new. This is a question that wore out its welcome long ago because it undermines a person’s will to take the necessary first steps of their potential journey into the wonderful world of Jiu Jitsu.
Frankly, the only thing too old for Jiu Jitsu is the question of whether or not you are fit or old enough to try it. There’s another famous quote that can be adjusted for our needs and it goes:
”The best time to start training Jiu Jitsu was 20 years ago. The second-best time is NOW!”
Does Age Play a Limiting Factor in BJJ?
As stated earlier, age does not play a major factor when it comes to technical skills. However, there is no denying that it will play a factor when it comes to the more physical aspects of training or more specifically: conditioning, overall physical ability, and recovery. With age, the ability to move quickly goes away and reaction time slows. You may get gassed out sooner than expected and recovering can take a little longer in between training sessions.
Be sure to remember that age is a universal experience that everyone experiences, so don't be afraid to ask people of their own journey. Athletes that have trained Jiu Jitsu from a young age have also had to change the way they train as they get older. Feel free to ask about that experience and ask about how they think their current style has changed from when they started. Odds are they now take more time during their rolls and focus more on details than physicality.
Try not to be intimidated to start because of rolling or sparring. This activity is always optional and some gyms actually require you to reach a certain skill level before starting to roll. This means that mastering the basics and drilling that into your game will be the primary focus starting out, which really doesn’t require an intense cardio session.
Focus on the Technical Side of Things
While youth certainly has its advantages, age also has some strengths of its own. You have far more years of experience under your belt and can use that to your advantage. Studies show that wisdom really does come with age. A growing body of evidence suggests that you are a better decision maker, something that can certainly be applied to Jiu Jitsu.
Jiu Jitsu utilizes momentum and leverage to get the better of your opponent. It really does not require extreme physicality to be successful. Meaning just because someone is stronger, faster, or more athletic doesn’t mean they are better at Jiu Jitsu. If you are lacking in those departments, make up for it by honing your technical abilities. Learn as many techniques as you can and use them to your advantage. The more of these you learn the more you’ll start to notice more openings to apply them. You’ll eventually discover the same concepts are able to be applied in many different situations.
At first really focus on rolling lightly and getting the motions down. This will help you break down techniques and learn its core values which will help tremendously. Don’t even focus on trying to win every exchange you come across, just make sure you get the techniques down. Drills are a great way to practice your techniques with less impact on your body.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
It is a healthy practice to keep your expectations realistic. There is a reason there are weight classes in fighting and age groups in competitions. There’s no doubt that there are some disadvantages that come with starting at an older age, but keeping a healthy expectation of your abilities can help remedy that. Depending on your situation, keeping up with younger students just might not be a viable option. Recovery can take longer which directly impacts progress. Other outside factors such as family and work can also influence it as well.
All of this doesn’t mean you will never become great at Jiu Jitsu or that belt promotion is out of your league. All it means it may just take a little more time and effort to get there. There are so many examples of older people that have become quite exemplary practitioners, so don’t give up before you even start!
Take Your Time and Progress How You Like
One of the most important things to remember is that Jiu Jitsu is a personal journey of improving yourself. Focus on being a better version of yourself than you were when you started training, and you’ll do great. One of the more difficult things to do is to not compare yourself to others in the class. It can be frustrating when you see someone progressing quicker than you, but understand that your journey is unique to you and only you.
As we age, it may take us longer to learn new skills than our younger counterparts. This is just part of life. Try to remember this when you’re feeling discouraged that you’re not picking up on things as quick as some others.
Also learning does not happen at the same rate for everyone and this is universal. There are probably moves and techniques your brain will understand better than other people and vice versa. Especially when you start out, everything will be foreign to you. Even if in your head you understand what to do, your body may lag behind. It will take time to build up a solid mind to body connection.
Don’t try to rush things when you start out. Give your body the opportunity to adjust to the new environment you are putting it in. Remember that small progress is still progress! Doing something is better than not doing anything at all.
If you take anything away from this article, it should be that it is NEVER too late to start Jiu Jitsu. The more time you sit around debating whether or not you are too old or not fit enough to start is time you could be spending already developing your skills. Jiu Jitsu is a journey of personal development and self-improvement. It can be challenging and difficult at times, but everything that is worth doing typically is. The more you put in, the more you get out of it and the bigger the payoff will be. Just go ahead and give it a try, worry about the details as you go off on your journey. And don’t forget to have fun along the way.