JiuJiu’s note: This was written by Flossie, an older woman in BJJ. It serves as a nice companion piece to “To the Fat Person Googling Jiu Jitsu.” Along with the question of “Am I too fat to do Jiu Jitsu?” I very often see people ask “Am I too old to do Jiu Jitsu?” I was so thankful that she took the time to address a lot of important concerns for older folks considering starting jiu jitsu. There are several articles available, but I believe this has different, and valuable information. Can Older People Do Jiu Jitsu? Over 40 – Why Jiu Jitsu is Good for You. Starting BJJ at 60-Years of Age. Why People Over 60 Should Do BJJ.
I started jiu jitsu after menopause. It’s advertised as being welcoming to people of all ages and abilities, and I’ve found that to be true. However, I also still in the minority being both older and female. So, I started looking around for other people, especially women, who started when they were older, so I could read their stories and, when I couldn’t find any, I thought, I’ll write mine. Maybe there’ll be someone out there who might find it interesting and helpful. So, here are my fears and how I’ve dealt with them.
While one finds company in himself and his pursuits, he cannot feel old, no matter what his years may be. —Amos Bronson Alcott
Jiu jitsu is too tough for older people
This is not true, and the proof of that is that I’m still doing it. However, jiu jitsu is indeed pretty tough. I thought I was in fairly good shape when I started. I had been lifting decent sized weights and I could run a mile or two without passing out. I had also taken classes in different kinds of martial arts previously, so I thought I was somewhat prepared for the physical demands of jiu jitsu. I wasn’t. Class was utterly exhausting. Even the warm up part was pretty tiring and we hadn’t even starting learning anything yet. I was drenched in sweat, flopped out on the bench, while my young and sprightly classmates continued long after I had given up. My first solution for that was only going to class once a week. I did that for a few months, but then I realized that I was 1) still exhausted and 2) not learning anything (see below under ‘I am slow’). My second solution was better and I’m still doing this to some degree – I limit my ‘warm up’ and pace myself so I am still moving at the end of class. It doesn’t help with the competitive streak which makes it hard for me not to do everything everyone else is doing BUT at least I don’t have to be carried to my car after class.
Jiu jitsu is too painful for older people
This is also not true. However, jiu jitsu is indeed pretty painful. By that, I don’t mean the arm locks and pins. I mean the muscle pain and soreness after class. It goes on for DAYS. I am sure that I healed up much more quickly when I was young. There isn’t a fix for this – my advice – become familiar with the section of the drug store or supermarket labeled ‘painkillers’. Advil is a great drug.
Older people are too stiff and inflexible for jiu jitsu
And this isn’t true either. However, I have never been particularly flexible. I took ballet classes for years, and all my instructors commented on my lack of turnout and inflexible hips. That’s unfortunate, since hips seem to be pretty important in jiu jitsu success. Over the years I’ve also acquired a variety of injuries that have made things worse. The surprising good news has been that this has improved. Although other people can barely see any difference, from my point of view, the change has huge. I can now kneel down with my butt resting on my heels (knees – karate), and even triangle someone without getting cramp (calf -soccer). My worst jiu jitsu injury since I started class (carpet toe) only limits me from wearing really high heeled shoes and those probably aren’t good for you anyway.
Older people’s bodies aren’t very reliable
I’m a little cautious about discussing this – but – since those advertisements that use words like ‘reflux’ and ‘leakage’ ALWAYS feature older people (you know what I mean), I don’t think this is just my concern. Alongside the section of the drug store labeled ‘painkillers’ is another section that is helpful for this kind of problem. I have two additional pieces of advice and those are 1) don’t eat for hours before class and 2) use the restroom without embarrassment before, during and after. Other than that, you’ve just got to ignore it. Young people have to deal with this as well and the adolescents tend to be MUCH smellier in the armpit department than I am. I’ve browsed the extensive area of the supermarket that includes all kinds of pads and diapers and decided that when I get to needing some of those I’ll definitely be too old for jiu jitsu.
Older people are too slow for jiu jitsu
Not true – but – there aren’t any world record holders in their fifties. I’ve decided that my slowness is actually welcomed as evidenced by the following story. When we warm up running around the dojo, I take the inside track, jog at my own pace and cut off the corners. I have found that very few students sprint past me and most of them seem quite happy to jog along at my pace. I suspect they’re grateful to have an excuse to go slowly as well. And, if I need to drill a move over and over because I’m a slow learner, there always seems to be someone who needs to drill it over and over with me. That’s just the way it is.
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. —Betty Friedan
There’s no point starting something like jiu jitsu because you won’t be able to do it for very long
Well, how long is very long? Till I’m sixty? seventy? eighty? If it’s sixty, I have five years, and you can learn a whole lot in five years. Most people learn how to walk and talk from scratch in less than five years. If it’s seventy, that’s fifteen years, and in fifteen years I did school – elementary, high school and most of college – and learned an impressive amount of (most useless) information. It helps that I altered my perspective somewhat on what it means to do jiu jitsu. There’s a lot of language out there about ‘mastering’ martial arts. If it’s about mastery, then it’s about me mastering something, taking charge, being in control. Instead, I find it easier and better to think that that just I’ll go to class and see what happens. I’ll let practicing jiu jitsu change me. The art is in charge. All I get to do is put my feet on the path. You never know what’s going to happen and it might even be wonderful.
JiuJiu’s Question: Do you train with any older people, or were you older when you started doing jiu jitsu (or any other sport for that matter)? Please share stories and words of encouragement for older folks starting BJJ or other athletic endeavors!