3 Benefits of Starting Jiu-Jitsu as an Older, Smaller Grappler
If you’re anything like me, you wake up with a stiff back and fresh bruises crisscrossing your skin after a hard night of training. After chugging a handful of Ibuprofen, you wish you’d started your journey earlier in life or at least were built like a freight train.
For me, I began jiu-jitsu at 35 years old and weighing around 140 lbs (give or take a pizza and taco addiction). No one was going to crown me as jiu-jitsu’s next GOAT. Yet over the last few years, I’ve come to embrace being relatively older and smaller. In fact, many times, I believe these qualities have enhanced my personal journey.
- We all probably wish we’d learned to invert and leg drag and worm guard before learning to write in cursive. Yet, we can look back at what we were exposed to at such a young age. For me, my dad yanked me away from the comforts of basic cable and a Sega Genesis to go fishing and skiing. Did I enjoy those moments? I dreaded them. Since then, I’ve discovered writing, travel, and jiu-jitsu. I stumbled across these pursuits without prompting and find pleasure in them simply because I enjoy these pastimes. Would I hold the same passion if my parents pushed me in that direction? Maybe, maybe not. Stumbling upon jiu-jitsu a little later in life allows us to enjoy the art for our own reasons.
- We will never be Buchecha or Roger. Let’s go ahead and admit that to ourselves. Instead we have careers, Roth IRAs, and families. We tape our fingers as we tuck our kids into bed. We carry an extra gi in our cars in case we get stuck at the office. We unwind with a nice glass of wine after a tough night of training. As my professor, Samuel Joseph, reminds us, “Jiu-jitsu is part of life and not the other way around.” Being older, having a career and a family, we find solace in that Jiu-Jitsu is just one part of who we are.
- In many ways Jiu-Jitsu is as much of a mental game as it is physical. We all know the white belt spaz who is entirely elbows and knees. We were once there, simply figuring what to do with our hands. It’s a phase everyone goes through, yet I barely remember being a spaz. Instead, I remember being squished in bottom side control. A lot. I couldn’t bench anyone off or explode out of an arm bar or cartwheel through someone’s guard. I still can’t. Instead, I learned to preemptively frame, fight for grips, and slow the pace down. I grow the most in jiu-jitsu when I understand the importance of a detail or string together a chain of techniques. This creation of art in movement intrigues me more than “winning” a roll or muscling out of a submission. When you’re older and smaller, you quickly embrace the adage of “technique conquers all.”
Jiu-jitsu confronts us with stark truths. Maybe we aren’t 6’3” phenoms. Maybe we’ll never use crazy inverted lapel guards. But that’s okay. Each of us still has a lot to offer this art, each other, and ourselves. With that, a sense of confidence flows through us that maybe we wouldn’t have possessed before. That confidence translates to other parts of our lives. We apply for that promotion. We comfort a screaming child in the middle of the night. We buy that plane ticket to Europe. Because of Jiu-Jitsu, we learn to embrace who we are and what we can do.
Tom is currently a purple belt at Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu in Atlanta, GA under Sam Joseph. In his free time he enjoys travels with his wife, Jiu-Jitsu, and better incorporating the two.
You can find out more about his adventures in Jiu-Jitsu @whitewolfbjj on Instagram and whitewolfbjblog.wordpress.com.