Ageless Jiu Jitsu
One of the great things about jiu-jitsu is that you can start doing it at nearly any age and at nearly any intensity level. This is not to say it’s always easy. It is a workout, it is exhausting, and there will be different kinds of torque put on your body that you will not be used to. Even if you are in great shape, you are going to put a strain on your body, and you will probably find yourself feeling depleted and sore after jiu-jitsu class. After all, you are going to be fighting with another.
If you’re in your early 20s, you’ll likely be able to push yourself to the limit every time you step onto the mat, and then be ready for more the next day. When your young, your body is incredibly resilient, even if you are just getting used to training.
If you have recently started jiu-jitsu or are considering starting jiu-jitsu at an older age, however, you should take a few things into consideration.
Know When to Stop
No matter how young or old you are, you should always listen to your body. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 70. If you start to feel serious pain or discomfort, tap out. If you start to feel like something is not right, take a breather. If necessary, call it day, heal, and then come back stronger when you’re ready. If you continue training despite an injury, you’ll only make it worse. The old saying, “No pain, no gain,” looks great on a t-shirt, but that mantra can leave you sidelined for weeks. If you’re in your 40s or 50s, it might be months.
Even worse, it might spread if you try to get back on the mat too quickly. When you injure yourself, you start overcompensating with other muscle groups. However, these muscle groups are not designed to permanently take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t get what’s wrong with you fixed right away, this can mean the problem spreads and what starts as an injury affecting a specific tendon or muscle spreads to the surrounding areas. This can lead to further problems down the line, which means you might be constantly nursing an injury that happened years or even decades in the past.
If you feel like something is wrong, you should immediately stop. Listen to what your body is telling you.
Know Your Body
Muscle soreness and bruises are a little different. These are fairly common when you train at a high intensity, and they tend to fade away pretty quickly—especially when you’re young. For teenagers and people in their 20s, they oftentimes need nothing more than a good night’s sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and recuperated.
As you get older, you wake up feeling stiffer, sorer, and more exhausted than you once did after a similar workout. Oftentimes, you’ll need a few days to get back to baseline. This has nothing to do with fitness or skill level. Your body simply takes more time to heal itself than it once did, and this can mean it takes you longer to recover after a minor injury or a workout that is more strenuous than normal.
Consequently, those who are in their 40s or 50s may want to change up their rhythm and avoid training hard every day. You can do it two, maybe three, times per week, but the rest of the time you should not be practicing your technique by pushing the pedal to the metal. As Ryan Young of Kama Jiu-Jitsu—who is in his 50s—says in the below video, “Be the best you can be. Try as hard as you can. But just realize we have limitations and accept them.”
“You have to train at the appropriate level,” he adds.
Know Your Goals
Just about everyone who starts or restarts jiu-jitsu at an older age is coming to class to have fun and to develop skills to defend themselves, not to become the next great MMA fighter. This may not be true for some of the younger people in your class.
If that’s the case, you may find that your classes don’t cultivate an environment where you feel comfortable. It’s not just two separate tracks of learning; it’s the difference between running a 5k and running a marathon. Luckily, different jiu-jitsu classes cater to different kinds of people. If you do some research, you should be able to find a school or class in your area that can teach you jiu-jitsu without expecting you to train like you expect to be the next UFC champion.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no fast and hard rule for anyone’s jiu-jitsu experience. You don’t cross a line at the age of 40 or 45 or 50 and suddenly become incapable of high-intensity training. The process is more gradual and affects each person differently. Some people may be able to train hard every day into their 50s without experiencing any real injury, some people may not be so lucky. What’s important is that you listen to your body, recognize your goals, and act accordingly.
As Ryan says, “Nobody but you is responsible for your body.”