BJJ for the over 50s - parts one and two (of three blog posts)

Discussion in 'Brazilian Jiu Jitsu' started by Vince Millett, Nov 8, 2017.

  1. Vince Millett

    Vince Millett Haec manus inimica tyrannis MAP 2017 Gold Award


    There have been many articles in the BJJ blogosphere about, or for, the older grappler. By older they usually mean over 40 or sometimes even over 30. I am in my mid 50s and train mostly with people much younger than me. It makes me laugh when I read people in their 30s saying how they have to adapt their BJJ because of their age.​

    What are the key issues for a grappler over 50?


    In October 2017, I ran a brief ten question survey for BJJ practitioners over the age of 50. After asking about age and belt level I asked about previous martial arts experience. I asked about things to focus on, or to avoid, in training. I was interested in differences between training in one’s 40s and over the age of 50. Perhaps the most important questions, however, were about what instructors and younger training partners need to know.

    There were 51 respondents to the survey. Of these, 49 were actually in the age group. One wasn’t and one may have entered his age incorrectly. Their belt levels were as expected - more white and blue belts than higher belts.


    Previous martial arts experience

    One of the surprises was in the answers to whether respondents had trained in other martial arts before BJJ. About 20% had trained in traditional or Japanese Jiu Jitsu and were also mostly at higher BJJ belt levels, purple or above. This was unexpected and I’d be interested in why practitioners of other Jiu Jitsu styles tried BJJ and stayed long enough to achieve higher belt levels. Did they achieve BJJ belts quicker because of previous experience? A subject for a later blog, perhaps.

    Judo. Aikido. Karate. Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Goshin Jitsu. Muay Thai. Combatives and Senshido.
    Mark Griffith

    Chinese Kenpo, 4 decades ago
    Franki V

    Several styles of Kung Fu

    About the same percentage had trained in karate, which was less surprising to me. About ten percent had trained in a variety of Chinese martial arts and about ten per cent had trained in Judo. Slightly fewer had trained in Taekwondo. A small number had had trained in Aikido or other martial arts and one person had been a pro wrestler! (I have competed against him in a BJJ tournament).

    Just under a quarter had not trained in any other combat art. Interestingly, none of these were white belts.

    Some of the white belts said that their previous martial arts experiences had been some time ago. I wonder if people who have trained in striking arts when they are young may be more likely to try a grappling art as they get older. Maybe it's just that BJJ simply wasn't around when they were first interested in combat arts. Once again, perhaps a subject for a later blog.

    So, many older Jiu Jitsu practitioners have a broader martial arts experience and some have trained in several arts.

    What to focus on and what to avoid

    My survey asked what people over 50 should focus on in their training and what they should avoid. I was expecting some of the same issues to be raised that you find in an article aimed at over 40s or over 30...and to some degree this was what I saw.

    Both these questions had a variety of answers that clearly show that not all old grapplers have the same issues or the same views. There were, however, some clear areas of agreement.

    Things to avoid

    • Just under a third said that there was nothing in particular that over 50s should avoid. I found this interesting and to me it implies a certain physical confidence among many of our older grapplers.

    • Over ten percent said rolling too hard or getting carried away, particularly with over excited or inexperienced but strong partners.

    • A small number mentioned being stacked or attempting moves that require too much flexibility, particularly with the neck or back – avoidance of injury generally is very important for the older grappler and several mentioned that recovery from injury takes longer as one gets older. Choosing sparring partners wisely is important.

    • There were some individual responses – avoid black belts, avoid wearing a camo gi, avoid ankle locks.

    • One respondent said that staying away from training for too long makes it very hard to get started again. I wonder if this is more the case among older people than among younger people.

    Things to focus on

    Some focused on tactics – controlling your opponents and setting the pace.

    Not getting injured. For me, this usually means favouring a top game that allows me to slow/set the pace.

    Mike Williams

    Strategies to nullify more dynamic opponents.
    T Dog

    • Good technique should be emphasised over speed and power, and the importance of flexibility was mentioned by several people.

      Focus on the traditional techniques. All these new techniques require too much bendiness, putting joints under too much pressure.
      BJJ Biker

      Technique but tailor what you use to your level of athleticism and flexibility.
      Roy S

    • Diet, stretching and physical conditioning. Various respondents referred to the importance of being in good shape so that we remain able to train and able to recover quickly.

    • Letting training partners know the level to work at

      For me personally, due to fitness levels and coming back from an injury, it’s important to allow my colleagues to know I want to roll safely or even flow roll sometimes. This keeps me safe and able to return the next week.

    Now, compared with your 40s

    This was a tricky one. There are many articles out there about BJJ for over 40s but I wondered if there were further developments as one hits one’s 50s.

    • Over ten percent did not train in their 40s. It’s great that some people are starting BJJ in their 50s or older.

    • About a fifth said that there isn’t any difference from when they were in their 40s. A couple said that are fitter and more flexible now (I'd say the same). Hopefully this is an encouragement to people in their 40s who read this – you still have some good years ahead!

    • Almost a third said that cardio is worse, recovery time is slower, they are more injury prone. This obviously contradicts the previous point but shows that we are not all the same.

      Little explosiveness after 60 - I did a backflip on my 59th birthday, can't do them any more at 62.

    • One person observed that there are more women and children training these days. (I suspect all the survey respondents were male).

    • One person said that other people’s attitude to him had changed. He didn’t say in what way, though.

    In the third and final post, I will look at what I consider to be the most important questions in the survey: what do instructors and younger training partners need to know about training with the over 50s.

    Monkey_Magic, cloudz, axelb and 2 others like this.
  2. Giovanni

    Giovanni Well-Known Member Supporter

    as a mid to late 40 year old, this one really piques my interest: Strategies to nullify more dynamic opponents. we could start a whole new thread just on that for us older guys/gals.
    Vince Millett likes this.
  3. greg1075

    greg1075 Valued Member

    Early 40s and banged up with many chronic injuries - even for my age. Interesting study that replicates several findings found in others. Personally I would RATHER roll with a black belt because the skills gap is so great they can play with you without using too many physical attributes (I'm a blue belt probably getting close to purple) vs an athletic person closer to my rank who is going to be pretty vigorous against me especially since I am a bigger guy at my gym (6'1'' 230lbs). People love to gun for bigger dudes and try to make a point. Some morphotypes might have to alter their game as they get older (eg the bottom guard player starts playing a top game) but in my case piling on the years aligns well with my body type and game (top game, smash passes etc) so it doesn't affect my strategy or approach much.
  4. Giovanni

    Giovanni Well-Known Member Supporter

    i personally love trying to roll against younger, stronger, faster guys of any belt. i recently rolled against a fresh blue belt that was incredibly athletic and strong. he was a bit smaller than me. i used his strength against him. we were scrambling around and somehow i managed to get him into my closed guard. he became this really tight ball trying to get out of my guard. so i used it against him and got him into a pendulum sweep. yes, he had other opportunities and took them. it wasn't all roses for giovanni. but that's ok, he was (is) half my age.

    it's really hard to spar against someone stronger than you. that's the biggest challenge i have. especially newb's who have zero technique but tons of strength. i'm also a big guy, so i don't get to roll against a lot of guys bigger than me.
    Mangosteen and Vince Millett like this.
  5. Vince Millett

    Vince Millett Haec manus inimica tyrannis MAP 2017 Gold Award

    Yes, that's an interesting turn of phrase. I know I do a few things to try and thwart a more active opponent or to slow someone down.
  6. Morik

    Morik Well-Known Member Supporter MAP 2017 Gold Award

    I am only 35, but:
    - I have chronic low back issues
    - My hips also act up a bit sometimes (pulling on my back, separate issue than the chronic low back issue).
    - These issues both tend to get worse when I stop exercising for even 1 week.

    I recently didn't make it to class or weight training for 2 weeks. My back felt pretty bad by the end of that 2 weeks; mobility down, tightness worse, etc.
    It does make it harder to get back to class, but I imagine 20 years from now the issue will likely be worse.
    Vince Millett likes this.
  7. Vince Millett

    Vince Millett Haec manus inimica tyrannis MAP 2017 Gold Award

    My own instructor (who isn't 50 yet) says that if he doesn't train for a few days he feels worse. The aches and pains from training (which you have some control over) are replaced with the worse aches and pains and creakiness of getting old.
  8. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    The presence of pain signs and symptoms after training (or lack thereof) is something BJJ athletes of all ages, and indeed those of all sports, should try to be more attuned to as they can help to deduce the source of pain.

    Exercise is a physical stressor that activates descending nociceptive inhibition, a function of the brain that essentially acts as a neurological brake that prevents one becoming aware of pain signals. It's a mechanism often referred to as exercise-induced endogenous analgesia.

    In some people with chronic musculoskeletal pain (including chronic whiplash-associated disorders and fibromyalgia), exercise doesn't activate endogenous analgesia. Other people, such as those with chronic low back pain, do have a normal endogenous analgesic response to exercise. It would therefore be prudent to note which category you fall under when discussing your issues with your doctor. And for those who insist on "soldiering through" pain, it is neither brave nor clever to not seek treatment.
    Monkey_Magic and Vince Millett like this.
  9. greg1075

    greg1075 Valued Member

    "Train through the pain" is the worst bit of training advice I have ever come across.

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