In 2009, in the course of working with Marc Walder to organise the Essex BJJ Open, I received an unexpected email from a would-be competitor. This competitor, a blue belt out of the Roger Gracie Academy Bucks who also trains at the McLeod Academy, was keen to enter his first competition. He did have one concern, however, his age. He was 69, was this going to be a problem? Heck no! We welcomed Pete onto the mat, where he bravely competed with much younger men, including my friend and fellow BJJ blogger, Meerkatsu. Pete’s story – starting BJJ at 65 and stepping up to the plate at a tournament just shy of 70 – was and is an inspiring one.
Pete commented on my recent post, Top 10 reasons women should train in BJJ, which prompted me to suggest that he create his own list, ‘Top 10 reasons why over 60s should train BJJ’. To my delight, he agreed, and I’m very happy to feature his story. So, next time you are feeling achy or tired or ‘old’, check your 20-, 30-, 40- or 50-something self, have a re-read of Pete’s list and recognise that it is never too late for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Top 10 reasons why over 60s should train BJJ, by Pete Griffiths
You can have enormous enjoyment from BJJ, get those endorphins cruising round your body and experience a great sense of well being.
You will enjoy camaraderie and friendship across the age groups at the BJJ academy itself and out at competition, pub night, BBQ, etc.
We may not all be instructor material but should, in effect, be coaches in giving feedback to training partners. With the altruism and maturity that hopefully come with your seniority, your junior partners may be more inclined to take advice from you than their mates. Thus, provided your comment is sound and the partners are receptive, you are in a position to make a valuable contribution to their development.
Perhaps you no longer cut a dash sparring, but if you are experienced you may be the one-eyed king in the land of the blind when the instructor has just given the class a complicated manoeuvre to try. Thus, you are still keeping your hand in the game and are being of service too, if only to your immediate partner. Members of the class looking lost while waiting for the instructor to get round is not unknown.
- Keeping a younger outlook
Unless or until there is a massive culture shift to over 60s (like me) engaging in BJJ you will be in a minority age group. Interacting with younger people helps keep your outlook younger and in tune with a broader section of society than would be the case if you finished employment and only had a few old pals to see.
- Brain training
It is said that stimulating the brain at all stages of life has ongoing benefits, and continued into later years in particular it can fend off ‘loosing your marbles’. It could be that learning new and complicated patterns of movement during instruction and reacting to constantly changing situations when sparring and competing could count as such an activity.
- Health benefits
From the warm ups through to sparring, even if you cannot manage all of it, you are benefiting your health. Do I have to spell it out? You are keeping the heart and cardio-vascular system in good condition and maintaining strength and flexibility. You are fending off obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, loss of muscle power and you are maintaining bone density. I guess you are also relieving the stresses of life and keeping depression etc at bay.
- Regular training
Many of us starting fitness regimes on our own eventually fall by the wayside. In BJJ the discipline of being in an instructor-lead group will help to keep you at it. Even when I was much younger, yes, there was such a time, I would sometimes not feel like going out of an evening but how many times too, face glowing, was I so glad come 10pm that I had made the effort. This continues to apply.
Meg’s post mentioned wardrobe. Well, yes, as an older person, a bloke even, you will acquire one inevitably if only a gi and a racy T-shirt. I have a brace of lightweight Vulkan gis, including the lucky black one people keep borrowing to take to Lisbon and Rio and places to win medals with.
- At your own pace
BJJ is one of those pursuits you can usually manage to engage in at your own pace according to your ability; and you are not letting any team down. Some ‘get it’ immediately during instruction; others are very slow learners. From the outset some are inherently strong tough guys; others gradually develop such a status. Some put up with disabilities such as arthritic joints (mainly older people) and there are splendid guys out there with an artificial leg or a hand that does not function properly all managing to compensate as best they can, in some cases with amazing success. All are part of the total picture and the over 60 individual fits in there somewhere. What more could you ask for: health, fitness, fun and ongoing social interaction with the most ‘sorted’ bunch of people you could hope to meet.
Should Over 60s Train BJJ?
- Health and fitness
It makes sense for anyone over 60 to have a full health assessment. If you want to pursue any athletic activity such as BJJ it further makes sense to include heart monitoring while on a treadmill. You may look and feel ok but the assessment will indicate whether you ought to train or not and any unseen problems you may be able to have fixed. Sorry, this is not an NHS general practitioner job so it will cost but believe me its worth it, I speak from experience. You owe it to yourself, mat mates, instructors and family – don’t want to embarrass anyone.
- Start cautiously
If you are already training in BJJ you will know what it’s all about. If you are new, as was I starting at 65, you may need to approach with caution while your body adapts to the sudden energy demands and stresses. It will be easier if you have martial arts experience in the background and an existing good fitness level.
A lot depends on your motivation and reasons for wanting to indulge. If you like it go for it, but be warned, it can be addictive. Enjoy!
PS. It’s coming up soon but I’m trying to ignore my 71st birthday.