I’m 52 and some change. In some ways, my BJJ journey is the same as everyone else’s, but in a lot of ways, it’s different. I’ve been told, “There’s one of two things that usually happen. Either you run away from the experience or you embrace it.” I chose the latter. I’ve tapped to the submission of BJJ. I’m hooked.
It’s great being a white belt. No one except my instructors have any expectations of me. And even their expectations center around being a good training partner and not a ‘spaz’ on the mats. Go to class. Watch. Listen. Learn. It happens slowly over time. You get better. It is amazing.
The first stripe was awesome. I showed up enough to be recognized. The second stripe reinforced that I was, in fact, learning. The third stripe and I’m beginning to put some things together, similar to the toddler taking their first steps. I’m awkward at best and also lucky not to fall and smash my head off of the floor.
I haven’t competed as a participant in any sport since my college days. I have significant limitations due to my age and the wear and tear on my body. I’ve learned to adjust. There is a place for people like me in this sport. They call us “Executives“ — the fat, old man division.
“There are people like me out there,” I said to myself as I raised my hand to participate in the upcoming NAGA tournament. I looked up the rules. I looked up the weight divisions. I needed to cut some weight to be put in the Heavyweight division rather than the Super Heavyweights.
When my name was written on the board alongside the other four youthful competitors, things changed at the academy. People slapped me on the back, congratulating me on signing up. My coaches, too, made adjustments. Under their watchful eyes they began to help shape my preparation for that step onto the mat. There was extra time and attention during ‘open mat’ to work on things that I would face in the not-too-distant future. The other NAGA competitors and I began to bond. We were a part of a team within a team. We talked a lot about water, food , and time out to the competition.
Before the tournament we rode over together to weigh in. Each one of us made our target weight. We ran the waitress ragged for our after-weigh-in meal. (She got a good tip that night.) A bond was forming that we will always have. The next day, five guys represented their academy in a tournament. We did our best and came out better for it. I’m grateful for the advice given to me by all and the time on the mat with each of my training partners. Hearing the experiences of others helped me to prepare for that very special knock of the fist and slap of the hands. And then all of a sudden, I was there… on the mat… with a referee… and my opponent. This was happening and it was an experience I would never forget.
Although I won the match on points, I wish I had done more jiu-jitsu. I initiated the takedown and got to side-control. I attempted to advance my position only to have my opponent threaten to put me in open-guard. I fought back to side control and through the fog of war heard my coach telling me to adjust my grips on the gi and keep my hips down. Next thing I felt was the referee’s tap on the shoulder and heard her say, “Time!” Not the most exciting match, but memorable for me.
My advice to those people sitting on the couch wondering if they can do it, you can! It is never too late. Just get up.
Zenquest Martial Arts Academy