Jiu-Jitsu Times Reader Question: 50-Year-Old Man With Knee Injury, Too Late To Train?

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At Jiu-Jitsu Times, reader questions are a way for us to give back to the community that gives us such a loud and resounding voice.  We welcome any opportunity to answer reader questions!  We recently received the following question about age, physical condition and how they relate to one’s ability to start training:

“I am in my late 50’s (no I’m not telling you my age young man!)  I’m not very big (5’7″, 135 lbs) and I have had some knee problems. Currently I have limited knee mobility (I cannot sit in seiza, can’t sit down on my knees.) Can I still learn BJJ or should I just forget about it and do something else?  I’ve done kickboxing for about 20 years and loved it but ready for a new challenge. I have this burning desire to learn BJJ even if I never get a Black Belt.  I’ve read as much as I can, watched videos, already have my favorite BJJ superstars picked out but I need to know if I can get my *** on the mat and train! I know that mobility and flexibility can be improved but there are limits once you have a serious injury and you’re older.  There are many academies around me and I’ve already done the research on places, gi’s, tournaments, etc.”

I will do my best to answer this question based on my own experience.

This is a tough one.  Major injuries, especially knee injuries, can be greatly limiting, but there is no such thing as “can’t” when it comes to jiu-jitsu.

If you have an active injury that requires surgery, I’d tell you that your potential will be extremely limited. Worse yet, in some cases, you may exacerbate your own injuries by putting loads on joints that are injured.  Limited mobility, however, is no excuse.

The more I learn about grappling, the more I find out that joint flexibility and mobility doesn’t translate to success, and that inflexibility or immobility doesn’t mean failure.  Once you really start to learn the ins and outs of technique, you’ll find that it’s less about being flexible or even mobile and more about knowing the correct angles and timing.  Many techniques that may appear to be reliant upon flexibility and mobility can be executed by an inflexible or immobile person with an acute understanding of angles and exactly when to move.

There are people with cerebral palsy who do jiu-jitsu.  There are people missing limbs who do jiu-jitsu (in the case of Kyle Maynard or Joey Bozik three or four of them.)  There are people who are paralyzed from the waist down who do jiu-jitsu.

As a 60 year-old man (you didn’t tell me your age so you might have been 59.9 when you sent me this message :-P) your potential in competition against people in the adult division will be limited, unless somehow you’re the second coming of Helvecio Pena, which is very unlikely.  But there are people who start jiu-jitsu at an even later age than you.

Pick your training partners and training methods carefully.  Don’t overdo it, because you can potentially make your injuries worse than they already are.  Avoid training with spazzy people or mat bullies because they will potentially injure you.  Don’t try to compete against your classmates, because that will increase your likelihood of getting injured.  Tap early, tap often, and train!

I hope this helps, and I hope you find your way onto the mat.  If you get on the mat and start training with any regularity and seriousness, you will be an inspiration to all those who come in contact with you.

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Emil Fischer is an active purple belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com). For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu) Pony Club Grappling Gear (www.ponyclubgrapplinggear.com), The Original Amy Joy Donuts (www.amyjoydonuts.com mention Emil Fischer when visiting), Valor Fightwear (http://valorfightwearusa.com/ discount code COOKIES), Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT) and Gladiator Soap (www.gladiatorsoap.com discount code EMIL.FISCHER), Hydrus (www.hydrusperformance.com discount code COOKIES) as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY).

10 COMMENTS

  1. 64 years old, 5’6″, 155#, 5 shoulder surgeries, 2 knee surgeries, 2 hand surgeries. Started training 17 months ago, blue belt 3 months ago. On the mats 4-6 days per week. Struggling but learning. I say go for it.

  2. 62 years old, 6’2″, 250#, a ruptured quad tendon in my right knee (don’t text while walking down stairs). A friend introduced me to gi bjj for rehab. He says I’m a triple threat: old, unathletic, and out of shape. Been at it for almost 3 years and I have better range of motion in that knee than I had before the accident. I’m still old and unathletic however. I know Emile, and he’s been something an inspiration to me. It seems right to thank him here for his help

  3. Thanks for the response guys! I just needed a little encouragement before I start this journey. I like the adage “tap early, tap often and train.” That is exactly what I plan to do. As a female, I have always wanted to be able to really protect myself and BJJ is great for self defense. I don’t need surgery, I just have to be brave enough to start. I will be sure to post an update when I finally get my *** on the mat!

  4. I’m 59, 6′ and 290lbs. Just an old fat bald guy in terrible shape. In the past had surgeries on both knees, shoulders and elbows and one wrist. Those have healed ok but also have 3 bulging disks in neck. Dr’s have been after me to get that surgery for years, but it hasn’t bothered me too much yet. Lately my Son has been trying to get me to join a BJJ school in our area. I do have quite a lot of other Martial Arts training but that was many years ago, this would be starting from scratch. So to the question, if I do decide to join and start training, is there a big danger for the neck injury? I want to push it but certainly in no shape for all out fighting. As interesting as this is and I bet a lot of fun, it isn’t worth being paralyzed…

  5. Hey David,

    I am not a doctor but a bulge is different from a herniation. A bulge may not cause pain for years or it could be a constant issue. Just depends on where it is (C1-C7) and if there is a pinched nerve too (radiculopathy). Also, with new procedures that involve use of stem cells, many are finding that traditional surgery is not necessary. Of course you should consult a medical specialist. I’m no doctor (but much like you, I’ve had so many surgeries that I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy along the way). Best of luck. I hope you find a way to train. I’m sure gonna give it a try!

  6. I’m 54. I started a year ago and went down from 217 to 203 lbs. Still planning to get leaner but stronger, now doing some weights to help my body to cope with all the punishment. Taking on day at a time and I do celebrate as a win every day I hit the academy! Loving it, every minute of it, including the moments I feel inadequate and old but do persevere and keep on keeping! I’m hoping by 64 I got at least a purple belt any thing beyond is the cherry on top!

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