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 ass 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.