The Jiu-Jitsu Times spoke to Henk van Mierlo from Renzo Gracie Holland about graduating to his blue belt at 53 years of age.
“I try to focus on technique and leverage although I can’t help but go back to my old man’s strength every now and then. “
-Henk van Mierlo
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Henk, how did you get started training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Why did you decide to take up Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
Henk: I’ve been doing the classical martial arts for a very long time. Judo as a child, then Kyokushinkai Karate, Pencak Silat and kung fu. I quit those arts at 35 and focused on playing bass guitar.
On a holiday in Bali, I met a Pencak Silat grandmaster and that fueled my interest in TMA again. Pencak Silat has an awesome cultural background. It’s a combination of dancing, fighting, and spiritual awareness, but it never gave me complete confidence. How was I going to defend my girlfriend while dancing like a snake? (wait, let me start some Gamelan music before you punch me in the face…).
Funny thing is that I did do judo as a child but I regarded that as completely useless. At that time I thought you should defend yourself with fancy Bruce Lee kicks instead of pulling on each others pajamas.
So, while looking for style vs style of course BJJ came up. Also the video of Bas Rutten with Joe Rogan on fake martial arts really woke me up. That, and the movie “Choke”.
I also concluded that I’m not an aggressive type. The fights that I got in as an adult mainly concerned drunken neighbors or other people that I already knew. I’d rather control someone and then have the choice to punch their face in or not. Ultimately you have to face those people again.
So in short, my motivation was mainly self-defense, but also staying healthy with a complete sport that I love to do.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What were your goals starting to train?
Henk: My first goal was to be a more all-rounded martial artist, incorporating ground game. I could have chosen MMA, but I’m really too old for that. And I don’t want to get punched in the face anymore.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Have your BJJ training goals changed since you first started?
Henk: Yes, I find it very addicting. The only way I can keep doing this is by getting better, so I have more control over the positions. When I started, I was constantly smothered and could hardly sleep after training. Pain everywhere.
A few months ago, I forced myself to only go 50% and that helped a lot. So I try to focus on technique and leverage although I can’t help but go back to my old man’s strength every now and then.
The self-defense aspect has gone more to the background. I live in a quiet suburb nowadays, walking the dog and paying my taxes.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What advice do you have for over-40 age guys who are thinking of starting to train jiu-jitsu?
Henk: We have two new members now here at Renzo Gracie Holland that are around 45. I am advising them to really take it slowly or they will be gone in two months with injuries. If you have no cardio, are overweight, and not flexible, you have to accept that you can’t brutally train until you get to a good level. You need to listen to your body and accept that younger people evolve faster. Better to attend classes three times a week with easy rolling than to go full force one training and have to recover the rest of the week (by the way, I think that goes for all ages)
Jiu-jitsu Times: What special things do you pay attention to in your training compared to the twenty and over students?
Henk: The biggest difference is recovery. I just can’t train every day without developing injuries. In that sense I’d like to know how Anthony Bourdain does it.
Also, I’m quite big with 90kg (198 lbs) and 1.95 m (6 feet 4 inches). That gives me some advantages but is also a problem when rolling with guys similar weight but 30 years younger because their game is more on strength and pressure.
I only train with the gi because it’s a bit slower. I tried no-gi but injured my meniscus in the first lesson. For now I think it’s better to focus on one style only.
I eat healthy, don’t smoke, and drink a wine or a beer if I want to. I also do some yoga, but to be honest, very often I skip those classes because I’m too tired from BJJ.
I should do some strength training, but again, there’s a limit to what I can do.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How did it feel getting your blue belt in jiu-jitsu?
Henk: At my age, I’m beyond training for a belt. My main goal is to keep doing this and stay healthy. I don’t expect to get hit by the blue belt blues, but you never know.
Still, it felt good to get the recognition for the dedication I have put in it. I can honestly say that, although some people say that I should train more, there is not a day that goes by where I’m not practicing or thinking about BJJ.
Now that I have it, of course there’s the feeling that I need to make myself worthy of it. At the moment it motivates me to push myself a bit more. But not more than my joints can handle.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Who or what inspired you to train hard to achieve the blue belt?
Henk: My trainer Kemail Verhoeven who is 47 himself and tough in a way I will never be, but also all people from the club who are just great companions. I feel very much at home at Renzo Gracie Holland and am always looking forward to the next training.