Why I’m Glad I Started Training BJJ In My 40s

One year ago today I started training Brazilian jiu jitsu.

After training BJJ for a couple of months, I had a thought I’m sure many people who pick up the sport at this point in their lives have:

“Ugh…I wish I would have started this 15 years ago.”

Picking up BJJ at 43 presented (and still presents) some challenges that didn’t exist for me 15 years ago. At 28 I was a well-employed single guy living in a low cost part of the country. With no family obligations or kids’ books to read at bedtime, I had nothing but time on my hands for training. I could have easily trained 6 days a week and still had plenty of time to rest and recover between sessions. I even had time to augment my training with yoga and lifting. There wouldn’t have been many financial restrictions either. Want some new gear? Done. Want to travel to the Caribbean for a week long camp? Done.

Ok, being honest, I do wish I could go to those camps.

Then there are the physiological realities of participating in a combat sport that I have to overcome at this age . Speed (ok, I was never fast, but I was faster than I am now), ability to physically recover, better coordination and agility, and the sheer amount of testosterone coursing through my body would have made jiu jitsu a blast at that age. And it’s a little frustrating to think about where I could be in my progression if I already had 15 years under my (blue/purple/brown/black) belts.

I’ve also reflected back on the number of nights I spent at Duff Field with 5 or 6 other guys wishing we had enough warm bodies for a real rugby practice. If I’d been training BJJ back then, all I’d really need for a productive training session is one other willing person.

All of these thoughts haunted me for a while.

“What if?”

Then I realized that BJJ came into my life at the perfect time and place.

It’s crazy to think about the things I wouldn’t have done if I’d started training BJJ in 2001. I would have missed out on a few really good years of rugby. Peak years. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’d probably be skipping BJJ and playing rugby today if my body was physically able to handle that sport 3 days a week. But it’s not just the matches I’d have missed out on–some of the most fun times I’ve had in my life were during those few years riding up and down the roads to matches with my friends and enjoying the “social” aspects of the sport as well.

Those rugby years weren’t really conducive to living with and supporting a family, but jiu jitsu life fits our family just fine. Everyone can train. Everyone loves it. Competitions are something we can all participate in on the same days.

Then there’s that post-rugby/pre-BJJ cardio base I got to build.

The eventual “backy-no-likey” resulting from rugby led me to years of training for endurance sports. Of course, some people train a lot more than me, but I did more than my share of time and miles swimming, cycling, and running. All the time I invested there served me well for building a good cardio base I don’t think I’ll ever lose.

Maybe the biggest thing I got out of all those years of running and triathlon is a big time ego check. I realized a long time ago that I was never going to win a race. Ever. Winning my age group? Maybe one day after everyone else that age is dead. Guess what else–I’m going to get slower as I get older. It’s already happening. I’ve come to terms with it. I’m good with it.

The biggest realization I had during my endurance sports years is that I just like to train.

When I was 28, I loved to train too. I always loved going to rugby practice and lifting. But I liked to train to compete. I was training for the pissing contest. There was a fire in the belly and desire to beat someone else that I just don’t care that much about these days. I’m a lot more motivated now by learning something new and improving.

This was made even more evident after competing in BJJ recently. I did well at the competition, but came away from it sort of wishing I’d spent the time training (and getting beat/schooled) instead.

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