About the Author: Dan Barmatz is the Content Manager and Editor of XMARTIAL, a long-time practitioner of Martial arts, with experience in BJJ, Boxing, Muay Thai, Aikido, Krav Maga, and more. Currently training in Team Bert under Professor Eran Bert.
Is it too late to start BJJ when you’re 30 and up? Not at all! But it’s going to be a bumpy road, much bumpier than your amazing early 20’s. I happen to know as I trained in both, with a huge break in between. I have always trained in martial arts, ever since I can remember, but the first time I did BJJ was when I was 23. Needless to say that I instantly got hooked, and trained 4-6 times a week, while I was working in several odd jobs. It lasted a year, and then some other things came along that made me quit.
Fast forward 10 years, and at 34 I decided to buy a new kimono and enroll in a nearby academy. I was a little out of shape, a smoker (which I was in my 20’s as well), and had forgotten everything I knew about BJJ. However, I did remember that once you start it gets a lot easier, both physically and mentally. But there was a huge difference between what I remembered in my 20’s and now!
Here are a few key differences you should take into account when training in your mid 30’s, and once you do, you’re going to have a blast!
Forget the days that you could show up late, skip the warm-up and jump straight into techniques, or even warm up with flow sparring on open mat days. These days are gone, and if you’ll attempt to do that (just like I did), you’ll be “paralyzed” for days! In midlife you’ll feel all of these small muscles burning, the ones you forgot existed and therefore neglected for so long. If I don’t warm up properly these days, I get minor knee injuries, and that makes me lose a lot of mat days.
Another thing I found very helpful is to wear a rash guard and spats, as the extra compression really does wonders to my joints. Plus, as I wear a knee brace on my right knee, it also helps to leave it in place. So I guess that the spats I deemed as unmanly in my 20’s are really an essential piece of gear I use in all training sessions, and I recommend them for anyone with knee problems no matter what their age is.
You are what you eat
If you didn’t change your eating habits as you grew up, and still eat like a teenager, it won’t fly anymore. I can really feel the lack of energy and power if I eat junk food. Also, nowadays my body naturally craves leaner proteins, greens and vegetables, fruits, and I only eat light during the day. I can no longer eat heavy meals during the day and function in class properly. I eat little and light before class, and I eat healthy and heavy after class. You can read more about some diet tips here. The days of a teenager’s metabolism are gone.
You’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep
In my 20’s not getting enough sleep meant that I probably won’t have quality training, but I’ll be pretty much okay. I could roll with people, I was still quick, and I was thinking quickly. Nowadays, lack of sleep means injuries. When I think retrospectively about my injuries, all of them happened when I was tired and exhausted. It’s not for slow reaction time or carelessness due to fatigue, but it’s because I didn’t give my body enough time to recover. Your body recovers its muscle and ligament tissues when you sleep, and without it, you won’t last long.
Injuries will take you out for more time than you think
Back in the day, you could break bones and be back in the dojo in a month or so. Now, even though I’m training and in great shape, I can sometimes sneeze and I get a back strain. That’s why it’s even more important to take good care of yourself and prevent injuries. And when they come, listen to your physician, and heal properly before you go back to training, and even then, wait before you do heavy rolls with people. I had a minor tear in one of the ligaments in my right knee, and I was out for 6 months.
Another thing injury-related is supplementation. As I get older I understand that some external help will benefit my performance. I’m not too crazy about taking tens and hundreds of nutritional supplements, but I do like to follow Stephan Kesting’s advice from Grapplearts. To his shortlist, I dared to add glucosamine with MSM. I find this to do wonders for my knees and would argue that it can benefit anyone with joint aches or chronic inflammation.
Accept it that younger people, with better athleticism, will get the better of you at times
And that’s even if you’re better than them technically. It’s going to happen so just embrace it, and leave your ego out of it. I have a good friend, who’s a BJJ black belt now, but when she was still a brown belt, I asked her if it doesn’t bother her that when power is used, she can have trouble with heavier male blue belts (as she’s also light). She then told me that this is the reality of being a woman, and most men are much stronger than you are. So if you’re reading this post, you’re now mid 30, and some younger guys will kick your ass sometimes – this is your reality.
I actually learned to like it, and as my ego got smaller, I actually learned to enjoy the techniques more, and explore them in greater depth, instead of trying to power my submissions and escapes. I leave my competitive nature for competitions, and I get a better learning experience from each class.
Stretching for BJJ and MMA is crucial
I don’t care whether it’s yoga, pilates, yogalates, or whatever. But we lose flexibility as we get older. When we don’t use a certain range of motion, we lose it. It’s a defense mechanism of our body, to protect us when we’re in positions that require greater flexibility than we have, or if we don’t have enough strength to support this range of motion.
I added flexibility training to my schedule as the routine we do in class just doesn’t cut it anymore. As I already commit my time to Jiu-Jitsu, and I have a job, and also my family life, I didn’t like the idea of committing to yoga classes or something like that. I follow these three routines by GymnasticBodies – front split, middle split, and thoracic bridge. No matter what you choose, flexibility is now a better ally to you than strength.
Better if you quit smoking
I know that there are grapplers who smoke. Kazushi Sakuraba, you should know who he is, if you’re in your 30s, used to smoke between rounds. So I don’t say you must quit, but I found it extremely helpful. I tried to not quit for a while, but I’m really happy I did.
In conclusion, you should not fear training in your 30s. You’re still young, and many Jiu-Jitsu practitioners train into their 60s-70s. Jim Nations started BJJ in his 40s and became a world champion in his 60s in the masters’ division. You should just match your expectations, and start taking BJJ training as you get older as it is. You won’t be a top athlete and most likely won’t compete at an international level, but you’ll get fitter, stronger, and you’ll get to enjoy the most fun sport in the world, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.