Is there another way?

A recent private training session with one of my mature (read: older) Jiu Jitsu members, we discussed the need to change how we trained we are both past 50 years old. Not only do we have to physically adopt more defensive postures during our sparring sessions but what I feel is missing is how we (older grapplers) also adapt our sparring strategy.

Recently, I read a (social media) post by a well known and respected Jiu Jitsu black belt instructor, remarking that stepping on the mats in his gym was like walking into a battle zone. He’s still young (mid-to late 30’s?) so he can physically take it and has the skills and experience to thrive in that environment as I’m sure many other young and strong athletic people coming up the ranks looking to build a reputation and build a name for themselves in this sport but many of us who didn’t grow up learning the BJJ from a young age or have a weekly competition opportunities this hobby is nothing more than an interest, intellectual exercise manifested in a physical expression and, or a social outing for the camaraderie and community.

I personally don’t have the attitude towards training as “going to war” or every sparring match is for “life or death”. I think those who do, especially the “professional grappler” (making a full-time income and living from teaching, competing, producing instructional videos, providing seminars and so on) will also find that not every situation dictates you adopt this attitude. If not all but most income generating opportunities, in this or similar activities, caters to the larger hobbyist segment who have families, 9 to 5 jobs, or school, children and families to also consider so not every sparring match means life and death outcome or even the mindset for that matter.

One of the common situations that I’ve been playing with now is to accept a take down, throw (when standing) or guard pass (or you can select any condition) as these are common occurrences during sparring. You can also apply this strategy to being swept (when on the ground).

Having learned from many influential instructors, in person and via instructionals, you have to decide whether to defend and try to counter the attack or to yield to their strength and make your training partner over-reach to the next step, that is, a race to a defensive position for you or to get the underhooks, control your partner’s hips and flatten their backs on the mat to secure a pin.

Rather than fight tooth and nail to defend the guard pass or a takedown, you can override that component (or defending the pass / takedown) and deny them the pin by getting to a strong defensive position before they can complete the pass or takedown (hope that makes sense). This situation would change dramatically under different conditions, such as age of the participants, experience and fitness levels. When I first started, preventing and defending the guard pass, recovering the guard was “the” thing to do. Now that I have a bit more experience and a lot more miles on the clock, I don’t mind conceding the pass or even a sweep, however, I have to ensure that I don’t spaz out like a noobie and also give up a controlling/pinning position. Why so? Defending and recovering the guard is tough and tiring against someone skilled, strong and heavy. Often it doesn’t work and I end up giving up controlling space by mistakes I make in movements and scrambles. If I didn’t scramble as much then I don’t make as many errors, logically I will be in a better and stronger position to defend and escape.
If Phase (A) was the guard pass and Phase (B) was defending the pass, Phase (C) was recovering the guard, I would bypass (B) and (C) straight to Phase (D), adopting a defensive posture to prevent the pin and already look to move before the passer can use more pressure to pin and immobilize me.

In an interview, Master Rigan Machado said that if he had the chance to re-do how he was taught Jiu Jitsu that he would re learn it in a different way. As a more mature (post 45 year old) hobbyist, can you really afford to pop a knee, elbow or injure your neck? While feeling young and energetic is good, it may be foolhardy to think that being able to hang with a competitive 20-something is without consequences. Perhaps it’s time to realise that there are alternative strategies and ways to enjoy what Jiu Jitsu has to offer without making weekly visits to the hospital.

While physical strength, size and weight matters, the individual who no longer possess the optimal levels of these attributes must depend on experience, knowledge and timing to balance the sparring in their favour. I understand that this may be considered the “old man’s game” but when you’re the living that definition, embrace it and adapt.

The culture of every gym and the vibe of the people are determined by the coach, who molds the members thoughts, actions and attitudes on how they behave on (and hopefully- off) the mats. If you don’t want your mats to be a battlefield, then teach different ways to approach this hobby, in a more sustainable, age and joint-friendly way to continue to enjoy Jiu Jitsu and still be a badass (if that’s what you want).

No one becomes younger or stronger at the end. We will become old, and sooner or later, sustain injuries that could be easily prevented, so why not understand how the old-mans’ game works in preparation of that moment?

I just want to play with the movement, keep myself, both body and mind, sharp for as long as possible. Hope you have a plan for your training progression and the option to act like your age.

Live on, roll on!

In servitude,
Vince Choo