I started BJJ a couple of months ago, aged 35. My guess is that quite a few people my age who consider taking up a martial art decide they’re too old. It certainly crossed my mind.
A few months in I’m very glad that I took the general advice that you can start at any age. I can confirm it’s true. If you’ve got any interest, try a lesson or two.
More than that, I think there are some advantages to being a bit older. Nobody should put off starting. But there are compensations for a slight lack of youth and vigour.
Less trouble with your ego
One of the first things everyone told me when I started was ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be confused for at least 6 months. We all go through it.’
Starting is disorientating and sometimes frustrating. You start out being really bad at everything and getting tapped a lot.The most difficult thing though is that, quite often, you won’t even know what you should be trying to do — much less be able to do it.
All of this is hard on the ego. Everyone is very supportive. But partly that reflects the fact that the starting phase of BJJ is difficult, a lot of people drop out and people know you need that support.
Even beyond the very start, reading around and observing, it’s obvious that controlling the ego is a bit part of surviving and progressing in BJJ.
First, you need to keep plugging away until things start to make sense (I’m definitely still in this stage). Second, once things start to make sense you need to keep pushing on and learning. If you get too caught up in winning or belts or otherwise entangled in your sense of self importance you’ll probably get frustrated and quit — or injure yourself.
One of the advantages of starting late is that you’ll probably put less pressure on yourself to perform. Ego is still an issue — BJJ is competitive and we all like to win. But, as a mid-thirties office worker, I don’t feel the same need to prove something that I might have felt 15 years ago. Which means I can relax more and enjoy the journey.
More perspective / experience
Similarly, a decade and change into my adult life, I’ve got a slightly different perspective on time and progress than I might have had in my early 20’s. It will probably take me a few years to feel I’m making real progress. But that’s okay, I’ve got time. And a couple of years doesn’t feel as long as it might have done when I was younger.
More than that, I’ve been through similar learning curves before, particularly in education and in work. I know, if you keep at things, you normally get the hang of them in the end.
We generally have more money when we’re older than when we’re younger. Obviously this isn’t universally true (in fact none of these points is). But I was fortunate enough to be able to join a club, buy a gi and so on without financial worry. That wouldn’t have been true if I’d started 15-20 years ago.
We may benefit more…
This may be nonsense, but I think it’s quite easy to get a bit narrow as we get older. There’s less to learn and we may feel that we’ve got ourselves into a bit of a rut. We meet new people more rarely and most of the people we do meet are quite similar — because they’re drawn from the narrow pool of our work and social circle. We don’t do something totally new very often.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. But learning BJJ has been an opportunity to be a total beginner again and meet a whole bunch of new people who I’d never have got to know otherwise. That feels more important to me now, in my thirties, than it would have been in my twenties when I was doing that anyway by going to university, doing my professional training, starting my first job etc.
Also, on a purely physical level, most of us in our thirties and above probably benefit more from regular exercise than our younger compatriots. We’re reaching the age where we start to put on weight and the advantages of youth start to slip away. So a demanding physical hobby is just the thing. Not least to realise that, while we might have lost a step or two, we’re not quite over the hill yet.