What Role Do You Play On the Team at Your BJJ Academy?

As one of the older teammates at my BJJ academy, I consider myself slower and less athletically gifted than many of my fellow students. I see many other students training who are much younger, come from a martial arts background, and/or are simply in a stage in their life where they’re able to train nearly every day. I find that either due to work commitments, travel, or simply being limited to what my body will tolerate, I can only train 3-4 times per week tops. I find that it’s absolutely essential for me to do strength and conditioning work outside of class to ensure that my body is capable of responding to what I ask of it during training, as well as to prevent injury.

As a result, it often feels as though I’m progressing at a slower pace than my teammates who are younger and physical capable of training much more often. I find myself wondering sometimes if my slower progression is limiting the development of my teammates. I’ve developed a theory which I hope enables me to be a better training partner and has the added benefit of enhancing my development as a Jiu Jitsu player.

I have a theory that we can all contribute even more to our teammates by giving thought to the role we play on the team and how our teammates benefit from training with us. This can take on several meanings that can present several possible roles we can play.
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The Student with Outstanding Athletic Ability
We all know these folks. They’re the ones who played varsity everything in high school and college and seem to roll like purple belts after training for less than a month. Usually this person is also a former wrestler. They usually have outstanding cardio and are quite strong. They also seem to pick up all of the moves being taught the first time around. This type of student can be excellent to train with as they often possess tons of explosiveness, have a great sense of timing, yet due to their athletic prowess don’t quite have an understanding of how much natural talent they have. They’re just doing what comes naturally to them.

While I don’t enjoy rolling with such partners all the time, I like to find someone from this background to roll with at least once per rolling session. Rolling with such a person is usually very humbling (for me, at least), and I’m forced to pace myself unless I get gassed very quickly as they can usually turn up the heat throughout the entire roll. These rolls teach me to think quicker than I normally need to, and I find myself working defensive positions.

Drilling with this type of student is truly a gift as they usually just “get it” and I can learn much from observing how they perform the moves of the day in our drilling session. Having a long history with team sports, this student typically is extremely generous with their observations and advice if asked.
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Former Martial Artists or Those Crossing Over from Another Discipline
These folks also often pick up the moves quickly simply from having done so in other disciplines for many years. When they offer advice, it’s always welcomed as it’s usually spot on. Again, these students tend to seem much more advanced than the actual amount of time they’ve been training due to how comfortable they already are on the mats, and the fact that they already have a learning process. I try to stay close to these students as I always learn from them. They seem to pick up on details I often miss. Also, they have humility from having gone through the learning process with other disciplines. There’s no ego, and they simply love being on the mats and sharing the learning experience. We have one such student at our Jiu Jitsu academy. He’s a two stripe white belt, but rolling with him feels like I’m rolling with a high level blue belt. However, he’s incredibly humble, always eager to help a fellow student, and brings a positive energy to the training.
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Those Who Are…um…More “Mature”
This is where I fit in at my BJJ Academy. As a BJJ practitioner who is 40 plus year in age, I’m around 10-20 years older than most of my teammates. In some cases, I’m 30 years older! I move slower, I pick up on moves slower, I don’t retain the information as well, and I tire more easily. However, I’ve noticed that I (and most of my peers) possess two qualities in more abundance than my teammates. First, I’m strong. Not in a “I can deadlift 600 pounds” type of strong. It’s more a natural strength from a combination of a lifetime of strength training with as good form as I can muster, and some of that “old man strength” starting to creep in.

The other quality, patience, can only come from being alive longer. This covers various aspect of the game including being patient enough to know that development and promotions will come whenever I’m ready for it, and to just enjoy the process. Just as important is being patient during drilling and rolling. When drilling, I move very slowly to ensure that I’m performing the moves correctly and deliberately. My hope is that my partners will follow suit (they often do) and will take the time to let the proper form settle in. I’m also not afraid to ask question, even if there’s a chance they might be perceived as obvious or silly. I’m too old to care. If I want an answer, I ask and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. There’s a strong chance that someone else will benefit from hearing the answer anyway, so I’ll continue asking my obvious and silly questions.

Patience also plays a huge role in my rolling. I’m finally learning to slow the pace and conserve my physical and mental energy. I’m learning to appreciate positions and to move thoughtfully and deliberately. It’s a constant struggle, and I’m still learning when I need to be explosive.

I sincerely hope that my teammates can benefit from my “mature” aspects.

Summary
Maybe I’m on to something here, or maybe I’m completely full of it and am spinning my wheels. I like to think that by analyzing our individual strengths and weaknesses, in addition to working on our own games, we can learn the various ways that we can exploit those characteristics to make ourselves fully available for our training partners so that we can help fellow teammates at our BJJ Academy to grow as much as possible.

The Importance of Proper Form When Strength Training

I freely admit that I’m a complete nerd when it comes to studying proper form when strength training. I even go so far as to analyze videos on YouTube and Instagram and critique the form of the posters. I’m sure that this is partly due to a slight case of OCD, but much of it is rooted in a desire to achieve maximum results when weight training and to avoid injury.

Why does this matter so much? As BJJ practitioners (and especially for 40 plus practitioners), and as human beings with busy lives, we need to make every moment and effort count. This is especially true with regard to our hobbies so that we can have more time available for family and career. And it allows us to have more energy and time to devote to our BJJ practice. Studying a martial can be taxing enough, especially as we age, so it’s important for our supplementary training to be as efficient as possible.

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In a previous post, I did a review of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister book and program. You can access that post here. One of the most important insights that Pavel shares is that with the Simple & Sinister program, we can do the bare minimum of work to maintain strength and mobility so that we don’t detract from whatever our primary pursuit is, whether it’s a martial art, law enforcement, or spec ops. We should train enough to keep our bodies ready for action, but not so much that we’re too fatigued to do our primary work. And for those of us 40 plus practitioners who sometimes have many more work and family commitments, this approach can be especially helpful for how we manage our time.

I would argue that this applies equally to using proper form when training. Whenever I see a video of someone using momentum to move a weight or not using full range of motion, I privately lament how inefficient their use of time is. Furthermore, much of the poor form I see also increases the chances for injury.

In BJJ, we need to develop strength and mobility throughout the entire range of motion, and this often extends into ranges of motion that don’t always come naturally to our physiques. Practicing our strength training with mindfulness, awareness, and conviction has multiple benefits. First, as mentioned earlier, it enables us to develop strength throughout the entire range of motion. Second, it allows us to practice and burn into our muscle memory the safest and most efficient ways of performing the primary muscle movements (push, pull, hip hinge) so that we can perform these movements more efficiently during our BJJ training. Third, it enables a mindset with regard to training that teaches us to train any and all muscles movements with care and precision, which increases the likelihood that we’ll utilize better control when we’re rolling. This is safer and more efficient. As a 40 plus BJJ practitioner, I find that focusing on form is especially important for staying safe, healthy, and injury free.

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I would encourage all BJJ practitioners to read Pavel’s Simple & Sinister as well as checking out Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, anything that Dan John has written, as well as Scott Iardella’s series of books on strength training. All of these authors are at the top of the strength training field, and they all write in a clear and accessible manner. I’ve reaped enormous benefits from following their books, blogs, and podcasts and I consider their writing a must for any martial artist.

Dan John
Before We Go: An Ongoing Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning
Fat Loss Happens on Monday: Habit-Based Diet & Workout Hacks

Mark Rippetoe
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition

Scott Iardella
The Edge of Strength: An Unconventional Guide To Live Your Strength And Discover Your Greatness
The Shock And Awe Protocol: Kettlebell Training For Size And Strength

Pavel Tsatsouline
Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Book Review: Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts

Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts: Winning Clinches, Takedowns, & Tactics

By Andrew Zerling
Forewords by Steve Scott and Stephan Kesting

I was first exposed to sumo wrestling by attending a tournament in Osaka, Japan several years ago, which inspired me to read more about this art form. It was obvious from watching the matches that there is a great deal of skill involved in sumo wrestling that is directly related to other martial arts, and I wanted to learn more.

Sumo is a deep part of Japanese tradition due to both its historical significance and its connection with the Shinto religion. In fact, most of the symbolism in a match is taken from Shintoism. At its core, the rules are incredibly simple. The goal is to make your opponent touch the ground with a body part other than their feet, or to throw them from the ring. Various throws and strikes are utilized to achieve this goal. Most matches last less than a minute, and many less only a few seconds.

Due to the lack of weight classes in sumo, it becomes absolutely necessary to develop a strong technique. Often, there can be a weight difference of as much as 100 pounds between opponents, so smaller opponents must rely on efficient use of leverage and have a creative game.

Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts begins with two excellent forewords by Steve Scott and Stephan Kesting. In particular, Stephan Kesting is well known for his excellent podcast series and online martial arts resource at grapplearts.com.

In chapter one, Andrew Zerling begins by offering the reader a thorough overview of sumo wrestling, including its history, symbolism, strategies, and how the sport is organized. He then proceeds to compare sumo with other Japanese martial arts and draws parallels between the various techniques. It is here that we learn how modern Judo, and thus Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, have roots in sumo, particularly with regard to takedowns and the overall physics of manipulating one’s opponent and formulating strategy.

Zerling describes and offers clear illustrations for the most commonly used sumo moves and does so with enough clarity for the ready to be able to understand and follow a sumo match. I recently visited a sumo stable in Tokyo, Japan to watch the morning training and thanks to this book, I could understand much of what was being trained.

Chapter 2 present various sumo case studies by explaining winning techniques employed by many famous sumo wrestlers. We learn how smaller wrestlers adjust their game to overcome much larger opponents, and we begin to learn about sumo strategy.

In chapter 3, Zerling show us the connections between sumo and MMA. We learn about how both art forms address the various phases of combat, though obviously sumo lacks a ground phase given that that’s where the match ends. It is in this chapter that we can begin to understand how a fighter approaches a match with regard to bringing their opponent into their comfort zone, whether that be the standing phase or the clinch phase. We learn the many similarities between the clinches and throws used in sumo and MMA, and how many MMA fighters learn from the physics and leverage that have utilized in sumo for many years. Zerling even shows us case studies from Mitsuyo Maeda and Lyoto Machida.

Chapter 4 presents a series of technical photos that demonstrate the techniques discussed earlier in the book. The photos show the author with various training partners in standard No Gi grappling gear and make it very easy to visualize direct application of these techniques to modern MMA or No Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I highly recommend Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts by Andrew Zerling to anyone interested in sumo or any other martial art. In addition to providing the reader with a thorough understanding of sumo and its influence on modern MMA and grappling, Zerling’s insights will be of tremendous use and interest to students of any modern martial art.

Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts: Winning Clinches, Takedowns, & Tactics
By Andrew Zerling

Book Review: Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, By Pavel Tsatsouline

I’ve found training with kettlebells to be one of the most beneficial strength and conditioning workouts for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It enables me to train muscle movements that mimic those used in BJJ, is great for developing strength and mobility, and has excellent cardio benefits.

When I first began training with kettlebells, I sought out a StrongFirst instructor. StrongFirst is the organization founded by Pavel Tsatsouline, the kettlebell guru credited with introducing kettlebell training to the west. I’ve trained with various StrongFirst instructors, have taken the StrongFirst one-day kettlebell training seminar, and am an avid following of the StrongFirst website and blog. Therefore, it was with keen interest that I read the book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline, which not only outlines a kettlebell training program designed to give a maximum return on investment, but also addresses many aspects of Pavel’s training philosophy.

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The premise of the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister training program is that kettlebell training shouldn’t overtax your body, but rather should enhance your ability and readiness to perform the task for which you’re training. This is perfect for a 40 plus BJJ practitioner like myself. By performing the three exercises in the program (Goblet Squat, Turkish Getup, and Kettlebell Swing), one can achieve a full body workout that will develop strength and conditioning in a perfectly reasonable amount of time (about 20-30 minutes per training session), and won’t be so taxing as to detract from one’s chosen task. While as martial artists it’s important for us to continue developing strength, mobility, and conditioning, it’s certainly counterproductive to take on a training regimen that taxes our bodies to the point that it detracts from our BJJ training. It can be a fine line between what enhances vs inhibits growth and development in our sport.

Prying Goblet Squat
In Pavel’s words “Not everybody needs to squat heavy, but everybody needs to squat. And the goblet squat is the squat for the people”. Because the squat movement is so prevalent in BJJ, it’s important to drill this into our muscle memory. As BJJ players, we don’t necessarily need to be able to set records for a squat 1RM, but we need to know how to do the movement properly and efficiently, with full range of motion, and preferably with at least a reasonable amount of resistance. So much of our work on the mats is heavily reliant on how we utilize our hips that it’s safe to say that an overwhelming portion of the movements we use regularly in training will benefit from a strong squat.

Turkish Getup
This is the king of all exercises. It’s practically a full body exercise that also addresses mobility, shoulder health, and core strength. In reality, every exercise should address core strength when performed correctly, but the TGU is particularly beneficial. Holding the weight overhead is excellent for developing upper body strength, but the “getting up” part of the TGU is directly applicable to nearly every move we do in BJJ. The most obvious crossover is the technical standup, which is a nearly identical movement to the TGU. Other moves on the mat which incorporate aspects of the TGU are the standing guard pass and even the triangle choke.

Kettlebell Swing
Well, the swing is also the king of all exercises, but for different reasons than the TGU. The swing is an excellent way to develop cardio conditioning and that can be developed in many ways depending upon the speed, length of sets, etc. Just as importantly, it’s an excellent way to develop a powerful and explosive hip hinge and to strengthen the posterior chain. Again, all extremely useful tools for grapplers. The swing is also a fantastic way (when performed properly) to develop a strong and stable core as well as a healthy back. Pavel suggests adding in variations of the swing when doing Simple & Sinister, which allows one to work a greater variety of muscles and skills. I often will also include snatches in my Kettlebell Simple & Sinister routines in order to drill mobility and overhead strength.

The one shortcoming I can find to the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister plan is the lack of pulling exercises, though these can be added in easily. I often make a point of doing a few sets of pullups at my BJJ academy before class several days per week and I find that to suffice.

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One aspect of training that Pavel talks about is what he calls “greasing the groove”. This concept is that it’s not necessary to do an incredibly strenuous strength and conditioning workout every time one trains, especially if the goal is being better prepared for another activity, such as grappling. Our focus should be on our grappling without having to be concerned about overtraining or being worn out from our strength training. When greasing the groove, one can do a few sets when it’s convenient throughout the day until all of the necessary sets are completed. As someone who works from home, I often keep a kettlebell in the middle of the room and will take regular breaks to do a few sets of TGU or swings. This clears my head, allows my body to reset, and helps me to get in all of my reps. This method has the added benefit of allowing us to perform our sets in a fresh state each time we perform them, which is better for maintaining proper form. The only disadvantage to greasing the groove is that it’s not as effective for conditioning, but there still are benefits.

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I highly recommend Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline for anyone looking for a strength and conditioning plan to enhance their BJJ training. I’ve yet to find a book that so thoroughly and clearly explains the purpose of each exercise, how to properly perform it, how to breathe, and how to program the routine. In Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, Pavel teaches solid technique and meaningful philosophy. It’s been my personal experience that this is a training plan that is easy to follow and understand, is fun, and is enormously beneficial. I highly recommend it.

Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu With Intent and Purpose

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As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner who is 40 plus years old, I’ve found that it’s not possible to train with the same intensity as my younger teammates. My body doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to, so I can’t train as many days per week. Also, my body doesn’t tolerate the strain of sparring as well as it could twenty years ago. Therefore, I’ve made some adaptations to my training that I’ve found to be quite effective.

Choosing which classes to take
By alternating between traditional classes that include sparring and more drilling focused classes, I can get the necessary mat time without inflicting too much abuse on my body. Of course, this may not be an option at every school, but if your Jiu Jitsu academy offers more self-defense or drilling oriented classes, I would recommend including these into your routine. I get a lot out of learning the Gracie Combatives curriculum and find that I can always learn things that can be applied directly to my sparring. Nearly every class includes takedowns, submissions, and/or escapes, which I find to be immensely valuable. Also, the minutes immediately before and after class can be an excellent time to drill with my teammates to help me to solidify any moves I’m currently working on. By adding in drilling classes, I’m able to train an extra two to three days per week without have to be overly concerned about overtraining. I usually take four classes per week, of which two are traditional sparring classes and two are self-defense drilling classes.

Attending open mats
This may seem fairly obvious, but open mats can be an excellent time to dial in the skills learned during the rest of the week. By using this time for drilling and light flow-rolling, it enables one to be much more focused and efficient with their energy during regular sparring sessions.

Working on your “game”
I often make a point of focusing on one particular aspect of my game during sparring sessions. For example, if I know that I need to work much more on a particular guard pass, I’ll make a point of allowing my opponent to pull guard so that I can work on that position. I’ll focus on finding openings to use the intended guard pass, even if it’s not necessarily the best choice at the time. Either way, I’m still learning, even if I’m simply learning when not to use that particular pass. Regardless, I’m still becoming more familiar with the move.

Slowing things down
I believe it’s especially important for practitioners in the 40 plus age range to focus on slowing down their game. We’ll never beat the younger and faster opponents using speed and power. Instead, our strength is in our patience and wisdom, which can both be applied directly to our game. When rolling with a younger opponent who is faster and more aggressive, I try to compensate by slowing down my game and looking for openings. I focus on keeping my breathing controlled, and moving deliberately. I patiently wait for my opening before utilizing explosive power. This conserves my strength and energy, and often will tire out the younger opponents. It’s all about economy of motion and energy. I learn a lot from rolling with more advanced players and I try to observe how patient and deliberate they often are.

Proper warmup and cooldown
I make a point of stretching before and after training. Even just a few minutes makes a huge difference. This eases the strain on our bodies and reduces recovery time.

Hydrating
After putting our muscles through such an intense activity, it’s especially important to hydrate enough. If I’m feeling particularly dehydrated, I’ll sometimes grab a Gatorade on the way home. However, I try to avoid such drinks because of all the added chemicals. Instead, I’ll reach for a banana or a peanut butter sandwich as a means of replacing lost electrolytes. But mainly, I focus on drinking a lot of water.

Strength training
For BJJ players who are 40 plus, it’s especially important to maintain a strength and conditioning program. I find that even just twice per week is plenty, and it shouldn’t be too strenuous. Just something that focuses on the major movements can be enough. I do a simple barbell or kettlebell routine that provides training of the hip hinge, squat, push, and pull. The emphasis should be on training the movement with some added resistance. It’s not important for us to constantly be maxing out, but instead to make our focus training the movements. Adding some resistance will help us to develop added strength. And we should never sacrifice form. Using proper form in our strength and conditioning routines will help us to train our bodies to move properly while sparring, which will help to reduce injuries and will reinforce the various movements we learn in class. As an example, the Turkish Getup is an excellent complement to the standing guard pass and the technical standup. It’s also a crucial part of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister strength and conditioning program.

Summary
I’ve found that using these techniques allows me to train much more efficiently and more safely. I’ve found my game improving more rapidly and I’m able to spend more time on the mat. I hope you find some benefits in these observations, and I welcome your feedback as well.

The Mental Health Benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Benefits of BJJ

Last week in class at my Jiu Jitsu academy as the active part of the warmup began, I noticed something that I found to be very interesting. I immediately was overcome by a profound feeling of elation and happiness. It wasn’t just the kind of happy that one feels when they begin an activity they enjoy, but rather something bordering on a runner’s high type of happiness. This experience led me to wonder about the mental health benefits of BJJ and to search out what some others have had to say about it. Although one could argue that these feelings of joy and elation are simply the result of an endorphin release, and they’d be partly correct, it must be noted that this experience occurred at the beginning of training, and therefore prior to when the endorphin release would be in full effect.

I would argue that at this stage of training I was experiencing a sense of what sociologist Victor Turner calls communitas. This is a sense of a greater community and togetherness that members of a community experience through shared rites of passage such as religious experiences, work, music, sports, and other occurrences. I would argue that Jiu Jitsu is actually a combination of several of these types of ritual. On the surface, we experience the bonding of sport and functioning together as a team. However, one of the most profound benefits of BJJ is that it is a profound tool for introspection and personal development. We share with our training partners an intensely personal struggle which enables us to form bonds with our teammates that’s similar to those who experience fraternal rituals together, participate in sports teams, or undergo severe physical or mental hardship together.

I often find that when I try to explain how wonderful the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community is, and the intensely positive energy we experience in our Jiu Jitsu academy, people who have never trained any martial art look at me with a blank stare. As martial artists, we share an experience that is unique that only those of us who participate in it can truly understand. This creates an intense bond between all practitioners whether they’ve trained together for years or have only just met.

And of course there’s the BJJ community, which I find to be comprised of some of the nicest, kindest, most helpful people one could ever meet. Being surrounded by that positive energy, it’s nearly impossible not to feel uplifted after training. I find myself leaving the BJJ academy feeling like a better person, and wanting to continue to evolve.

As we all know, BJJ is an intensely physical activity which releases tons of endorphins. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most of us experience an endorphin high just like the famous runner’s high. Exercise has been shown to reduce depression, improve memory, and to some degree prevent the onset of dementia. Therefore, it’s no wonder that thirty minutes of drilling followed by another thirty minutes or more of rolling should produce such extreme feelings of euphoria.

One of my favorite benefits of Jiu Jitsu is the meditative aspect of the sport. When you’re rolling, there’s no time to think; there’s only time to react. Otherwise, reflexes become too slow to be effective. This has the result of freeing the mind to become a blank slate while we act solely on instinct. Learning to exist in such a situation for periods of five minutes or more at a time allow us to clear our minds of any superfluous thoughts and simply exist. Those minutes of rolling are pure meditation. In today’s fast paced world, it’s so rare to an opportunity to truly tune out the static of the outside world and focus only on one simple task. In our case, it’s to submit or be submitted. I live for those rolls when the only thing I hear is the sound of my breathing and my opponent’s breathing, and our roll becomes a conversation. Even working out at the gym isn’t nearly as meditative as there’s often background music, waiting for equipment, moving out of people’s way, etc.

Lastly, there’s the self-growth aspect of BJJ. I love knowing that at 48 years old, I’m a beginner to a discipline that’s brand new to me. It’s absolutely thrilling to approach it as a child and to absorb the material and to learn a new skill that’s so rich and deep. It keeps the mind fresh, alert, and awake. Each training session is every bit as much a mental workout as it is physical. It’s also a great way to stay humble and to keep one’s ego in check!

I’m looking forward to continuing to training BJJ beyond my 40 plus years, and for many years to come. Though I still do strength training at the gym several days a week, I can’t think of a better workout than BJJ. Most importantly, I appreciate the peace of mind it gives me from the meditation of the drilling and the rolling. It’s tempting to measure my progress by the stripes on my belt or my performance on the mat, but sometimes I need to remind myself that if my training is helping me to stay focused, relaxed, and in a good mood, I’m still progressing just fine.

Injury Prevention For Training BJJ Over the Age of 40

Injury prevention for BJJ over 40

Every once in a while I’m reminded that although I’m often rolling with teammates who are twenty years younger than I am, my body just can’t operate at the same physical intensity as it did when I was in my twenties. I can tell when I’m pushing it too far by one of several symptoms. I sometimes am more prone to injury, fatigue, or even illness. I’ve developed a few ways to prevent these symptoms in order to allow me to train as regularly as possible as one of the few members of my team who train BJJ over 40.

Don’t Over-train
This may seem obvious, but it’s often difficult to resist the temptation to attend class every day. Those of you who practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu know just how addictive it can be. It’s taken a while, but I’ve found three to four times per week to be the sweet spot. Any more than that and I begin to feel fatigue, and sometimes even begin to feel sick. I also get sloppy on the mat, which can sometimes result in injury or more aches and pains due to pulled muscles. I also am careful about balancing the rolling classes with drilling classes. If I want to train an extra class, I’ll take a class that focuses more on drilling so that I can at least go through the movements on the mat.

Sleep
Even though we’re not all UFC fighters who can sleep ten hours per night to properly recover during their training camps, it’s still absolutely essential to get enough rest to allow our bodies to fully recover from our training. This is especially true for those of us who train BJJ over 40. Any other combat sport takes a much bigger toll on the body than playing a round of golf. This is also an important for one’s safety and it’s important to be fully alert when doing any combat sport. We need to know when to tap, and to have quick reflexes to respond to our opponent’s tap. And of course there’s the issue special awareness, performing techniques properly and safely, etc. Personally, I need my seven to eight hours of sleep per night if I’m training regularly.

Nutrition
Again, this may seem obvious, but there are other aspects to it as well. I’ve found myself trying to count calories and have discovered that if I’m training regularly, I’ll sometimes not eat enough calories or hit the right nutrition macros to properly fuel my body. First of all, there’s that whole hydration thing. When I’m training regularly, I drink water constantly, and most especially following class in order to assist with the recuperation process. Second, whenever possible, I try to make sure that the food I’m eating is high in nutritional content. Also, following workouts I’ll often eat a banana to make sure I’m getting enough potassium, and I generally try to avoid those heavily sugared sports drinks that try to pass themselves off as being healthy.

Strength and Conditioning
I know some younger practitioners at my Jiu Jitsu academy who claim that to get better at BJJ, you just need to do BJJ and that extra strength and conditioning aren’t so important. For those of us in the 40 plus age bracket, that’s not so much the case. We need to make sure our bodies are in good shape for the stress that BJJ places on them. I find it’s necessary to perform some assistance exercises about once or twice per week. I’ve experimented quite a bit and here’s what I’ve found works for me.

Simple & Sinister: This workout plan by the kettlebell guru Pavel Tsatsouline is pretty darn effective. You do 5 Turkish Getups per side and 100 kettlebell swings. That’s it. It’s simple enough that it doesn’t interfere with your BJJ training, yet sinister enough to give the body a good workout. The getups and the swings both address strength through compound exercises, and the swings also give a good conditioning workout.

Basic Compound Workout: This my favorite and in my opinion, the most effective. This workout routine consists of three compound exercises that each address different types of movement. You need a pull, a push, and a hip hinge. All three are useful and quite necessary in both BJJ and life in general. Here are some examples:

Pull: Pullups, barbell rows, or rowing machine

Push: Pushups, overhead kettlebell presses, or barbell military press

Hip Hinge: Deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or barbell squats

Travel: When I travel, it’s very easy for my workout routine to become unhinged. I’ve recently begun traveling with a TRX GO Suspension Training Kit so that I can complete a full body workout in any hotel room.

I’ll sometimes add a few sets of kettlebell swings or snatches as a finisher. And of course, it’s extremely important to stretch. I find the older I get the more important the stretching part is.

Summary
All of this may seem fairly obvious, but when life happens, we get busy, and we get very eager to roll with our teammates, it can be very easy to forget about proper rest, nutrition, and assistance exercises. There’s no need to go over the top with any of these things. It’s just important to be mindful and aware. A few nights of poor sleep isn’t the end of the world, and a few chocolate chip cookies every once in a while won’t destroy our training. Also, there’s no need to strength train as if we’re preparing for a powerlifting competition. The most important thing is using good form and using enough resistance to maintain and hopefully build some extra strength. We want to save our energy for our BJJ training. The important things is to incorporate as much of these concepts into our daily routine as possible so that we can continue our BJJ training over 40as healthy and injury free as possible.

Nutrition: A Constant Conundrum

Nutrition for BJJ

As someone who travels frequently for work, it’s often very difficult to maintain a good diet, especially one that will support the nutritional demands of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is something I’ve been struggling with throughout my journey. I’ve tried calorie counting, Weight Watchers, various iOS apps, and reading a number of books. I think I’ve finally found something that works, provided that I maintain a certain amount of willpower. There’s a lot of discussion about nutrition for BJJ. I don’t claim to be an expert, but rather, I’m simply sharing my personal experience.

Calorie Counting and 10,000 Steps Per Day
At first, I had to make some lifestyle changes. For me, the best way to do this was to quantify my caloric intake. Even though my iOS app of choice, MyFitnessPal, wasn’t always 100% accurate, it forced me to stay accountable for the food I ate. And my Fitbit Charge 2  forced me to commit to leading a more active lifestyle. Fortunately, NYC is a walking city, so it was easy to maintain a regular schedule of long walks, whether to and from work or just while running errands.

The tricky part came when I began doing strength training more often and with increasing intensity. I found that in an effort to meet my calorie cutting goals (at least according to my iOS app), I would begin to see signs of overtraining or undereating. Something had to change.

Eat To Live
My personal trainer recommended that I read the book Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Furhman. This is when it all began to click for me. Dr. Furhman is a strong advocate for a strictly plant based diet, which is not something that interests me. However, the main takeaway from his book, at least for me, is his emphasis on being mindful of the quality of the nutrients that one puts in their body. In other words, it’s not just a matter of cutting calories, but rather ensuring that the calories one ingests are truly providing useful fuel for the body.

This approach made a lot of sense to me, and I found it quite liberating to finally be free of the calorie cutting model. According to Fuhrman, our bodies naturally know when to tell us to stop eating when what we’re eating is the fuel that nature intended for us. Not having the desire to micro-manage my diet, I broke my nutrition down into a set of several rules: 1) stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, 2) cut down on (and eliminate as much as possible) processed sugar, 3) eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible throughout the day, 4) eat at least one large salad per day with minimal dressing, 5) cut back on animal protein, and 6) keep alcohol to a minimum. And when choosing between two foods for a snack or a meal, I ask myself “which is a better source of fuel?”, and “which will provide better nutrition for my BJJ training?”

Of course there are times when schedule, availability, or emotions get in the way, but if I can stay on track most of the time, I figure that I’m doing okay. And there are times when it seems silly not to indulge a bit. After all, I still have a sweet tooth and a love for steak, so I just keep it to an absolute minimum and allow myself these pleasures when I know I’m in a situation in which I have access to a truly memorable culinary experience. Personally, I’d rather have a great steak or a great dessert only every once in a while, but when I do have them, they’d better be seriously off the charts amazing!

Managing Diet on the Road
Here’s where it gets tricky, although I’ve developed some strategies for staying on track when traveling.

Airports are the most difficult. There are temptations all around, and the healthy choices are usually quite unappealing. These days, it’s usually possible to find a decent salad in an airport, so that’s a big help. Also, the more I can fill up on fruit and nuts (provided that I control the portion size), the less likely I’ll be to make impulsive eating decisions. Continuing to stay hydrated helps stave off the hunger too. If I stop for a meal, I make every effort possible to eat “real” food. No hamburgers, pizza, etc. And if I must have sweets, I’ll pick up a small piece of gourmet chocolate to satisfy the craving. On the airplane, particularly on long haul flights, I allow myself to indulge, which makes the flight much more enjoyable and helps me to stay under control after I land.

Hotels don’t have to be a trap. Restaurant staff in hotel restaurants will usually gladly try to accommodate any reasonable substitution request. And those buffet breakfasts can actually be helpful. I always start with a healthy serving of fruit and a hard-boiled egg or two. Beyond that, I evaluate the quality of the individual items to decide the best choices. Yogurt, granola (in small portions), and potatoes can be options depending upon the freshness, quality, etc. I never drink juice and I always drink a lot of water, especially at breakfast. I’m also not ashamed to admit (well, maybe just a little) that I’ve been known to take an apple and banana or two from the breakfast buffet as a snack later in the day. It’s important to remember that many hotels will provide a refrigerator in your room if you ask. Even if you must pay a fee, this is incredibly helpful as it allows you to keep healthy food options constantly available to you. I find that if I have healthy food to snack on throughout the day, I’m much less likely to let my nutrition go off the rails when I’m eating out. I also recently discovered through the help of a dietician that I’ve not been eating enough carbs. My instinct from my past was to drastically reduce carbs, but it turns out that reducing them too much doesn’t provide adequate nutrition for BJJ and can result in low energy. Though I still avoid processed carbs, it’s nice to know that it’s actually beneficial to enjoy a potato or rice.

Lifestyle Changes
By now, I’ve been doing this for long enough that it’s become part of my lifestyle. I still go off the rails at times, but I’m able to get back on track fairly quickly. The biggest help is having a plan in advance. This eliminates any stress related to unknown situations. It’s still a struggle, but having a plan in place is key. The more I concern myself with my nutrition and not whether or not I’m adhering to a “diet”, the more successful I am.

Fitbit Charge 2

Eat to Live

Why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

The Initial Spark
When I set about to learn a martial art, I never imagined that I would have found myself in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, commonly referred to as BJJ for short. As I mentioned in my previous post, I discovered BJJ through a No-Gi class at my former Krav Maga academy. As I had wrestled in junior high school and enjoyed impromptu wrestling matches with my buddies during my high school years, learning a grappling centered art seemed natural. However, I was completely unprepared for what I discovered in that first BJJ class, especially as a 40 plus student.

First of all, everything was much more difficult than any physical activity or workout I had ever experienced before. For the first time in a long time, I was so winded that I didn’t even know if I could finish the class. Aside from the physical demands, learning the coordination required for the drills and moves we were learning was incredibly frustrating. I wasn’t prepared to move my body in such unfamiliar ways, and everything seemed so incredibly complicated. When it came time to roll (spar), I was even more lost. Everything I tried to do just seemed wrong, and I kept getting submitted so quickly that I had so idea what was happening. In short, the experience was so frustrating that it actually seemed like my opponent was doing a magic trick.
At the end of the class, I was beat up pretty badly, but I also noticed that everyone was incredibly nice, supportive, helpful, and friendly, and they genuinely wanted to make sure that I had a great experience. In short, I was hooked. I was determined to learn what this art was all about. At this point, I hadn’t heard of the Gracie family and knew nothing about their involvement with the UFC. I simply recognized BJJ as a fascinating, challenging, and beautiful art and I was determined to learn it.

My Jiu Jitsu Journey Begins
The next week I signed up for an introductory offer for new students at Vitor Shaolin’s Jiu Jitsu Academy, otherwise known as Modern Martial Arts in midtown Manhattan. I got two classes and a basic starter Gi. I was immediately impressed with the high level of instruction, the focus on safety, and how friendly and helpful everyone was. I joined right away and never looked back.
Starting any martial art, and particularly BJJ, after the age of 40 plus has its own challenges, even for someone who’s in relatively decent shape, as I was at that time. My schedule as a musician often made it difficult to train as regularly as I would have liked, so my development was even slower. However, I soon discovered that the benefits of Jiu Jitsu were so much more important than just whether or not I can submit my opponents or whether I earn another stripe on my belt.

Benefits of Jiu Jitsu
First of all, it’s an amazing physical workout. I’ve never found a better way to work my cardio than BJJ. Even the warmups are more strenuous than any running or biking I’ve ever done. BJJ also works strength as so much of the grappling game requires the practitioner to do standard pushing, pulling, gripping, squatting, and hip-hinge movements so essential to everyday life.

Jiu Jitsu is an amazing mental workout. At my age, it’s rare for people to take up learning a new skill. I was surprised at how difficult it was (and still is) to remember the moves being taught, acquire the coordination to perform them, and develop the memory to retain them. This art constantly tests my memory, my spatial relationships, as well as my strategic thinking. It’s really like learning another language.
It’s a form of meditation. When I’m drilling a new move or rolling with my opponent, the only thing I can think about is what I’m doing in that moment. All other thoughts go out the window. So for that hour I’m in class, it’s a magical experience during which time stands still. When I’m in the middle of a good roll with a well matched opponent, the only thing I hear is the sound of my breathing and I simply move without thinking. It’s difficult to convey just how great you feel from the endorphins that are released during such an activity. When I leave class, I’m on a natural high for days. I finally understand what runners have been talking about for all this time. One of the best benefits of Jiu Jitsu is that when I’m training regularly, I feel happier, more relaxed, and more in touch with the world and other human beings.
The BJJ community is made up of some of the most wonderful and interesting people you could ever meet. I’ve trained in my home Jiu Jitsu academy in NYC and have visited schools in Philadelphia, Hamburg, London, Osaka, and Tokyo. Without exception, I was welcomed warmly and made to feel at home. Even language wasn’t a barrier. As long as I joined the class with respect, humility, kindness, and a desire to learn, I was welcomed.

Summary
At this point, I’m hooked. I’d love to eventually earn my black belt, but it’s more important to me to know that I’m learning and developing. The belts will happen naturally. The biggest surprise for me has been learning that BJJ is an art form that has a profoundly positive impact on my character and I believe it helps its practitioners to be the best human beings they can possibly be.

How This Journey Began

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu White Belt

At the age of 45, I began studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Vitor Shaolin’s Jiu Jitsu academy. I’ve now been at it for nearly two years, and it’s had a profound impact on my life. However, my journey really began several years prior when I received some startling news from my doctor. I learned that my cholesterol was high and my BMI put me officially in the obese category. I had always been active during my childhood and even throughout my 20’s and 30’s, but I had allowed myself to grow sedentary and careless with my diet. As a result, my body grew horizontally. Determined to avoid medication, I immediately joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and began adjusting my diet to focus more on eating food that’s high in nutrients.

I focused my workouts on kettlebells, barbells, and bodyweight routines as I had always loved weight training during my teens and my 20’s, and I had recently become interested in finding out more about kettlebells. After about two years of steady training and attention to my nutrition, I eventually lost about 30 pounds. I felt much better, looked much better, and my cholesterol came down to a safe level. I’m still not quite at my goals and my nutrition is always a challenge, but I’ve made major lifestyle changes.

Once I was feeling more like my old self again, I decided that it was time to move beyond my comfort zone. I had always wanted to study a martial art, but never followed through. I had done some wrestling back in junior high school and always loved it, so I knew that I would likely enjoy a grappling based discipline. However, I was intrigued by Krav Maga, the self defense system used by the Israeli military, so I signed up at a local school.

For the first year, I had a ton of fun training in Krav Maga. I felt more confident, was getting an amazing workout, and felt like a kid again. However, I sensed that there was more. I longed for a sense of competition and more focus on technique. In an effort to try something different, I signed up for a No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class that was offered a few times per week at my Krav Maga school. Not only was it one of the most difficult physical activities I’d ever taken on, but the techniques of my opponents were so effective that it seemed like sorcery. I knew that I had to learn what it was.

That same week, I researched some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) schools and decided to try the trial package at Vitor Shaolin’s Jiu Jitsu academy. At the time, I had no idea that Shaolin was (and is) and world champion BJJ and MMA fighter, and is highly respected all over the world. All I knew was that I has impressed with the high level of instruction at his school, the friendly atmosphere, and by how much fun the art of BJJ could be. After two classes, I was hooked and signed up immediately.

BJJ has since become an important part of my life. I’m still a white belt, and my progress is slow, but I’ve discovered an amazing community of wonderful people, and a truly beautiful art that benefits its practitioners in many ways; be it physical, intellectual, or emotional.

In this blog, I’ll discuss my BJJ and my fitness journey both to motivate others and to serve as motivation for my own practice.