Approaching BJJ Training With a Giving Mindset

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I often think about what makes a good training partner or what creates a supportive atmosphere at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy. I believe one very important factor is having teammates who approach their training from a giving mindset. Though in theory we pay good money on our classes with the expectation that our instructors will impart their hard-earned knowledge and wisdom to us, I believe that just as much of the responsibility for teaching and learning falls to us as students, regardless of rank.

First, we need to be considerate of our teammates. This means greeting everyone by name when we step onto the mat, asking thoughtful questions, paying attention when the instructor is demonstrating a technique, etc. However, this extends into other areas.

When drilling, we should be mindful of our partner’s physicality and the effect the techniques will have on them. For example, if practicing a takedown or a judo throw, it’s not necessary to throw your training partner at full force. or to choke your partner aggressively when drilling a choke. Go slowly and save the aggression for your next tournament.

When appropriate, give your drilling partner useful feedback. For example, if you sense that they can make an adjustment to the technique that would make it more effective, speak up. Let them know if gripping the collar a little deeper will make the choke more effective, or tell them if there’s a better way they can break your posture or balance. Conversely, compliment your partner when they demonstrate the technique effectively and give specifics as to why it worked.

If your drilling partner is having difficulty with the technique, help them if you can. Don’t be too rigid about the number of times you each practice the technique as you go back and forth. If your partner needs a few extra repetitions, graciously offer them the opportunity. You’ll continue learning by observing them and giving helpful feedback.

When sparring, resist the urge to show the same aggression you would in competition. Let your partners (and yourself) have enough stamina to train a few more rolls, and a few more days later in the week. Besides, there’s no point in risking injury any more than necessary when you’re rolling.

When training with a lower rank or a less experienced teammate, allow them to advance positions, escape, or even submit you on occasion. We all need this from time to time in order to practice the techniques we’re learning in a live situation. If you don’t feel comfortable allow them to submit you, at least allow them to achieve a better position and use it as an opportunity to practice some escapes.

Always remember to compliment your teammates. Let them what you like about their techniques, ask them questions about their approach, and let them know when you see improvement.

Always make time to drill before or after class when a teammate needs some extra practice. You’ll learn from it just as much as they will, and they’ll appreciate it immensely. It’ll also be a great opportunity to get to know your teammates better outside of the structure of a regular class.

By approaching every training session with a giving mindset, we can all elevate our teammates and ourselves, and motivate one another. It will also have a profound effect on our approach to life off the mats. I always find that when I’ve been successful in giving to my teammates, I learn more, I bond with them better, and I feel even more uplifted when I leave the academy. It’s a constant reminder that nobody can improve and grow on their own. We’re all in this together.

Top Five Reasons to Train BJJ Over 40

BJJ over 40

I often hear people ask if they’re too old to begin training a martial art, specifically BJJ past the age of 40. I didn’t begin training BJJ until I was 45 years old (I’m now 48), and I’ve trained with people who didn’t begin until they were in their 60’s! In my opinion, it’s never too late to start, and often there are some extremely compelling reasons why it’s especially beneficial to begin training later in life.

1. The time to start is NOW!

The longer you put off beginning to train, the more you’ll regret it. Rather than wondering if you’re too old to train, or wasting time regretting not having started earlier, just jump it and begin your journey. Isn’t it better to get whatever training you can rather than live in the past wishing you had started at a young age? Forget about the arbitrary timelines and schedules and live in the moment. Jump in and begin your training.

2. Training BJJ will keep you feeling and looking young.

I don’t mind often being the oldest student in class. In fact, being around so many younger students is incredibly energizing. I’m pushed to my limits physically and mentally, and I like that. As a result, I feel much more young and vibrant than most of my peers.

3. BJJ is great exercise

This is very much related to #2, but just a bit more specific. Since we all need to exercise, why not pick something that’s strenuous and is an excellent workout? BJJ is incredibly more strenuous than the exercise that most people in their 40’s and beyond are doing. I can’t think of a better way to keep myself moving.

4. BJJ promotes brain health as we age

BJJ is great for keeping your brain healthy and for preventing dementia. As learning BJJ is very similar to learning a foreign language and it forces us to make extensive use of our cognitive abilities, BJJ can be an excellent way to help prevent the onset of dementia.

5. BJJ is excellent for mental health and is an great stress reliever

By the time most of us have approached 40, we’ve taken on various career and family responsibilities. An activity like BJJ provides an excellent opportunity for meditation and focusing the mind, and is thus an excellent way to relieve stress.      

There are certainly many more reasons to train BJJ that I could thing of, but this list is what I would consider the five most important benefits to training for an older grappler over the age of 40. While these benefits can apply to a grappler of any age, they’re more specific for the older practitioner.

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

Learning How to Learn

Today while in class at my BJJ academy, I discovered a breakthrough past what had been a source of frustration for me for quite some time. I realized that I was finally learning how to learn.

When I first began training BJJ and for a long time thereafter, my mind got lost in the details. Whenever the teacher would demonstrate a new move, I could sense my mind growing confused the more details that were articulated. By the time the instructor had finished demonstrating and explaining the fourth or fifth part of the move, my brain was just wrapping itself around the second or third detail. I’m not sure if this experience is unique to me as a 40 plus practitioner, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

I suddenly had the realization in class today that absorbing this information has become much more natural and intuitive. I was even able to ask some thoughtful questions and could make observations that my drilling partner didn’t notice.

Why is this? I love studying languages, even if just to learn a few phrases for a short trip. I’m currently studying Japanese, which has entirely different grammar than English. Just as when learning a foreign language one must practice every day, BJJ is no different. It truly is a foreign language with its own syntax and grammar. I suppose I realized this before, but now that I’m finally training with enough consistency to recognize movement patterns and to internalize concepts, I was able to experience this breakthrough.

I’m now developing a better sense of which details to pay attention to, as well as how to organize the steps in my brain in preparation for drilling. As recently as a few weeks ago, I would find that I wasn’t even sure where to look or which details were the most important, I can now begin to file away the information in a manner that gives me enough of a foundation to begin to work with my training partner. It’s getting to be a smaller leap from passive to active learning.

I suspect that age plays a factor here as well. As a 40 plus practitioner, I bring my own inherent biases with me to class with regard to how I think I learn. Also, it’s been much longer since I learned anything in a classroom setting than it has been for many of my teammates at my BJJ academy. I’m realizing that I must always be cognizant of this in order to enable me to keep an open mind and to allow me to absorb the information more easily. I discussed the benefits for Jiu Jitsu for mental health in another post, which you can find here.

All of this just reinforces my belief that BJJ is the perfect sport to practice in adulthood, especially for those of us who are 40 plus, to prevent the mind from aging too quickly. One of the primary benefits of Jiu Jitsu is that the constant drilling and study of new vocabulary keeps our minds in a perpetually youthful state through both physical and mental exercise.

Letting Go of the Ego

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Over 40

One of the benefits of Jiu Jitsu that I love the most is the opportunity to learn a new skill at this stage in my life. I began my training at 40 plus years of age, having already achieved career and personal success. As a professional musician, I understand what it means to achieve a certain level of mastery in a skill. Although I’m always striving to improve my skills as an artist, I found it quite refreshing to begin learning a new skill at which I’m a complete beginner.

What has proven exceptionally difficult for me to completely release my ego from the learning process. I found it exceptionally difficult to learn to be an absolute beginner at something again. I suppose it’s even more difficult with BJJ as the consequences are so extreme (getting choked, having limbs bent beyond their natural range of motion, etc) and the outcome of our sparring sessions is devoid of subjectivity.

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Over the past several months, I’ve focused only on showing up for class at my BJJ academy regularly, opening my mind and my heart, and releasing the ego completely. I understand intellectually that this is part of the process, but I suspect that being an 40 plus year old beginner and simply being at a stage in life where being the beginner in the situation is a rare occurrence, I found it difficult. I noticed a profound change. I learn much more quickly, I understand more of what’s being taught, and I can notice my game starting to improve in little ways. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a constant battle to just try to suck a little bit less each time, but I try to not even go that far. I consider it an accomplishment to show up for class regularly, put in 100% effort, and most importantly, let go of any ego and simply focus on opening the mind and heart.

I’m really enjoying this new place. I’m enjoying class much more, and I’m learning to live in the moment more. It doesn’t matter if I tap constantly or can’t execute a new sweep during a roll. I take pleasure in just being on the mats, putting in the work, and enjoying the camaraderie of my teammates and instructors.

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It’s incredibly refreshing to have been able to rekindle the sense of wonder while learning that we experience as children. I’m grateful to BJJ for helping me to find that space as it’s had a profound effect both on and off the mats.

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.