What to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Train

Several months ago I registered for my first competition as a blue belt. Though I had the good fortune to get incredibly busy with my work as a synthesizer programmer for Broadway productions as I was mounting two shows simultaneously, this didn’t work out so well for my Jiu Jitsu training schedule. It quickly became clear that I wouldn’t have enough time on the mats to be fully prepared for competition or to even be confident about making weight, so I dropped out of the competition, but stayed determined to stay on point with my nutrition and my strength and mobility training.

Fortunately, after about a three week hiatus, I was able to return to training Jiu Jitsu once a week during my days off. During the rest of the days, I stayed in shape by designing a strength and mobility program that I could do each morning before I left for work. It consisted of kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, and mobility exercises, and it only took about 15 minutes per day. My program typically alternated between two different routines:

  1. Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister program, which consists of Kettle Goblet Squats, Turkish Getups, and Kettlebell Swings
  2. Pushups and planks

On both days, I’d follow up with mobility and exercises and stretching. Knowing that I’d be spending a lot of time sitting, I needed to make sure to counteract the effects of being more sedentary than usual. I also benefitted from my daily brisk walks between 6th Ave and 10th Ave as I moved back and forth between my two theatres.

Nutrition for BJJ

Starting my day with exercise, even just 15-20 minutes worth, was enough to keep my body healthy and to condition my brain to think with a healthy mindset with regard to nutrition. Throughout this period, I was shuttling between a Broadway theatre on West 44th Street and an Off-Broadway theatre on West 42rd Street, both in midtown Manhattan. Those of you who have spent any time around Times Square will know how difficult finding healthy food options can be around there. Fortunately, I found a salad place where I could grab a large healthy salad everyday for lunch. For dinner most days, I’d go to another place I know where I could get a protein, vegetable, and starch in reasonable portions. I made sure to keep fruit with me for snacking as well as a water bottle. Staying hydrated was essential.

In the end, I didn’t gain any weight, and even managed to lose a few pounds. Eating healthy and making time for exercise, even just a few minutes in the morning, kept me energetic, positive, and injury free. My weekly Jiu Jitsu classes were incredibly difficult at first, but it took minimal time to adjust once I was able to return to my normal 3-5x per week training schedule.

I no longer fear having to be away from Jiu Jitsu for extended periods, though my preference is always to be able to train at lease 2-3x per week for my physical and mental well-being as well as for my love of the sport. I have another busy period coming up next month, so I hope to use what I’ve learned this time around to continue to refine my routine so I can stay even more on top of my exercise and nutrition.

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.

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

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.

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.