Mastering The Masters: Everyone Grows Old, But Some Compete – Clarence Chaney

Clarence Chaney

Clarence Chaney

The masters divisions of the major BJJ tournaments have seen an expansion in popularity in recent years. Now over 30, 40 and even 50 year-old athletes have an opportunity to test their skills on a more even playing field.

The Jiu-Jitsu Times caught up with Clarence Chaney, who recently competed in the prestigious Pan American Championships, to talk about what he likes to call “mastering the masters division.”

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Clarence, first of all, can you share your background with us. How old are you, how long have you been training, and what is your home academy?

Chaney: I am Clarence Chaney from New Breed Mix Martials Arts, Santa Fe Springs, California.  I am an instructor and avid competitor that loves to compete. I have been training for close to seven years now, and currently competing over for over six.  I had found the new love of my life in jiu-jitsu after my dad had died and a good friend Fernando Smith said, “You will be good in this sport. Won’t you try it out?” Since I had played football all my life at a high level and I needed to do something with my life, so I gave it a try.  Now seven years later I am still going strong and mastering the master age group by winning tournaments, highly ranked, and making new friends.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: You recently competed at the major Pan Americans. What was your division? How did the tournament go for you?

Chaney: I had an awesome 2017 Pans by winning double gold in the Master 4 Super Heavy division and the Open Class.  Last year was rough since being injured from June of 2016 to January 2017. I will have surgery on my shoulder on April 13, which is in a few weeks, coupled with all the small injuries I still signed up ready to compete.  My mindset was to do as well as I know I could do despite being injured, and I came out with double gold to be this year’s Pans Champion.  It is always an honor to compete with some of the best Masters in the group, which made it more priceless to win. Becoming the 2017 Pans champ made it more appreciative than winning the Pans the first time.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: What is different about training for, and competing in, tournaments for a masters competitor?

Chaney: I have fought as an adult as well as masters all the way up to masters 4.  Training and preparing for the adults, you must train every day and drill every day, but the adults are young with little responsibilities – no kids and some stay at home.  Most masters have a job, wife, and kids, so training time is limited.  So, for my training for the master’s tournament, I spend more time drilling and chaining more moves together.  Another thing that I train is recovering and escaping from bad positions.  Because in the masters group, it is only 5 minutes match and your opponent will get two points and hold on for the rest of the match to take a 2 -0 victory. So, maximizing training time on and off the mat is essential, because we really have about 2 hours and maybe 2 to 3 times a week that we can train.   Being a master our time is really limited.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: What is different for you now compared to your under-30 experience?

Chaney: I started at 40 years old, so I never experienced training under the age of 30.  But I do see the difference in intensity and strength.  The 25 to 30 age group are some tough guys and girls as well.

Jiu-Jitsu Times:  It seems that injuries and slower recovery time plague the over 40 grappler. What do you do in your training to address these major factors?

Chaney: Those things like injuries and slower recovery time is all a part of Father Time and the aging process.  My best remedy that I have come across is working out at Peak Strength and Conditioning in Buena Park, California, having strength coaches to tailor my workouts to mimic competition jiu-jitsu is key.  It is mostly higher repetitions and lots of cardio with explosive movements. Most injuries occur due to fatigue and a lack of flexibility.  Another key factor is stretching every morning when I wake up; I do about a 15-minute stretch which helps with the limberness and flexibility which we lose over time.  Also for a masters group, we should always have a proper warm up before training. The best way is too ease into the class instead of going super hard at the beginning. Then you want to finish with a cool down and stretch. This will prolong your shelf life in jiu-jitsu and as well keep you as a high level competitor.  Good motto is train smarter not harder.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How have you adapted the way that you roll and your jiu-jitsu game after you passed 40 years of age? Is your game different now?

Chaney: I started jiu jitsu at the age of 40 but my game has changed drastically since I began in 2010.  When I started, everything was super-fast and ridged.  Nothing I did was smooth, and since being a football player and power lifter, I was super aggressive and relied on speed and strength.

When I started to compete I notice that everyone was strong and fluid with their movements.  As I adjusted my game and was introduced to different competitors that explain the idea of jiu jitsu, then the light bulb came on.  The first thing that they said was ask questions in class and never over think a move or position.  That was the first change in the game in swallowing my pride thinking that I knew it all.

Jiu-jitsu is like no other sport that you can pick and learn in 3 days.  It takes years to understand the art and build muscle memory.  They don’t teach jiu-jitsu in a P.E. class in elementary school.  Once that barrier was removed my game became wide open.

Another thing that changed my game was taking a loss in a tournament as a learning lesson, not just a loss.  Black belt Damien Davis from Primal Training Center in San Diego, CA mentioned to me “after a loss that you gain 6 weeks experience, after a loss because you will go back to your academy and correct the problem via drill and getting help from your instructor.”

The third thing that helped me open my game was that I understood that I cannot do all the moves because of my body type, flexibility issues, past injuries, etc.  But I learned to defend and recognize those movements and submissions to keep from being caught and forced to tap.  In all, I have adapted by increasing my knowledge of jiu-jitsu by asking questions and becoming a student of the art because when the talent decreases the knowledge should increase to balance your game out.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: One of the most common questions that we hear at the Jiu-Jitsu Times is “I’m over 40. Is it too late to start BJJ?” How do you answer that question?

Chaney: I laugh when I hear someone express that they are too old to start jiu-jitsu.  As mentioned, I started at the age of 40 and have met many new friends that has started as old as 56 years old and who competed as white belts for the first time.

The first thing when I talk to a person that is older and wants to try jiu jitsu, the first time I ask them is “Why do you want to do jiu jitsu?”  You never hear a person over 40 years old say “I want to become a world champion”.  My friend, black belt Russell Cantorna from Hustle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Santa Ana, CA gave the best speech ever.   He clearly stated, “We all have our own personal reasons why we walk through the door to step on the mats, put on a gi, and make contact with another human being.”  So I took that philosophy and expressed it to anyone. The reason why start jiu-jitsu and the byproducts of training jiu-jitsu are: many new friends, traveling, weight loss, cleared mind, stress relief, competition and best of all mastering the masters division by competing among your peers.

I would like to thank a few people that have made an impact on my jiu-jitsu and inspired me to strive to be respected among my peer as a fierce competitor and good person as well as being an ambassador of the sport of jiu-jitsu:

Master Johnnie Ramirez

Professor Paul Barbosa

Professor Jose de Jesus Gutierrez

Professor Damien Davis

Professor John Ouano

Professor Noah Tillis

Jacob Vasquez

Fernando “PBA” Smith

Also all my training partners that help to get ready for the competitions, and last but not least, my wife for letting me try all the moves on her knowing she does not like jiu-jitsu.


Instagram: bigfellachaney

Facebook: Clarence Chaney


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