Your Younger Self Would Love To See The Badass Adult Athlete You’ve Turned Into Today

Photo Source: Issys Calderon Photography

Some jiu-jitsu practitioners have always been fit, but others . . . well, let’s just say nobody ever thought they’d ever be describing us as “athletes.” We were the kids who were always picked last in gym class; the ones who were teased for being chubby or fat; and the ones who wanted to be like the cool, attractive student sports stars, but never would be.

Once removed from that school setting, most people’s dreams of being anything resembling an athlete die out. Some might go on and play college sports, but even many standout university athletes find very few ways to use their talents if they don’t go on to play professionally.

But when you were the unathletic kid, the fat kid, the lazy kid, that wasn’t a problem that would even cross your mind. You might consider going to the gym to lift weights or run on the treadmill one day, but your time to be a real athlete had come and gone long ago.

As the IBJJF Master Worlds competition continues in Las Vegas, we’re reminded that jiu-jitsu isn’t just a kids’ sport. You have people coming in who are both young adults and old adults – well past the “prime” age for becoming an athlete – and doing well. And best of all, they have countless places to practice their art and compete. It’s virtually unheard of in most other sports for a parent of three to start training at thirty-two years old and then be competing (and even winning) at a major event within two years. But in jiu-jitsu, it’s more than possible.

I started training martial arts after almost twenty years of being pretty darn unathletic. I’d done track in middle school, then quit after my freshman year once the bullies who did it with me managed to convince me that I was wasting everyone’s time by even trying. I was never fat, but I was definitely chubby, and definitely not fit. And I assumed I would always be that way.

After starting jiu-jitsu at the age of nineteen – fairly young by most standards, but very old by competitive athlete standards – I realized how wrong I was. My squishy parts turned into muscular parts, I stopped wanting to die after performing physical activity, and for the first time in my life, I was good at a sport (well, kind of). Four years, countless hours on the mat, and many competitions later, I still feel like a bit of a poser when I say those words to myself: “I’m an athlete.”

No, I’m not a world champion, and yes, there are countless people in jiu-jitsu who can – and do – utterly destroy me when we roll. But if you’d told my thirteen-year-old self that she’d one day be able to dominate people who could lift her up with one arm, or that she’d be standing on a podium receiving a first-place medal for winning an athletic event, she would have laughed in your face.

That’s jiu-jitsu though, isn’t it? We’re constantly working on improving ourselves, on being stronger both emotionally and physically than we were even the day before. We can see our progress not only in the color of our belts, but in the ease with which we pull off techniques that made no sense to us a few months ago. Sure, we’re focusing a bit on submitting that higher belt who always manages to tie us in knots, but mostly, we’re focusing on submitting our past selves: the ones who were weaker, the ones who said “I can’t,” the ones who were dreamers instead of doers.

Jiu-jitsu is a challenge at any age, but starting up after a point in which society has told you that your dreams of being an athlete are dead in the water is even tougher. The good news is that whether or not you compete, you achieve that dream every time you show up for class. Your very presence is a middle finger to everyone who told you that you were “too fat” or “too slow” to be good at sports as a kid and “too old” to be good at sports as an adult. You might get destroyed in both practice and at tournaments, but you’re still doing more than many former high school football stars ever would at your age (not that they shouldn’t come in and try jiu-jitsu, too).

If you started training BJJ as an adult, give yourself some credit. Whether you were one of the state champion athletes as a kid, or you were the kid who never lifted anything heavier than a greasy hamburger, take pride in knowing that your younger self would want to look up to the master you are today.



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