Old Man Jiu-jitsu

Photo by: BJJPix

A significant portion of any bjj academy is guys is over 40 and fondly known as “the old guys”.
Along with that comes along the jokes about the Nen Guay rub and teasing about the old school.

A BJJ forum topic cane up discussing “Old Man Jiu-jitsu” and there are some worthwhile points for the “senior” grappler.

A great video by the Gracie brothers : Jiu-Jitsu Over 40 (5 Rules to Roll Till 95)

The best summation of the guidelines for “Old Man Jiu-jitsu” was this post:
“Roy Harris started the trend of discussing “old man jiujitsu” a few years back. The primary ideas behind the way he presents it include (1) avoiding injuries, (2) surviving while using energy frugally, and (3) evening the playing field against “youthful” attributes.

It’s worth mentioning that this goes hand in hand with Mr. Harris’ overall presentation of BJJ, which is one that emphasizes the development of awareness and precision, along with the cultivation of timing and sensitivity, over the attributes of speed, strength, explosiveness, and stamina.”
“twinkletoes” Bjj Black Belt – UnderGround Bjj Forum

Roy Harris has a great app out there titled Bjj Over 40

The psot contained some great descriptions of how an over 40 bjj shpuld look to adjust their grappling style and philosophy
Here are some of the best points:

1) I have heard it said that as one gets older, they should start placing a different focus on their grappling, and play more of an “old man jiu jitsu” style, which focuses less on “winning” and more on defense and not being submitted.

The problem is that you often don’t have a choice about being on the bottom. Learning defensive strategies that minimize risk and the increased use of timing and patience will go along way, not to mention avoiding dangerous positions and pressure on key areas such as the neck, etc.
There is the bigger picture too, as far as partner selection, training methods, emphasis during training, etc. But learning and reducing exposure to dangerous things vs. winning, is the main emphasis.
* protecting yourself and avoiding potentially risky positions

2) This old man likes to play a shut down game while slowing the overall pace of the roll. I prefer to focus most of my energy during my opponent’s transitions and always try to move my body around my opponent, rather than to move him.
I also have learned to breath and pace myself more effectively than I used to.

3) Old-school style jiujitsu imo is the best because it has less attribute reliance….I like the concept “everyman jijitsu”, where a person with average attributes can train and enjoy jiujitsu for fun and defense.
An attacking style with emphasis on top, pin, pressure, control and submission is very much part of an old-school/old man style imo.
The foundation is defense/survival and use of “ju” when forced to the bottom…
* Less athleticism and more technique and leverage

4) For me it’s being patient and avoiding scrambles and explosive moments and wait for my partner to make a mistake.
I take my escapes as they are given. I take the submissions as they are given.
* Timing and patience!

5) Creating a strong but flexible body structure so you can handle incoming forces much better and with less muscular effort.
* Using structures and brackets to carry the opponent’s bodyweight

A Reader Question: “Is it ok to start training at age 42?”

My favorite quote on the topic by Carlos Gracie Jr.
“I don’t get this obsession with all of the acrobatic guards.
They are efficient, sure. But they’re fleeting. Your body has difficulty understanding them for too long.
I say this from my own experience. The lumbar region, for example, as strong as it may be, will never be armored against the passage of time.
Jiu-jitsu is for your whole lifetime, and by that line of reasoning you can rest assured that the basic techniques like the closed guard or this open guard I enjoy doing, will never abadndon us.
At 70 we’ll still be capable of performing them with plenty of mobility.
That can’t be said of the tornado guard or the berimbolo.”

What are your “Old Man Jiu-jitsu” tips?


  1. As a 67 year old Jiu Jitsu beginner white belt (Gracie Combatives), former Police Officer, Detention Officer and a Vietnam Veteran I have just a little advice for the younger folk out there:

    I may be slower andI MIGHT be weaker but I’ve been places and done things that you probably haven’t. I appreciate your help and guidance on the mat and I’ll do my best if/when we roll. But please be gracious in your assured victory and remember its Practice, not Life and Death. I’m old though, so if you come hard as if you have something to prove or try to roll over me like I’m not even there…well…consider that I MIGHT be one of those old folks that has a mean streak and if I am, you most likely won’t see it coming. But you WILL remember it. 🙂

  2. I’m 43, and have been doing it for 6 years. Go for the long game, the techniques at the beginning are the simple things you learn when you are just starting out as a white belt. I opt for a pressure game despite only being 160 pounds and it’s worked out well. Slow them young bastards down!(sorry young people) 🙂

    You’ll be submitted a lot starting out you’ll learn to be comfortable defending them and without exerting tons of energy as time goes on.

    You will not win a cardio capacity battle with the young bucks, but you can certainly always win the energy management battle every time by just being composed, relaxed, and keeping things simple.

  3. At 55, I still love to train and roll. I don’t know when I would exactly say I started BJJ, but I think I went to my first real BJJ school 8 years ago. I am a purple belt and satisfied with my progress. I sometimes notice people who started after I did that are higher ranks. I also notice so many people who started after I did that quit the sport and are no longer around the BJJ community. The journey has not been without detours, both physical and personal, it is a journey that I treasure. Yes, I am only a purple belt, but I have memories and achievements others can only dream of or may not understand. I’ve made some amazing friends and met some inspirational people.

  4. I’m a 44 year old black belt and have been doing BJJ for about 14 years. I have noticed since hitting the big 40 that physically things have become tougher.
    I’d also add that people train more than they did when I was progressing through the lower ranks. In many ways the standard is higher.
    I find that since becoming a black belt (3 years ago), pretty much everyone I roll with is out to ‘get me’ 🙂
    It’s amazing how much better people roll when they go against higher grades where they have placed nonexpectationsnon themselves of ‘winning’.
    So when I come against a ten year younger, heavier, fitter purple belt it means in in for a good time.
    So my tips for older people
    1. Be realistic / there is no shame in tapping at any belt level.
    2. Don’t risk injury for pride sake, you take much longer to heal and recover at more senior ages
    3. Roll with a clock – make it 4/5/6 minutes and stock to it. I find if I go for a untimed round that ends up going 20 plus minutes I can hardly walk for a week.
    4. Be patient and listen to your opponents breathing. This helps you focus. Quite often I find the person I’m rolling with is fitter than me but they are not twice as fit as me. By be efficient I can do well particularly in the last 30% of the roll.
    5. Have goals that focus on you and not winning. E.g I have a goal of attending 150 classes a year and doing 500 rounds of rolling. Nothing about getting x number submissions.

  5. I started BJJ at 45. Turning 60 this year, I still love a good roll. I am a Brown Belt and have that bright red target on my back. I tell everyone who wants to turn up the gas and get me, “You can’t win against me. If you tap me, you tapped an ol fart, so? Big deal…If I tap you! Hahahahahaha..you suck!..so let’s just slow it down, have fun and train.” It seems to work most of the time. If they still try to burn up the mat, I tell them that if they hurt me, I will cry so much that they will get embarrassed!
    Point is, I have fun with them. Wait til they make a mistake and use it. I know how to survive and use little things that I have always called ‘Old Man Jiu Jitsu’. One thing that does surprise me is that my gas tank generally has more in it than the wild high flying Jiu Jitsu that the young un’s want to use on me. The big strong ones can muscle me and I take that as a complement when that is the only way they can get me.
    The really talented ones are amazing to watch. The old school BJJ has been transformed into a beautiful sport when executed by a talented praticioner. But when I see some one who can’t do a basic guard pass try to do a Jimmy Chonga Zipper guard, it saddens me. They will get frustrated and leave the mat discouraged and may not come back.
    Maybe I am just old…….but I have fun….


  6. I’m 46 and just a white belt, but I have found out that getting hold of a younger guy and slowing him down during his early explosion completely empties his bucket of tricks. I lot of the younger guy have one or two moves and a lot of speed and strength, but if defend those one or two moves, they get confused. It works in my other martial arts as well.

  7. I’m 51 and frustrated as hell. 2 stripe white belt(at it 1 year) and these kids who’ve literaly been doing it ONE week crush me, pass my guard and mount with ease. Not sure why I do it or if I should continue. When does it become fun? I enjoy it for the workout bc I loathe lifting weights or running on a treadmill but besides the workout not having fun at all.

    • Hang in there! I have felt and continue to feel that frustration. I’ve talked to lots of guys at the gym about younger less experienced guys whooping my butt. Two things are going on i’ve Been told. 1. Strength and speed do count for something. Younger guys general have this and it can be enough to tip the scales. These guys are relying on adrenaline and force not technique like you are. Wait until they learn to use technique and not brute force. If you stick with it, your technique will probably be superior and you might find yourself beating them. 2. It’s a normal progression of learning to hit a point where you feel your Jiu Jitsu is not working. One hits a point where they learn technique, but it’s not refined enough to pull subs off. I find myself seeing and focusing on attacks only to open myself up to being submitted because my technique is not fully refined. For me, I remind myself to focus on the things I can control like focus on breathing and relaxing or make goals like getting 30 rolls in for the month. Hope this helps.

  8. I’m 46 brown belt, and give these young kids a run for their money because they depend too much on their speed and athleticism. Shut them down… slow their game… and over all…the little speed demons are highly susceptible to chokes…Kimuras… are timeless.

  9. I’m 46 and have been rolling for 3 years and still a white belt. I love the sport but hate the recovery time. My brain wants to train 3 times a day but the body is only letting me train 4/5 days a week and thats frustrating. Im going to slow down the intensity and see how I do

  10. I am 54 years old and started training right around a year ago. I came off a roof once upon a time and took years to recover and the Dr.s kept telling me no this, no that etc when it came to exercise. Exercise has only been a recumbent trike and go to the gym occasionally. On top of that I needed some surgery that had to get done for me to continue training Jiu Jitsu. It took me almost 8 months just to get my body in some form of shape as far as core and flexibility to even attempt to do the moves. Now I am learning how to move and condition my body for someone my age. And frankly I am having a blast and hoping to get my Blue Belt someday. I am also training to do an old man tournament as a white belt in December. My Instructor, and good friend, is Dennis Davidson from Att Rockledge Fl. He is teaching me slow and steady with the explosive move he knows my body can handle. There are only a couple at my age but that all I need for now. Win lose or draw, I am ok with, surviving without injury to fight and train another day is the ultimate goal. I don’t have the speed or stamina as most of the young guys but I am not young anymore. I am having fun, train 2 -3 days a week, hit the gym to lift light weights 2 days a week. I am in for the long haul.

  11. I’m a physical therapist and a 48 year old brown belt. The usual advice for older grapplers holds true about being careful who you roll with and tapping early, etc. However, here are some other basic rules that have allowed me to remain injury free and consistent for years. Never miss the warmup. Never roll harder than 75% (thank you Cane Prevost). Only train BJJ 2x/wk but do cardio/strength/flexible training on your off days (paying close attention to how you mix your workouts) and always place a huge emphasis on proper recovery (sleep/rest/nutrition etc)!

  12. 58 yo 3 stripe white belt. My 14 and 11 yo sons started 5 years before me. After 30 years as a firefighter paramedic and wanna be bodybuilder my joints are shot. But the hours spent on mat and driving to and from training plus the tournaments with my sons is priceless !

  13. This stuff makes so much sense. I’m 41, and I have to stop rolling like I’m 25. I always get the absolute best from my opponents because of my size (6’4, 250+), and that slowed my development-I had injuries and frustrations that have taken me on a 6 month ‘in class’ journey but a 2 year chronological journey as a white belt. I found that I lacked the physical vocabulary to have a ‘conversation’ during sparring with my younger, faster classmates. I felt like I was doing ‘goo goo, ga ga’ while they were doing Shakespeare. But now I am getting the hang of basic movements and I see how basic skills translate to many, many different techniques and transitions during sparring, so I am more comfortable on the mat. Furthermore, with cross-training in other martial arts (judo, karate) and weight training, I am in better shape so I don’t fatigue as quickly and I don’t blow my energy load so fast (no more going 110% and then emptying my tank in a minute). I am learning to use my natural gifts and combine those with technical skills to keep me safe and on the mats for a lifetime. I’m not a 20-something idjit looking to ‘train in mma’ for a few years and then be crippled for 5 decades. I’m looking to live until 90 or 100, so I want to make bjj sustainable as I age up in this art, and that means deliberately NOT keeping up with the mma phenoms in my gym. I’m big, strong, I have good grips and decent endurance, but I am 41 and I need to accept my strengths AND limitations.


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