The Ageing Martial Artist
Well I never thought I’d be writing a blog post on the ageing martial artist, and even more so writing it from my own experiences. I was a late starter in the martial arts. Having dabbled in them as a teenager, it wasn’t until I was 23 that I got into martial arts in a more committed way. I can remember when I started taking the martial arts a little more seriously around the age of 25/26, I would here the older guys around the gym complaining about their aches and pains, and joking on how they are struggling to keep up with the younger crew. Whilst not thinking about it too deeply, I can recall thinking of these guys as just complainers and whiners. Especially as a younger man, and like many younger men do, the only lens I was looking through was my own. Well now I am finding myself creeping closer to the other end of the spectrum, that end of aches and pains, and difficulty keeping up with the younger crew. Whilst I am still somewhat young in the life sense, in the athletic arena I am an ageing athlete, and those years of abusing my body in basketball, skateboarding, surfing, lifting weights, and martial arts, are all coming to the fore. While becoming an ageing athlete is always a hard pill to swallow, I have experienced some accompanying changes in my thinking that are re-igniting my enjoyment of the Jiu-Jitsu journey.
The first thing I am noticing more and more is that I am ALWAYS sore and I am ALWAYS nursing some injury whether big or small. I can remember when I was a teenager I would sprain my ankles skateboarding, often to the point of hardly being able to walk, and I’d still be back on my board the next day. My mum would try to warn me that I should look after my body, and that I was going to feel it in the future. Well as is often the way, mum was right! I really feel that after 30 all the abuse I had given my body in the past was starting to catch up with me. I am also finding that my body isn’t recovering as quickly anymore. After a tough session I can feel the aftermath for days later. I am getting out of bed in the morning like a twisted zombie, it is taking a while for me to warm-up and straighten-up. I used to live according to the premise that the more I trained and pushed myself the better it was for me. Only just recently have I substituted this way of thinking for a new way of thinking, focused on quality not quantity. I am now starting to pick and choose my sessions more, training a little less, but when I am training trying to make my training more cerebral and more intense. And I am really enjoying this much more. It is staring to feel less job-like, and I am returning to a state of enjoying my time on the mats. Ultimately, I am learning that my longevity in martial arts will be dependent on my ability to start listening to my body and to start treating it accordingly.
I am also finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the younger guys competitively. At the brown belt level some of the young guys coming up are 22/23 years old and already have more years experience on the mat than myself. Typically they have less life responsibilities out of the martial arts realm, and have a lot more time to devote to their own personal development in the martial arts. I especially saw this on a trip to New York in 2012. At this point I was still very much into competing. Whilst in New York I was attempting to train at the Marcelo Garcia Academy twice daily, I wanted to make the most out of this amazing opportunity. I would get up in the morning and do the early class. I would notice that there was a group of young elite grapplers already there drilling technique on the side of the mats. I would finish the class, get some lunch, and then have a nap. In the afternoon I would come back for the late class and this same group were still there drilling. I would finish the night class and they were still there, sometimes even practicing their takedowns late at night. This was the moment I realised my true place in the competitive realm. These guys were in their early twenties, many already world champions at their respective belts, and they would put in full days on the mats. They appeared to have minimal responsibilities outside of Jiu-Jitsu, and were making the huge sacrifices needed to chase their competitive dreams. It was at this point that I accepted my place in this sport/martial art, and this was refreshing in its own right. Whilst I may sound like I am copping out and making excuses, I can assure you that this is not the case. My goal was always to open an Academy and to be a great teacher/coach, it was never to become a world champion. But somewhere along my journey I got sucked into the ideal that to strive to become a champion was the path the Jiu-Jitsu practitioner is supposed to take. In coming back to earth, shaking off the ideals of others, and remembering the path I had sought, It was here that I started to enjoy Jiu-Jitsu for what is was in my life again.
Another thing I am realising more and more as I grow older in the martial arts is the importance of interests outside of the martial arts. I can remember when I was a keen blue belt, I was at university around 40 hours per week, training Jiu-Jitsu in the afternoons, and then spending at least 4 nights a week working security in nightclubs. My then coach would constantly suggest that I should get some other hobbies out of Jiu-Jitsu. It was a difficult premise at the time as I was very much time-poor, however I now see where he was going with it. I’ve always been a surfer, and as a younger man I would always say that the day I stopped surfing was the day I got old. Well surfing for me had almost come to a halt. With minimal time on my hands, and a new found enjoyment of Jiu-Jitsu competition, I found that I was starting to allocate more-and-more time to Jiu-Jitsu training. After all, I could earn medals in Jiu-Jitsu and that was definitely not going to happen in surfing. Surfing had fallen to the background. I also recall on the before mentioned trip to the US my then coach suggesting I train less and enjoy the holiday for everything it could offer. He would similarly hint at the importance of the many amazing and interesting things outside of Jiu-Jitsu. All of this was a hard concept for me to grasp. I guess I had been brainwashed with the all-or-nothing mentality for such a longtime that I had come to think of this as the right way of thinking and approaching life. It has not been until recently, I’m guessing as a result of my maturing in the martial arts and also as a result of the acceptance of my standing in the martial arts, that I am really starting to enjoy the many other amazing things that daily life has to offer. I am surfing more, spending more time with friends and family, reading more, exploring more, enjoying food more, I guess just being more appreciative and aware of all those simple but enjoyable things that life has to offer. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the all-or-nothing concept. If your aspirations are to become a world champion then a mindset like this is something you are likely going to have to adopt. But as an ageing martial artist, one who has come to understand his place a lot more, I am coming to realise that for me and the goals I seek, this mentality is not the right fit.
I guess a final major change I am having as an ageing martial artist is a greater personal enjoyment and satisfaction in seeing the martial arts successes of those around me. I feel as though this is somewhat a transition from competitor to teacher/coach. As a new Academy owner, the daily running and happenings of the Academy are taking prime importance. My time is being directed less toward my own personal development in the martial arts and more toward the development of our students. Their successes in martial arts, no matter how big or small, become partly a reflection of our successes as coaches and teachers, and whilst this is somewhat an difficult transition for me, it is proving to be extremely rewarding in the personal sense. I am finding that I am becoming more and more excited in the potential of the Academy and students that we have training there than I am in the potential of myself.
Overall, whilst a somewhat rocky road, I am enjoying ageing in the martial arts and I am very much looking forward to the many more life lessons this journey has to offer.
Thanks for reading and happy rolling,
Co-Owner at Flow Martial Arts