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In my last article for this site, I told some of my story with the early days of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training, and how I quit after a “double whammy” of life changers: surgery and my wife. As I fell away from the sport and out of shape, I always had regrets about not picking it back up again. But I was too busy doing things with my kids, specifically my son.
Right before my son Chris started 4th grade, I started him in his own Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training. My son has my build and general athletic ability (or lack thereof), so I knew that he could learn this style and enjoy it, because I had years before. I am very proud he took to it right away, and to this day, loves his training.
As I sat on the sidelines, the whisper to get back out there grew into a full-throated scream. For over a year, however, I was blocked by a couple of nagging concerns. I was scared of the pain, and getting injured. I knew how out of shape I was, carrying 60 pounds more than I was the last time I trained, on a back and knees that were fifteen years older. Unless I was really smart about how I paced myself, the odds were incredibly good that I’d overdo it and get hurt.
Worse, though, is that I was scared of looking bad in front of my son, and what I saw in the mirror. I knew what I used to be able to do – I wasn’t what you’d call “good”, but I was certainly competent on the mat. I was going from a decent grappler to the worst guy in the room. Could I live with myself when I got winded during a simple warmup? When I couldn’t do a backward roll anymore? When I’d try to pass a guard or bridge my opponent in an escape, and be betrayed by a body that couldn’t do what my brain was telling it to do?
Fortunately, I have managed to be smart so far in dealing with my first fear. My master instructor was incredibly kind about finding the right pace for me, and finding alternatives for certain techniques so that I wouldn’t be left out. When we’d spar in grappling sessions, I know that this isn’t a competition; it’s a learning experience. I have no problem tapping out when I’m in a submission hold, or even just when I’m stuck and too tired to defend myself anymore.
My girth has produced a couple of unexpected bonuses. I remember one class where we worked on a body scissors technique from the back mount, and a couple of submission attempts that may work when in a body scissors. I had enough of a waistline such that nobody else in the class could get the body scissors applied on me. When grappling, my opponents have a difficult time keeping me in a closed guard, so I can focus more on open-guard pass techniques.
The bruised ego has been slightly tougher to deal with. Sure, I get a burst of pride when I can do a couple more pushups than ever before, or I can break out the box of clothes that used to be too small. But that reserve is quickly emptied on a regular basis on the mat.
Duck walks, stepping in low to an opponent for a single- or double-leg takedown shot? Forget about it.
Shrimp away quickly to stifle an opponent’s guard pass? Not with a butt & gut this big.
Tap whom I don’t have a 100-pound weight advantage? Not yet. Not even close.
I keep trying to find a bright side. My submission defense is getting better, especially against chokes. I’m pretty good at working from bottom mount into bottom half-guard, and from blocking an opponent’s pass from side mount to top mount. But all of these bright sides are because I’m not yet good enough, and especially athletic, to stay with an opponent with better conditioning and a sporting background.
The damage done by my reality check is the only drawback. The decision to start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training again has changed my life in so many positive ways. In 2011, I lost 35 pounds, and gained a great deal of endurance. I’ve gone from 20 pushups to 40; 20 crunches to 45; 30 leg raises to 50. I no longer have to take it easy in the first class segment because I’m completely spent from the warmup.
I went from being a 41-year-old couch potato to a 42-year-old who can hang through 30 minutes of grappling in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. For the first time in many years, I’m excited to see what the next year might bring. If you’ve ever been hesitant about trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or another martial art, do it. I don’t care if you’re out of shape. I don’t care if you’ve never tried one before. If I can do it, you can do it.
You, too, can change your life.

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