Top 3 Mistakes in Jiu-Jitsu Between Ages 30 and 40

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Today we’re going right for the jugular, so to speak, to discuss the top three mistakes that I made in Jiu-Jitsu between the ages of 30 and 40.

For those of you knee-deep in the martial arts in your 30s, hopefully you’ll be able to pull a few small hints and warnings out of the messes I made, and it’ll help you to become a more complete practitioner.

For those of you in your 20s: if you’re wondering what lies ahead if you’re not careful, please keep reading.

Mistake #1 – Not Knowing Your Stage

The first one on was not accepting that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore. It was clear that I was moving into a different phase in my life, but I kept my head in the sand.

Instead of accepting and embracing the excitement and challenges of the new period I was in, I tried to hang on to the same things I did in my twenties. Back then I could get away with being more aggressive to others, not to mention to myself, so I didn’t see it as a problem.

I stayed in “beast mode” all the time, and holding on to that way of thinking led me to a lot of injuries. My body started to break down because it wasn’t in the same place as it once was.

For those of you reading, as you move either into your 30s or out of your 30s and into your 40s, know that it’s a trap with severe consequences.  I have torn both my biceps, both hamstrings, broken bones on top of bones, and that’s not to mention the torn ligaments and twisted joints.

Mistake #2 – Not Trusting Your Training

The second major mistake I made was not trusting Jiu-Jitsu to do its job. I let my insecurities permeate my training. I ended up chasing the tail of the tiger – I had to know it all and have it all, right away. I didn’t want to get beaten (or beaten up) by someone else who knew more.

I thought the answer was to constantly add tools to my toolbox, instead of sharpening the tools I already had. So whether it was a new technique, or more power or more strength or more athleticism, I kept looking for something outside of what I had learned.

This process ended up excluding me from the more subtle points of Jiu-Jitsu. And it alienated me from the better training partners because I was never fully present for good training with people, even people I admired.

It made for a very tenuous, sometimes tedious, relationship with them, and it was all born out of my insecurity. I didn’t trust Jiu-Jitsu, and I didn’t trust myself.

What I found was that we create a barrier if we can’t relax, if we can’t even trust ourselves or what we’re doing. It’s subtle but people can sense it, and then they just don’t want to work with us.

Mistake #3 – Thinking the Grass is Greener

The third mistake was always thinking I was missing something, that the grass was greener in some other pasture. Today we’d call it FOMO, the fear of missing out.

I never fully trusted the environment I was in to provide what I needed, even though it was obviously doing its job just fine. That’s because during the decade between ages 30-40, I was very busy carrying over lots of the insecurities I had been hiding in my 20s.

The result was an unhealthy mix of anxiety and envy, believing that other people had the good stuff and feeling hounded by the belief that I had so little. Thinking that way blinded me from seeing what was right in front of me the whole time. I had everything I needed to succeed (in the way I defined it), but I was never happy because I was never fully trusting. Some part of me always wanted to be somewhere else.

I thought that the “problem” was where I was, not who I was. It look me a very long time to learn that the environment, the dojo, wasn’t the issue. In the meantime, my attitude drove a wedge between me and my peers, me and my instructor, and ultimately me and myself. In fact, I’ve spent the time between age 40 and 50 repairing those relationships, but that’s a topic for another day.

So whether you’ve made these same mistakes or not, trying to tackle them from wherever you are now is a good idea. Sure, you might not be able to get them all right away, but if you ignore them, it will just create more problems in the long run.

The fixes have taken me time, but I have that time because I’ve committed myself to lifelong training. I’ve learned to settle down and settle in, to accept that no matter where I go, there I am. I’ve looked around and made the personal adjustments so I can continue to do my work on (and off) the mat.

Again, the time to get started is now. Here is your starting point – whatever age and stage that is. When we embrace where and what we are and stop resisting, we can break through our mistakes and grow as people and practitioners.

For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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  1. Joey Cruz

    Thank you for this. I’ve been feeling the same way, not trusting in myself or Jiu Jitsu, which is probably why my training sessions are frustrating for me. How do I begin the process of changing that?

    • dunn & glick

      Thanks Joey. I’d say there are two things that will help. The first is (you might have guessed it) – train more. Getting into the dojo will only build more familiarity with the process and the techniques. There will always be unknowns, but you’ll be more comfortable with them.

      The next is deliberately working on your focus, so that when you’re there, you’re really *there* and not somewhere else. It starts with blocking out distractions for a short period of time and then working to get those periods longer and longer. Again, training more will be of benefit here.

      Hope these help!

    • dunn & glick

      Thanks a lot for your question Melissa. These mistakes from 30-40 often replicate themselves for practitioners at other stages as well. When we begin we don’t always have the courage to look out our shortcomings directly, so since we dance around them a little before engaging with them, they can linger.

      Understanding your age and stage is important. Keeping “the main thing the main thing” helps with cutting down distractions, which crop up no matter who you are. And finally taking the longview and not hoping for a shortcut to results, success or anything else.

      Make sense? 😉

  2. Herman M Petsche

    Thank You Shihan and Professor. At the age of 60 and training BJJ for the past 11+ years I have found that my Jiu-Jitsu practice reflects the type of person I have become on and off the mat. I am serious when I need to be but I don’t take myself too seriously. I realize and accept that I do have limitations but that I can work around those limits using some simple mental and physical adjustments. I learned to be patient but to be persistent at the same time. I have learned that being a “good partner” on the mat helps us to be “good partners” off the mat – with our Family and Friends and within the Community. Acceptance, Tolerance and Understanding of myself and of others is the key to living and training.

    • dunn & glick

      Thank you Herman. Sometimes its as much – or more – about learning who and how you are as it is about the art itself. A good, sustainable practice requires us to think big…especially after 40. 🙂

  3. roger

    The beast mode comment is interesting to me.
    I actually came upon the opposite conclusion where I felt like if I didn’t practice with full intention I would get hurt.
    I’m a mid 20’s 160lb brown belt who often rolls with people ranging from 180-220lbs.
    I am quite injured at the moment, mostly due to larger people who also go 100%.

    • dunn & glick

      Thanks for your thoughts on the post, Roger. I think that “full intention” is always the goal, that is, complete engagement and total commitment in the training. No matter how hard or easy you’re training, you have to be in it all the way. But to me “beast mode” is more like keeping an engine in the red: it can be done, but it’s a lot of wear and tear, and the engine isn’t built to run in the red for long periods. The damage outweighs the benefit over time. Mid 20s it looks like a good gamble, but by mid 40s it usually doesn’t 😉

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