By Dan Faggella
There’s a stigma in sports that once you hit a certain age, you begin to lose your skill and can no longer escape. We hear it all the time in basketball, football, baseball, mixed martial arts and even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on occasion.
Recently, I began looking into the training techniques and approaches of prolific grapplers that are over the age of 40. I feel understanding their mindset for longevity in the sport is vital, and can be applied to almost any and every age group in the sport. I’ve interviewed a number of respected 40+ BJJ black belts such as Micho Grubbs, Mark Hopkins, and John Connors and my over all “insights” article can be found here.
However, it’s mainly important for the older crowd in the BJJ world. Recently, I talked with John Connors about how he has lasted so long in the sport, and what he attributes that to specifically.
Preventing Injuries From Impeding Upon Your Progress
As you get older, your body begins to breakdown a bit and you can’t do things that you once did. Connors discussed with me the importance of keeping your body in shape, and injury-free, as it can do more than just push back your grappling.
Connors, who runs his own MMA gym, has said he has seen older grapplers suffer from injuries that aren’t very serious, but enough to put them on the shelf for a spell. With time off comes lack of interest, and he has seen his fare share of potential grapplers leave the sport once they sustain such an injury.
One way that Connors goes about protecting his body is eliminating certain aspects of grappling from his game. For instance, he has seen people do damage to their abdominal region while bridging, so he no longer does it himself.
Protecting The Head & Neck At All Costs
While saying “staying healthy” is important, it’s rather vague. John went a little more in depth and told me his big thing is making sure he doesn’t sustain any damage to the head or neck.
“My key thought is,” Connors tells me, “he’s not going to get control of my head.” Whether it’s avoiding a guillotine or just avoiding a positional hold, Connors makes sure that he doesn’t give up the neck at all.
In order to do so, he tailors his game to properly protect his neck. One thing I was surprised to find out was that he favors the butterfly guard. He does so because in his mind, the more limbs between you and your opponent, the better.
Another thing that Connors avoids is going for armbars, which could end up having him stacked, putting direct pressure on the head and neck, going against his entire game plan.
While his game calls for very specific details, it doesn’t hinder his success. “The beauty of Jiu Jitsu is,” John goes on, “there is so many techniques you can do.”
Which is true, and is exactly why he has found such great success at his age. His formula has proven to work, so why not follow his steps and see if they work for you? After creating over 40 BJJ DVDs and other resources, I’ve inevitably gotten tons of emails and questions about “Strategy” and “Survival” for the older grappler. I’ve always got technical advice when I need to bring it out, but I always recommend you look for solid role models like Connors / others who are living examples of BJJ resilience for the older grappler.