I had the opportunity to train with a jiu-jitsu newb the other day (a youngin somewhere in the age of 21-25 years young), who had solid movement and guard retention skills. I was able to pass his guard a couple times (just narrowly), but I was impressed with the solid foundation he has already strung together in his relative short time practicing BJJ. At the end of the roll I tried to compliment his technique, but he shot it down, shook his head and said, “if you were younger you would have absolutely murdered me.”
It was a nice compliment (I think? I took it as one, so calm the F down), but it was one that I immediately had to return-in-kind with a similar deflection.
“If I was younger, like you,” I responded, “I wouldn’t be doing this.” I know that because I was once his age, and I didn't. It was a joke, for sure, but one that had meaning.
The kid smiled at the remark, but I explained why him doing what he’s doing at that age is all the more impressive to me.
I told him how a large part of me wished I was like him and started my practice of art of jiu-jitsu when I was his age. How sometimes I wish I had taken the initiative sooner and found a jiu-jitsu gym closer to me when I was in college. I ended by telling the kid while I’ve made peace with not starting as early as I would have liked to, I’ve also realized that jiu-jitsu likely found its way into my life when I needed it the most.
Sure, I might have a little more grappling wisdom if I had started back in 2005 when I had a renewed interest in the UFC. And I might be ranked a little higher if I had stuck with it consistently after joining my first gym back in 2009. But I didn’t, and ultimately found my way back to it in 2012 after a few start and stops due to work and family.
And it was for the best. I’m 34 now, (was just about 30 then), I feel younger physically than I did at 24.
Granted, 34 is 127 years old in grappling years, but I don’t have the same wear and tear as many of my jiu-jitsu peers. And sure, the over 40 crowd will scoff a bit at my grouping myself with them, but if they saw the way I depend on economic movement and yelled at the kids about getting off other people’s lawns, they’d likely agree, “oh yeah, he’s definitely one of us.”
Nonetheless, I found something that helps me keep my brain motivated and active, that challenges me, that keeps me mostly healthy (or at least offsets part of my normal fat kid diet), that has given me a kind of resilience I never knew I had, and that has bestowed me with a set of friends who have truly enriched my life and who also — unlike many other sports — actually push one another to achieve and succeed on-and-off the mats (the relative positivity amongst the jiu-jitsu brotherhood still floors me at times).
What I couldn’t tell him, however, was how happy I was to see him find a purpose in his own life at such a (relatively) young age. How when many other people want to talk shit about him and his generation (spare me your lazy millennial memes and analysis, thanks), there are kids like him who find a sport that will hopefully help him keep his shit together while other people want to create culture wars and divisions amongst classes, genders, ages and beliefs. There are more like him. And I’m one of the older guys — even if a generation or two removed, depending on however you define it — who actually want to see them succeed.
But I didn’t need to tell him any of that . He was just as happy as I was to train and work to get better. Even with some old dude who moves a little slower and will likely fake an injury to get out of training with him when I see him again in 3 years on the mats somewhere.
So no, kid, you deserve the compliment. You like to train and have a good attitude for just starting your journey. That’s all that really matters. And I think it’s cool you already have that figured out. Keep up the good work.