You don't have to start BJJ / Grappling at a young age to be successful

(The above pic of a young Rickson is from Kron Gracie's Website)

There, I said it!

On Fridays I spend an hour or so teaching my younger brother Sam the basics of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and it's a great time. It's part me using him as a guinea pig for teaching, but more importantly I get to spend regular time with him. I think we both get just as much out of the walk to and from the gym as from the time on the mat. He's starting to become a familiar face and a lot of my friends at the Labs have commented on how lucky he is to start learning at such a young age- Sam's 14.

Neither Sam nor I have any long-term plans for his BJJ training and if was to quit and join a basketball club, we'd probably be shooting some hoops on Friday afternoons. The comments have however got me thinking about the perceived correlation between starting age and BJJ / Grappling ability and here are my thoughts.

Starting early does not guarantee anything. It does not guarantee that you would be a better player and it definitely doesn't guarantee that you will be a better coach or instructor!

It CAN help, that's all! It CAN. There is a possibility that by starting the learning process early you could initiate a chain reaction that may lead to achieving greatness in BJJ, or anything else really. First, there are numerous factors that need to be present and planets to be aligned before this can lead to anything tangible.

In his fantastic book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell describes the process of success and if we were to boil it down to one thing it would be 10,000 hours of practice. He shows you, through a multi-disciplinary approach that that figure is more or less the golden formula that you need to shoot for. Now, do you have 10,000 hours to spare? I don't. My wife doesn't and most people I know don't.

My brother does. Children have time. They maybe short on cash, strength and regrets but time they have in abundance. If that time is combined with an interest in sports, presence of a coach qualified to teach BJJ grappling to children and understanding (supportive and financially stable) parents for the duration of those 10,000 hours then we have something. That's why I love being a part time grappler. My mission is to find the most efficient ways to make everything I do benefit my BJJ / Grappling journey and vice versa.

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Kalle said...

I agree that starting at a young age is not necessary for success in BJJ, but I would think it certainly helps. In thinking about BJJ, I see a lot of connections to learning a new language; first, you have to learn the vocabulary and rules (techniques and concepts, and then, as you become more and more adept, you can start to string the words into increasingly complicated and intricate sentences with greater fluidity.

It's no secret that learning a language at a young age is far easier than learning as you get older, and I think the same holds true for a large number of physical activities, including BJJ.

While this is no guarantee that starting young will make you a world champion, but I do think that it will make the learning process faster and smoother.

Meerkatsu said...

good post and an important one as it gives us older starters some hope!

when I met Ana Maria India, I was amazed she only began BJJ at 21. It took her longer to earn her BB perhaps compared to some other female athletes, but it did not put her off, in fact it helped her.

The Part Time Grappler said...

@Kalle. Many thanks, the thing with BJJ, It's a language that can be very close to your mother tongue (learning BJJ when you are a gymnast or a dancer or a yoga person is like learning Norweigan when you already speak Swedish fluently :o) )

That, to me, is the big secret when you don't have 10,000 to spare at BJJ (Norweigan). I try to turn everything I do into something related to BJJ (I basically turn things Swedish :o) )

I do yoga when I can, with BJJ in mind
I work on the Swiss ball when I can, with BJJ in mind
I go swimming or running when I can, with BJJ in mind

You get the pixar!

@Meerkatsu, Many thanks for your kind words bro. The examples are many, but we see and hear what we want to see and hear. Look at Lloyd Irvine and of Course Ava Maria. I would think a lot of first generation american BJJ students were not young guns either.

Bjj Rob said...

That reminds me of the quote "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect".

Sure, quantity is important. But not over quality. Drilling a move perfectly 1,000 times is far more beneficial than drilling a move improperly 10,000 times.

A fact are too many beginners overlook while trying to rush through the basics and get to the "advanced" stuff.

Me included.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Wooow! It's so scary that when I was writing the post I was thinking the EXACT SAME quote!

I've always felt that people who can afford the time to train a lot (if supervised) can afford to by sloppy now and again coz eventually they "get it" which is why I always try to work as precisely as possible.

Thanks Rob.