Guest Post by Fred Cook
A friend of mine, Cheryl Ragsdale, from That Girl Is Funny, asked if I’d write a post about age and practicing martial arts.
Cheryl is no stranger to being on the mat. She trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Florian Martial Arts Center in Brookline, MA, run by Kenny Florian and his brother, Keith Florian. She also started her BJJ training later than most…take a look and try and guess how old Cheryl is…I’ll bet you’ll be off by 10 or 15 years.
Top 10 Reasons Fred Loves Being the Oldest Guy “On the Mat”
In 1989, I began my Aikido training at the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Washington, DC at the “ripe old age” of 40. I think that’s when the journey really began. I became a “mat-rat” and earned my Shodan in a little over five years. Since then I’ve been training and/or helping teach at the dojo on a regular basis.
In October of 2008, I joined Evolve Academy and started training in their Personal Defense System (PDS) which is based on Muay Thai with a bit of “street jiu-jitsu”. At 59 I was the oldest student in the class. In July of 2009, one month shy of 60 years old, I started training solely in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) to “see if I could hack it”.
That was three months ago and although I get my head handed to me on a weekly basis when sparring, I love getting on the mat each time to see if I can last just a little bit longer before being “subbed” by one of the higher belts.
I love being the oldest guy on the mat.
Why? Here are my Top 10 Reasons:
#10 Reassurance: Training in BJJ is by far the hardest ‘physical’ thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the BEST workout you could ever wish for; assuming you have your doctor’s “ok” and you’re in decent physical condition. Sparring with someone for five minute rounds will let you know, without a doubt, just what kind of shape you’re in. It’s very reassuring to know you can survive. (At least for a few minutes!)
#9 Confidence: Have you ever wondered how you would stack up against someone half your age in a fight/physical conflict? Doesn’t matter if you’re 40, 50 or 60…always nice to know. (It’s even better if you’re confident you could hold your own…at least for a few minutes!)
#8 Awareness: As in Aikido, being aware of your situation (‘zanshin’) in BJJ is extremely important, whether you’re on the top or bottom, because things change quickly. That also translates well to everyday living. Being the oldest guy on the mat, I’m also aware when I surprise my partner with speed, strength, balance or flexibility. Feels good. (Someday, I’ll surprise them with my technique…I hope.)
#7 Hope: Being the oldest guy on the mat, I hope I’m sending a signal to anyone who questions, “Can I do this?” The answer is a resounding YES. You’re never too old to try something new. Just go for it! You might surprise yourself! (Hey, if I can do this, why wouldn’t you be able to?)
#6 Feeling of Accomplishment: In general, most martial arts schools (the good ones) promote their students based on accomplishment. You need to show up and “do the work”. Nothing’s guaranteed, you have to earn it. Getting promoted to Intermediate White Belt may not sound very exciting, but I felt a terrific sense of accomplishment when I was presented with my new belt by Mr. Jordan. Being the oldest guy in the class: nice. Being the oldest and getting promoted: priceless.
#5 Respect: The harder I work at being better on the mat, the more respect I feel from my partners, regardless of belt level or age. (Being twice the age of most of the class doesn’t give me a pass. To get respect, you have to earn it. Everyone in the class works hard.)
#4 Inner Strength: Muscular strength is one thing and, quite frankly I’m a pretty strong guy. But strength is secondary to technique and inner strength is a whole different ballgame. Dealing with someone pressing all of their weight into you, smothering you in side control while trying to submit or mount you tests your inner strength. How do you stay calm? How do you breathe? How do you move? Age has little to do with this, but being the oldest on the mat and not giving it up right away? That’s sweet.
#3 Test of Abilities: As we get older, we start to question our abilities…or perhaps I should say our limitations. Unfortunately, there’s an assumption in our society that once someone turns ___ years old, they need to slow down, take it easy and not push themselves too hard…they need to be aware of their limitations. I’ve always believed in the “use it or lose it” school of thought. Being the oldest guy on the mat let’s me test my abilities (not my limitations) against opponents much younger, stronger, faster and more skilled than I am. How COOL is that?
#2 Awesome Blue Kimonos: This has absolutely nothing to do with being the oldest guy on the mat – I get to wear – not only white kimonos – but BLUE ones as well! BONUS! (I have to wear a white gi when I train in Aikido.)
And the #1 Reason Fred Loves Being the Oldest Guy “On the Mat”…
#1 Fun: The most important reason of all. Even though I moan and groan about how hard the training is, when it’s all said and done it’s FUN! Also, being the oldest guy on the mat makes it fun to watch someone’s face when I tell them I’m 60! When I received my belt promotion, Master Mike told the class that “Fred is 46, so I don’t want to hear any excuses why you guys can’t train.” When I told Virgil, one of my favorite training partners, that I was actually 60, he didn’t believe me. Fun times! Who needs any other reason?
This guest post is Fred’s official entry in ThatGirlisFunny’s “51 Must-Know Habits for Staying Young – from the Inside Out” Gift Basket Give-Away.
Looks like Fred is handling at least 3 of the “51 Must-Know Habits for Staying Young – from the Inside Out“:
- Habit 45: Gather people around you who support your learning process.
- Habit 48: Find people to share your passion with.
- Habit 51: Surround yourself with everything and everyone who pleases you, to support your comfort and make you feel at home.
In his own words, “Then those of us who were promoted had the “privilege” of walking the gauntlet. The whole class lines up in two rows, removes their belts and you get to walk slowly on your hands and knees from one end to the other while they take a whack at your hind quarters with their belts. (EE-YOWWW!..that stings just a bit! ) Special thanks to those few who didn’t wail on us as hard as they could.” It’s a guy thing.
photo credits: sweep, Helio Gracie, Royce Gracie, triangle, found all photos on google images or else they’re from Fred Cook’s personal collection.