What is the best age to start training BJJ?
I hear this question a lot in forums online or from parents in the gym where I train. I have heard people jokingly say: "The best time to start BJJ is at 11 years old or right now". I think I can offer a unique point of view since I started at 38 and my son (in the white gi below) started at 3. My answer is this: Anytime is the best time but be realistic in your or your child's goals.
We have kids starting in our gym as young as 2 and into their late teens. Each age comes with it's own mental and physical limitations and the value the get from BJJ is going to be very different. At 3 and even now at 7, it's my goal for my son to have fun in each class. Sometimes I catch myself coaching him as I want to be coached as an adult or trying to be the coach that I think he needs. In those times, I have to remind myself how I would feel if someone was watching my every move on the mat, judging me, and giving an opinion on my performance after every roll. I would hate it and I might even be driven to quit. With older children and teen, they start to run into more bullying, risk of physical violence with other kids and the insecurities that come with adolescence. With tweens and teens, I think the same rule applies.. they need to have fun or as Rener Gracie says, "keep it playful". While any pressure we put on them comes from a good place, it's best to keep it playful and let the Jiu-Jitsu bug bite them. In time, as their skills improve, so to will their confidence and competitiveness. Even then, keep it playful.
The light side. (Health, confidence, and tribe)
As people transition into adulthood, it seems that many of us let ourselves go physically. The gym can be boring and between jobs and families, we have very little time to for physical activity and diet planning. I fell into this trap. While working 10-12 hours a day and trying to manage a family, I began to see my body deteriorate. With that said, anyone who has spent anytime training BJJ has seen the physical transformations that people undergo in their first few months training Jiu-Jitsu. Not only do you become stronger and more flexible but you are forced into high intensity training by your training partner. We push each other past where we would go in the gym. Also, our DNA screams out for the combat that for generations has shaped us. And, it's in a controlled setting with people who are looking out for your safety. As adults, it can be hard to build a supportive tribe and I think one of the biggest upsides to training as an adult is the positive tribe of people that you build. Regardless of our income, careers, gender or race, we are one tribe. That is a rarity in this isolating, divisive world.
Here is the dark side. (Injury and jealousy)
As an older grappler, not only are we more prone to injury but we are slower to heal. The good news is that we are wiser (hopefully) as well. My best advice for older grapplers, having suffered from a few setbacks myself, is to play a game that suits your body and your strengths. If you have an injury, learn to play from a different position and in the long run, you will only be a better grappler for it. Also, choose your partners carefully. If you are injured or injury prone, there is not shame or insult in telling a strong, spastic young white belt that you would rather roll with someone your age or a higher belt. It's your body and you are responsible for your safety. If you are in a gym that frowns on that, you might be in the wrong place. When it comes to jealousy, I'm referring to partners. I'm fortunate that my wife trains with me and understands that BJJ is not sexual in any way. In fact, it's very much the opposite. When we train, we are training with different body types but gender is never an issue. If I'm training with a woman, I am usually stronger so I take the opportunity to learn how to be a good training partner and improve my technique. Also, when I do train with women, I'm proud that I can help them learn how to overcome their concerns with grappling with a male and I may even be helping them save their own life someday.
In summary, I think BJJ has something to offer for all ages as long as you know what you want from it. Whether it's kids games on the mats with fun and laughter or adults going to war and hugging afterwards, we all have something to gain.