Competition after 45
By Almine Barton
There’s something different about 45. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t think it would feel any different than 40. But, it does. Something peaked at 45. Or, should I say “settled.” Everything inside me feels more settled. I guess I thought I would know more about life than I do. The difference is, I’m more okay with not knowing. I’ve embodied more the attitude of “If it flows into your life, let it. If it flows out of your life, let it.” I no longer force things that feel strained, or “not there.” One-sided relationships (of any kind), be it business, friendship or romantic, I just let run its course. I no longer try to hold on, when nothing is there to hold onto.
That lesson is there in a physical manifestation in the two sports that I love: JiuJitsu & Climbing. You have to learn to let go, not “over-grip,” & train your sensitivity to know when it’s beneficial to hold on. And, when it hurts to do so.
How does the “Let it flow” mentality apply to competition then? Competing is so goal-oriented, with focused “blinders” on. Kind of the opposite of “let it flow.” Or, is it?
When I ask my fellow Masters athletes about their “WHY,” when it comes to competing, the answers seem to feel different than it would if they were in their 20’s & 30’s.
Many of us compete to fill in the “gaps” of our lives. These “gaps” can take many forms: family issues at home, loneliness, proving you “still got it,” or feeling a “second leash on life” through a new sport. Maybe you didn’t make the cut to go pro in another sport. Maybe JiuJitsu is filling the gap for community you long for. Whatever it is, there’s no right or wrong reason to do BJJ, or compete. But, it is important to be radically honest with yourself & understand your “WHY.”
I’ll give you two examples. In mid-life the reality is that you start to come to terms with people beginning to pass away. Spouses, siblings, family, co-workers. This becomes more frequent with each passing year.
I had a gentleman friend, in his 60’s describe to me that, after his wife passed away, the palpable sense of quiet and loneliness in the house became unbearable for him. He began to frequent his BJJ gym more. At first, he didn’t know why he had such an impulse to attend more frequently. Then, it dawned on him. The background music of the gym, the laughter of the kids coming out of kids class, the comradery on the mats with his teammates. He no longer felt alone. For an hour a day the noise and people in close quarters gave him a sense of deep relief. He began to compete. “I wanted an excuse to be at the gym more, because of how good I felt there. I told myself if I competed, then I would need to train harder & attend more classes. Thus, being at home less by myself.”
The highest suicide rate between men and women is undoubtedly men. That, in and of itself, is a large topic of conversation. But, loneliness was the #1 reason cited. I always tell people, “JiuJitsu is NOT your therapy. It can augment and support therapy. But, it’s not to take its place.”
We’re all responsible for understanding the core issues we’re using BJJ to self-medicate for. And, it’s OKAY. We ALL do it. But, we need to break the stigma and talk about what holes we’re filling in our life with the added competition training classes, and hours on the mat. I don’t see anything wrong with self-medicating with good things in your life. I just think the awareness of WHY you’re doing it, is important.
When you know your “Why” you can pick appropriate training partners for where you’re at emotionally. That could be “comp mode,” or it could be simply drilling.
Another friend of mine, we’ll call her “Linda,” stated to me that she chose to compete, due to menopause. She said, “I was having hot flashes all day. I felt ancy and wanted a way to “channel” the anxiety that came along with the increase in hot flashes. BJJ has always taught me to breathe through anxious situations. The gym was a place I felt like I could control that feeling.” That made sense to me. Her BJJ gym was a place she associated with feeling empowered and being able to control anxiety. She wanted more of that feeling-being in control. Her body was feeling out of her control. She then, signed up for a competition. Knowing full well she would need to spend more hours in the gym to feel prepared. The thought of feeling in control more brought her relief. It took her mind off the out-of-control process her body was undergoing.
Many of us compete to fill in the “gaps” of our lives. Whatever it is, there’s no right or wrong reason to do BJJ, or compete. But, it is important to be radically honest with yourself & understand your “WHY.”
These issues are pretty specific to midlife rollers. Even though the master’s division age bracket starts in the 30’s, the above 2 scenarios are what you’ll see more with master’s athletes in their mid 40’s on up.
Many midlife rollers that I’ve spoken with shy away from competing. Or, they do it less and less every year. Perhaps it’s rising comp. costs, the increased gym hours needed to compete, the higher risk of injury (& slower recovery rate), or other more mid-life appropriate life priorities.
There is no “right or wrong” to competing. I just suggest folks understand their “Why,” and get honest with it. I think that raw honesty with one’s shortcomings, or reasons for doing something comes easier with age. Life has handed you several doses of harsh reality by the time you hit your mid 40’s.
The “illusion veil” has been peeled back many times, often in a painful way. There’s also a deeper internal “well” of experience and wisdom to draw from. This is helpful in sports like BJJ. If the goal is “technique over strength” (& by the way, it is for climbing as well) then, age is on our side. No matter how many weights we lift, or how many push-ups we do, the truth stares us daily in the mirror: our bodies are changing. It’s time we use this to our advantage on the mats.
This can be a more focused awareness on technique, discrimination with training partners, understanding how many days a week to train, and how hard to train. I didn’t even think about those things, until I hit my 40’s. Now, its forefront in my mind, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. In fact, I feel myself getting more “efficient” with each passing year. I’m becoming a more introspective person. A quieter person. A person whose needs have been distilled down to what’s important. This walks around with me in life, but I also witness this in my game on the mats.
Let us each celebrate our “Why,” no matter if it stems from loneliness, pain, ambition, curiosity, or all of the above. Our life experiences tumble us like an agate, polishing us as we go. As the wisdom adage states: “Maybe it’s not about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”
Disclaimer: *Nothing written in the “Masters Column” is to be taken instead of medical advice from your health care provider. Please consult your physician before engaging in any physical activity, or partaking of any vitamin, herb, or supplement.
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