The older grappler and injury avoidance

My first exposure to jiu-jitsu came at about 37 years of age, but after 1.5 years of training I moved and took over 5 years off. My current jiu-jitsu journey began when I was 44 and I’m now a few months shy of 50. As I’m often the oldest guy on the mats when training by more than a decade I consider myself to be somewhat of an authority of on the topic of “being an older grappler”.  In all this time training as an older grappler I have managed to avoid catastrophic injury and have limited my minor injuries to ones that have kept me off the mats for a few days at most. While I’m sure that this is due in part to good fortune, I don’t think that luck alone explains it. I have intentionally taken specific steps to help me train consistently and remain injury free. Here are the ones that I think are most significant.

From left to right: Joe Thomas 49, Ruben Gonzalez 53, Fernando San Miguel 47

From left to right: Joe Thomas 49, Ruben Gonzalez 53, Fernando San Miguel 47

I have developed a relationship of trust with my coaches. They know if I am opting out of a drill or a roll it is in an attempt to preserve my body and not because I am lazy or slacking. If I can’t participate in a drill I’ll usually find something else to do e.g. if I can’t do double leg shots the length of the floor because my knees hurt I’ll find a spot to do some crunches or pushups. If I can’t participate in a drill I’ll ask the coach if there is an “old man” variation. Maybe most importantly I always keep my coaches aware of my current physical condition.

I have also developed a relationship with my training partners based on respect and a mutual desire to see each other progress in our jiu-jitsu journeys. I train with some really tough young guys that could send me home battered and beaten after every class but choose not to. We haven’t gotten to this point just by chance. I have worked hard at it. I often times start a roll by asking my training partners what they’ve been working on lately. If they say “spider guard” and then pull guard I will let them get a sleeve grip and stand up and let them get a foot on my bicep. This kind of cooperative training lets them know I am not there to fight, I am there to train. I have found that if I go to class with a genuine desire to see my training partners progress in their journey the sentiment will be returned.

I tap all the time….early and often as the saying goes. Not only do I tap to any and all legitimate submissions, I also tap to anything that might jeopardize my ability to train the next day. Sometimes a new person will try an Americana from inside the guard. While it’s not a legitimate submission, I have bad shoulders, and a strong young aggressive guy can make my shoulder sore for a week. I’m having none of that, I’ll just tap. A choke that’s a neck crank? A gi choke across my face? I’m having none of that either, tap, tap, tap.


Joe Thomas with his coach Fernando Halfield 25 year old BTT black belt.

I don’t hurt myself. I understand the mechanics of a flying arm bar. Sometimes I feel nimble enough I think I could pull one off. I will NEVER attempt a flying arm bar. I don’t try to explode or scramble my way out of submissions that are ¾ sunk in. If they’re that deep sudden and spastic movements are too risky from my point of view. Additionally, I feel any techniques I employee, my training partners should feel free to use as well. So I don’t jump guard or attempt judo throws when training as if I’m on the receiving end of these techniques and they go wrong I could be off the mats.

In conclusion, I know how old I am and I embrace my role as an elder statesman in the gym.  This has as much to do with enjoying the journey as it does with staying injury free. Not trying to keep up with the young guys will help keep you injury free, but it’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re a purple belt getting tapped by blue belts all night long and young phenoms come in the gym and give you a run for your money six months after they start bjj. You have to find your niche and embrace it.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve taken to writing articles/essays/compiled lists…. (whatever you want to call them)… as a way to organize my thoughts and share them with others. I’m not claiming or attempting to present completely new or original ideas – I’m taking known ideas, concepts, principles, and articulating how I’ve incorporated them into my life and training.

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Episode 9 an interview with a paramedic, what to do when someone gets hurt in class

The BjjBrick Podcast is in iTunesand Stitcher radio

Today we have a good friend Craig on the show.  Craig has been in the emergency medical field for over 32 years, he is a paramedic.  Craig has been training Jiu-Jitsu for approximately 8 years.  He shares some of his knowledge about dealing with injuries that might happen during class.  We cover a lot of stuff in this episode! You could find yourself needing to know this information on or off the mat.  This episode should help you make the right decisions after an injury happens.paramedic-uniform

Craig helps us learn about these topics:

How to determine if it is a serious injury and if you need to call for help

What happens to your body if certain bones are broken?

Tips on splinting an injured extremity, and when you are not going to be able to splint something

When you should not splint an injury

What to expect when an ambulance is called

Internal bleeding

What is an open fracture, and why you need to call an ambulance

Tips on minimizing pain after an injury

Tips on what should you do before the ambulance arrives

What you can do to help someone that could have a serious neck injury

A tip to help healing is the acronym R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevate)

How quickly do you need to get stitches?

Why chest pain is not to be ignored

Why abrasions are more likely to get infected than a cut

Signs of an infected scrape or cut, and the consequences

Why it is so important to have good hygiene and a clean gi?

How to help someone that get choked unconscious

Dealing with a concussion

Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Tips for staying safe when you are training in a high heat environment



Some things that should be in a first aid kid at your gym- 4X4 bandages, band aids, a sling and swath, antiseptic gel, medical gloves, ice packs, aspirin, scissors, safety pins, and tape.



Quote of the week- “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela

Article of the weekA easy way to stay out of trouble in the guard By Stephan Kesting  Stephan gives some great tips for avoiding getting attacked if your posture temporarily gets broken.


Craig recommends as a great reference.

A guide to splinting injuries

How to immobilize someone’s injured neck

Ozz grappler soap

Absolutely free- Don’t break the chain calendar, just open it and hit print