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Jiu-jitsu Over 50 - Ego Is The Enemy

...with Legacy Hall award recipient Professor Draculino.

One thing distinguishing the Gracie Barra approach to Jiu-Jitsu is the philosophy of “Jiu-Jitsu For Everyone.” Many gyms focus heavily on young competitors and how the training is conducted. It excludes many other types of people who would benefit from training in Jiu-Jitsu as part of their lives. And this includes over 50 Gracie Barra students whose training needs to be approached differently.

Professor Draculino is a very active and fit over-50 athlete and GB professor who continues to perform at a high level after decades on the mats. We talked with Professor Draculino to find out how he stays fit and active in his Jiu-Jitsu training. He was honored with the Legacy Award in 2013 for 25 years of dedicated service to Gracie Barra and Coach’s Legacy Hall Award in 2021 by Gracie Barra because of his outstanding achievement as a coach for competitive athletes.

Professor Draculino has been training in Jiu-Jitsu for a little under 40 years. When he looks back at his training career, he sees certain habits that have allowed him longevity in Jiu-Jitsu.

Habits for Longevity in Jiu-Jitsu

"I think that the most important habit is the habit of persistence. The habit of routine. And the habit of fighting your ego every single day."

"Everybody has an ego. Every single person. I have an ego," he admits. "Everybody, no matter what, when they go to do a training session. When they go to a competition, they think, ' Man, I may lose this or get submitted or smashed. And it's going to look bad.' They think that the safest way is not even to try."

This internal dialogue goes on in all of our heads. From the first-class white belt to professional fighters with dozens of fights. The fear of losing, of being dominated in front of our friends, teammates, and spectators. We all have these private thoughts at times. Professor Draculino says bluntly, "That crosses everybody's mind. I don't care whoever says's a lie."

"It's worst not to try. To hide yourself." Prof Draculino asks, "What would be the safest way? To not try! To not train at all. Just put on your gi, as many people say, and walk around and tell people what to do and not do anything."

You can not go against nature

"Yes, you have to push yourself, yes. You have to create self-motivation - yes. But intelligently." Prof Draculino shrugs his shoulders. "You know that you can not go against nature. Period."

Professor Draculino reinforces the idea that the over 50 Jiu-Jitsu athletes must consider their physical capacity to determine how intense they will train and who they pick to roll with. Ignoring this factor will increase the risk of a training injury and potentially force them off the mats.

"If you are a 50-year-old l, like me, at 155 to 160 lbs, you are not going to be taking anything that adds to your Jiu-Jitsu or adds to your health by training with a kid who is a tip-top world champion, heavier than you."

"Either they will crush you, and you will try to keep the pace, and you will most likely get hurt. Or they are going to train with you and let you do stuff. So it's not real training."

Choose the right training partners

Professor Draculino acknowledges that the more mature GB student must be judicious in selecting training partners. This may not be satisfying to a competitive personality, but this is a wise strategy for longevity in Jiu-jitsu.

"So we go back to training partners. You have to be smart about your training partners. You must be going against somebody who is competitive, but the chances of you getting hurt will also be minimized."

Professor Draculino suggests finding a suitable training partner regarding age, weight, goals, and experience for the best training. Someone who is well matched with you and can push you to have high-paced, competitive rolls, but not so much heavier or younger that you expose yourself to the chance of getting injured.

"So get somebody competitive and do several rounds. Maybe you have several different, competitive training partners, and then you will, for sure, keep getting better and get the benefits of the whole thing."

Problems may occur when older athletes can't accept their reduced capacity. They try to train like the younger competitors, and their ego pushes them beyond their capabilities. They might sustain a training injury, and their progress is derailed. Longevity requires an acceptance of certain limitations.

"We can not cheat nature. That's what I always say. Nature is nature. When you are 50, you will not have the same conditions as a 23 or a 25-year-old. Even an early 30s-aged training partner. It's not going to happen. So what are you going to do?" He mocks and raises his hands in surrender, "Are you just going to declare defeat and not do anything? No! I'm just going to be smart about it".

The ego is the biggest enemy

What about the over 50 athletes who are having a difficult time mentally accepting "mother nature"? They don't want to acknowledge that their physical capacity has naturally declined with age. Is there a danger of pushing themselves too hard and developing training injuries?

Professor Draculino nods his head in recognition of the situation.

"100% They are either going to get in trouble with injuries. Or, they are just going to stop training. Because they are so competitive, their ego is so high that they will see every potential training as a threat to getting tapped in front of people. Getting tapped is going to hurt their ego."

How to train hard as an older athlete

"Some people want to get in there and push themselves."

Professor Draculino readily admits that he is very competitive and is an example of the type of Jiu-Jitsu athlete who wants that high-intensity training. "When I do that, I make sure that I'm injury free and warmed up."

He gives the example of how he approaches high-intensity training with training partner Professor Lucas Valente (one of his black belts), an active, high-level competitor.

"Once in a while, I go, 'Lucas, let's go!' Lucas is one of the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes right now in the world. And we go at it! time. One round. Lucas knows me. He is not trying to kill me. But he's going to give me good training."

This is where having solid, regular training partners is valuable.

"So you do that (high-intensity rolls) in a controlled environment. In a way that the (younger or higher level) training partner will give you competitive training, but he won't try to rip your head off."

Be cautious with certain training partners

However, not all of our training partners at the Jiu-Jitsu school are...let's say, “relaxed' and controlled” when the timer starts the rolling round.

"That's the thing. You know some people in Jiu-Jitsu can't help it. They roll with their grandma and they will rip their head off," he laughs. "They are going to throw them against the wall. They can't help it. A lot of people are like that. So what are you going to do? Are you going to train with this guy every single day? Not smart."

We have to fight our egos all of the time...

Professor Draculino asks over 50 GB students to examine the role of their ego in their training. "I think that this is all about the ego. We have to fight our egos all of the time."

Perhaps you may have been expecting a more conventional and different answer like 'You need to go to bed early and get your rest. Or you need to work hard on the mats" as the key to longevity in Jiu-Jitsu. Professor Draculino asks us to examine the influence of our ego in our experience of training Jiu-Jitsu."That's the most important one," he says.

Why do some stay and some quit?

What about the over 50 Jiu-Jitsu student who wants to push their limits on the mats? They may very well be high achievers in other areas of their lives and naturally want to express that in their study of Jiu-Jitsu. Some students successfully stay on the mats over 50 and enjoy Jiu-Jitsu as part of their lives; some are not and soon drop out.

What does Professor Draculino see as why some stay/succeed and some don't? Is it something in the way that they approach their training?

"There is always the nature factor. Some people are more talented than others. Some have more spirit. Some people were born to be good at it. And some other people have more limitations." he says.

For Professor Draculino, the greatest benefit of training Jiu-Jitsu is not the end result. It is the process. The everyday disciplines and practices that push us to be the best versions of ourselves.

"Everyone can benefit from Jiu-Jitsu in their own reality. If they are trying, they are training hard but not champions, honestly, for me, it's not a big deal. Because they are trying, it's about the process. Striving to be at your personal best."

Draculino adds, “For them to jump into a competition, I don't care who they are. They don't go there completely careless. They trained hard. They ate better. They rested more. So, therefore, their Jiu-Jitsu is improving."

It's not about gold medals

We asked Draculino about the recreational Jiu-Jitsu student who is not competition oriented. What is the main benefit to that over 50 professional who does not have a goal to win the Masters division of the World Championships? What positive things are they getting out of training Jiu-Jitsu?

Professor Draculino says, "Most importantly, they are getting physical, mental, and spiritual health. What is more important than that in life? That's way more important than a medal or a tournament as long as they try. As long as they are dedicated. As long as they have persistence and routine. They will get better in life."

Jiu-Jitsu is my therapy

"This, for me, in my reality, is the most important right now. I train more for mental and spiritual health than physical health nowadays. Jiu-Jitsu is my therapy. It makes me feel at peace with myself."

Professor Draculino explains further, "Naturally, I'm a very aggressive person. My natural reaction to things is to be aggressive. And Jiu-Jitsu helps put that in control. I have way more control over myself since I started training Jiu-Jitsu than before.”

For Professor Draculino, training is a way to vent his aggressive energy productively. After several rounds of rolling, he feels more relaxed and deals with the small problems of life more easily.

"When I can't train, this side gives me signs. And that's not good. I mean that I'm not crazy aggressive but I tend to be a little grumpy. I tend to be rough in some situations and with others. After Jiu-Jitsu, I get calm. I get relaxed. And also the spirit. I feel at peace with myself. I feel that sensation of mission accomplished. I feel the sensation of being healthy in body and mind. So these two things - mental and spiritual - are way more important than physical health.”

Professor Draculino's rules for over 50 Jiu-Jitsu students

  1. First of all...always try to fight your ego, Number One.

  2. Always warm yourself up, Number two.

  3. And know that the journey is more important than the destination.

  4. Look at the benefits that jiu-jitsu is bringing to you.

Professor Draculino emphasizes that the journey alone is more important than a medal in a tournament. “Trust me. I'm not telling you not to compete in a tournament. That's great. It's amazing. For decades I competed for results. That's all that I cared about. Results. But I see now that while the results were cool, what Jiu-Jitsu brought to me as a person, was WAY more important than the medals. So that's my advice. You are turning into a better person. You are living better. Winning or not winning the competitions.”

Give it a try

Professor Draculino wanted to add one more thing before he left to teach a class at his GB Houston school.

"The older we get, the smarter we need to be with our health. Jiu-Jitsu is something that makes life better for people over 40 years old. I can attest to this myself. I would recommend that everybody give it a try. If you've never trained in Jiu-Jitsu and you listen to what I said, try it. Try because I'm pretty sure that it will change your life for the better by training Jiu-Jitsu in a smart way.”

Blog Written by Mark Mullen, a Gracie Barra Black Belt

1 Comment

Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
Jun 29, 2023

As a long time martial artist (karate) who's first experience with BJJ wasn't until my 60's I can say with confidence from my own experience that this is GOOD advice!

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