I had never taken a single martial arts class in my entire life. Not even YMCA level stuff.
I was always a good athlete. As a child, I grew up playing the typical All-American sports … Football, soccer, baseball. In high school I was a swimmer (shout out to the butterfly stroke) and skateboarder. I continued skateboarding into my mid 20s, and in my early 30s after moving from Houston to Austin, I discovered rock climbing.
Why did I just give you a quick rundown of my entire athletic profile? Well, because up until this point, learning a combat sport was the furthest thing from mind. I was 35 years old and content to climb rocks in Central Texas. I didn’t feel (or perhaps realize) the need to learn to protect myself and if I did, something like boxing was more my speed than anything else.
That’s when a chance encounter with Coach Mikal changed everything. For those that do not know, Mikal Abdullah is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu badass … I mean black belt. At the time, he was meeting with my marketing company about promotional opportunities for a fight he had coming up. We chatted it up for a few hours (this is easy to do with him around) and went our separate ways. Not everything works out and we didn’t end up working together, but we became friends.
About a year later, Coach Mikal invites me to the grand opening of Aces Jiu Jitsu Club in Austin, TX. This was a place he was opening. As I said before, learning a martial art or combat sport was nothing I was really interested in, but I decided to go anyway and support him as a friend. While I was a HUGE fan of the UFC and the things that these fighters did in the cage, learning these same techniques seemed so unreachable, so unattainable that I didn’t even entertain the thought of taking up the sport.
Then I walked through the doors…
I saw a mat full of positions, transitions and submissions taking place. I saw people that looked just like me doing things that I didn’t understand, but all of a sudden wanted to learn … all of a sudden felt capable of learning. If these people could do it, what was stopping me? I signed up for a free class, came in and learned an arm bar and the rest is history.
I started off as a helpless white belt, and as a white belt, that is exactly what you are, helpless. Helpless against anyone with a even just a little experience. In these moments, my appreciation for the sport multiplied. Here I was going up against a person who if I saw on the street, I would have payed them no mind. Some people may not think twice about starting a confrontation with this person. On the surface, this person poses no threat. Yet here I am on the mats in a live roll (“rolling” is Jiu Jitsu’s version of sparring) against a nerdy guy with a few stripes on his white belt as he twists me into a pretzel and catches me in submissions left and right.
Now in the gym, a submission means you tap out … essentially saying “you got me.” A submission on the street means something much different. It means you are getting choked unconscious or having something broken in some of the most horrible ways that you can imagine. This is when I understood that Mr. Nerdy 2-Stripe-White-Belt walking down the street is someone that you shouldn’t mess with, but if you did, you wouldn’t know how bad you messed up until it was too late.
I wanted to be this kind of empowered.
I dived deep and went at it hard. There were days that everything was sore. My knees, my fingers, even my skeleton ached. Forcing weakness from your body hurts. This type of physical contact was a complete shock and I spent many nights with ice on my knees and ibuprofen in my system.
I also got stronger. My middle-aged body started to harden and become capable of things that I thought were reserved for people much younger than I am. Some of you reading this may consider yourself in good shape, and so did I. You’ll feel that way until you spend 5 minutes in a live roll with an experienced grappler. I was a rock climber, I’ve done CrossFit and I’ve swam miles at a time … Trust me when I say that there is no shape like Jiu Jitsu shape.
Now, almost 4 years later I am 39 years old and am in the best physical shape of my life. I go to Aces a few times a week, go up against guys who are 10-15 years younger than me and I work them over. I go up against guys who are twice my size and I work them over. I go up against purple belts and … well they work me over, but I can hang for a little bit!
I’ve seen the quiet and timid gain confidence. I’ve seen the strong and powerful be humbled. I’ve seen young guns sharpen their skills as they pursue a MMA career. I’ve seen children become empowered to stand up to a bully. I’ve seen a middle-aged person with zero fighting experience earn his blue belt from one of the most respected black belts in the game. That middle-aged person is me and this is all because of Jiu Jitsu.
You are never too old. When is the best time in your life to start learning Jiu Jitsu? When it finds you. Perhaps it just did?
**If you are in the Austin/Round Rock/Pflugerville area and are interested in trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for yourself or your children, CLICK HERE and sign up for 30 days for FREE Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the top Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in the Austin, TX area.**
Andy Gonzalez is a coach at Aces Jiu Jitsu Club. He has earned his purple belt under Professor Mikal Abdullah. Follow Andy on Twitter at @GoGoGonzilla
Andy lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Amanda and their 3 beautiful children. Andy is also the father of a Marine who is honorably serving in the United States Marine Corps.