Dealing with the young, athletic, fast grappler (for 40 plus BJJers)


In my last article I wrote about strategies for dealing with large partners.  In this article I will share my favorite approaches to handling the young, athletic, fast grappler.  As an almost 50 year old black belt I have been dealing with younger partners for almost ten years (I started paying attention to this when I turned 40 almost a decade ago).  How many times have you started a round with a younger partner and one of you says “lets keep it light”… and BAM… They’re going a 100 miles per hour!  The young, fast, athletic grappler is like a rabbit.  If you were to try and capture a rabbit in your fenced in yard… how would you do it?  Would you chase this agile, little speed machine?  Think of the fast young grappler.  Do you meet them on their terms?  In other words, do you chase them around the “yard” until one of you tires?  Or do you find a better strategy.

When I started BJJ I was 28 years old.  Today I am almost 50 years old.  I move differently and think differently as a 49 year old Black Belt.  When I was a younger lower belt I was chasing a different dream.  I wanted to earn my next colored belt and I wanted to tap people out.  If they were older and had grey hair… I really didn’t want to tap!  Who wants to tap to the “old guy”?  I didn’t.  Now I have a beard that’s more white than brown and with it comes experience and wisdom.  As a black belt I’m not chasing belts anymore.  I did it…I’m a black belt (yay me lol).  Of course I’m still rolling all the time and I don’t want to get submitted.  But these days it’s more about them and less about me “winning”.  I think of myself as more of a teacher.  But you my friend may still be working on your colored belt journey.  Remember, it doesn’t matter who you tap to.  In fact, that phrasing is incorrect.  You’re not tapping to “somebody”… you’re tapping to inexperience.  So learn from it.


So in one sense you have to learn from the young grappler who sometimes (but let’s not generalize) let there ego get the best of them.  As an older, wiser practitioner hopefully you’re not either.  But you can never assume that your partner is always going to play by the same rules as you.  Your controlled, light rolling may be vastly different than someone else.

Starting a round.  If it’s someone you’ve never trained with before then be on high alert.  I always recommend that 40 plus practitioners always choose safe, trusted partners.  The mindset that “I roll with everyone regardless” is not smart.  You have to always think of sustainability with your training.  Some days you may be able to take all comers… and some days you may need to go a little lighter.  Welcome to the world of 40 plus my friend.   Remember, your “advanced age” just means advanced intelligence!  Be smart.  The young fast grappler is like that rabbit.  Don’t chase the rabbit…isolate and control its ability to move.  If you were trying to catch the rabbit running around your yard, your best strategy would be to corner it and take away its ability to run.  When you slap and bump, immediately make grips on your partners gi.  (control their ability to move) You can either pull them to closed guard or try to put them on their back.  The goal is not to sprint with them at their speed.  But rather sprint and rest on your own terms.  So maybe a little energy to get them on their back… then rest and isolate from side control.


Simple, controlled movements – nothing big!  Once you establish position use it as an opportunity to rest, crush and control (I always say, make them suffer a little).  If you do your job right from side control, mount will be easier.  But if you advance too quickly to mount they will still have some fight left in them. You’ll know they’ve lost their fight from side when they stop moving.  When you first get side they may buck and move a lot… then slowly it should die down.  When they stop fighting, stay a little longer. There’s no hurry to mount.

Best attacks!  The best defense is a strong offense.  If you’re attacking,  then they are defending.  But don’t attack without controlling first.  You’ve heard the old saying, position before submission?  It’s a solid strategy.  Good positioning will tire your opponent.  Poor positioning and you will tire yourself.  A good rule of thumb is if you control the head you control the body.  If you’re in side control you want to control from the shoulders up, not from the shoulders down.  Remember, the body follows the head.

Remember, no big movements. It’s about slowly working your way towards a submission.  Big complicated movements lead to big openings. Stay calm and be a methodical machine.  My favorite attacks are collar chokes and neck attacks.  Why?  It immediately get’s their attention.  The Ezekiel choke is a great example.  It comes on fast and immediately they have to respond.  If their attentions is drawn to the neck they are not trying to escape.

Favorite moves:  Ezekiel Choke (especially from within the guard – see video below), Cross collar choke, Head lopper choke (in my Headhunter series), Americana / Kimura.  These are all fairly simple attacks with little extra movement.  Stay away from triangles unless it’s a strong part of your game.  Why?  If you mess it up they can pass guard and get to a dominant position.  Triangles can also tire the legs quickly.

Mindset and emotional state.  Remember, you have nothing to prove.  You’re over 40 and doing BJJ…  you’ve proven yourself my friend!  It’s okay to tap if you need to.  The tap is there to serve as micro lessons, not to punish you.  It’s only “punishing” if you don’t tap.  Embrace the lesson and move on.  No highs or lows when you roll.  Stay alert, calm and focused.  I always think of myself as Spock when I roll.  I am stoic and unemotional.  You can’t read my face, unless I smile because I’m having so much fun.  You shouldn’t have to grunt, groan and frown when you roll.  Control your breathing and you’ll control your emotional state.  You want to maintain an even, focused breath.  It should not sound heavy, panting and your tongue shouldn’t be hanging out.  You’re never “catching your breathe”.  As if it were something you were chasing.  stay ahead of your breath and if you start getting winded then find a rest stop.  You can’t sprint a marathon.  Remember, it’s about sprinting and resting.


At the end of the day you probably started this journey for fitness, personal growth and to have fun.  Not necessarily to beat every person you face.  Yes, you want the tap…. but never at the expense of you or your partners physical health.  Don’t take yourself or it too seriously… it’s just a game.

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