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Competition and Old Man Strength

Most of us probably grew up thinking our fathers were the strongest people in the whole world. The stories of past glories, late night tales of fights sometimes in the ring and sometimes out of the ring, and an always present sense of ability and strength. For those lucky enough, these stories came with a note of caution – walk small and carry a big stick; there is always someone better out there.

Most strong old guys out there tend to have enshrined in them two interesting qualities. Firstly, an event presents a sense of doubt. Importantly, this isn’t under confidence – it’s simply a realisation that you never know how good you are until you put yourself to the test. Secondly, that combat – whether competitive or actual combat – involves two parties. The reality is that if you aren’t as good as the other guy, you can have your best day and still get outclassed. And sometimes, as in tennis when someone hits a shot that nobody thought they could, sometimes people get lucky and things end in unexpected ways.

The decision for older guys to compete in combat sports, whether boxing, MMA, grappling, or martial arts is always a tough one. As we get older, that nagging desire to put yourself to the test, to diet down, get better, and work through the preparation phase rears its head. You think how satisfying it will be to have done it, not necessarily to do it. And so you commit. You pick the event, you pick the date, and you make the promise to yourself.

It tends to be shortly afterward that the realisation of the relativity factor kicks in – there will be a counterparty. Someone out there is dieting in the same way you are, maybe eating better. Someone out there is pounding the pavement just like you are, maybe doing an extra session more than you are. Someone out there is thinking about winning in the same way you are; which means they are thinking about you.

Competing in a combat sport, where there is a possible chance of being injured, involves a process of overcoming two different spheres of fear, while steadily working on your own strength, technical skills and conditioning. It involves overcoming long term fear – the understanding that you are in the mind of another person who is thinking about hurting you. And it involves overcoming the short term fear in the immediate lead up to the event itself. The quickening of the pulse, the burst of adrenalin, the curiosity to see the other guy and then a realisation that he exists and that he is there for the same reason you are. To win.

One of the better coaches I have known often remarks that anyone who goes out there, in the ring, on the mats, in a cage, has already won in that they have beaten their first opponent – themselves – the moment they step in. This is true of any competitor of any age. For an older competitor, this is especially the case. We rarely compete injury free – ribs or knees always rear up during the last month of preparation, and being there often involves one or both parties hiding some sort of ailment, strain, pull or break. Just take a look at the World Masters BJJ – it is the bandage and tape capital of the world for around three days every year. Check out our blog on BJJ and mindfulness here.

It is difficult to express the respect we feel at Old Man Strength for those guys who put themselves to the test. Having fought at younger ages, and competed since then, we’ve seen all of the scenarios play out – whether it’s guys that win and get injured doing it, guys losing and have a great time, and everything in between. What we respect is guys that overcome themselves, because we all know that over time, the person most likely to take you down in life is you. As we get older, we doubt whether we can. We doubt whether we should. And each doubt makes us weaker and takes us away from the ultimate truth that our bodies and minds are capable of much more than we give them credit for. We did not come this far, and overcome what we have overcome, because we are weak.

So for those guys thinking about competing, and putting themselves to the test, you have our respect. Whether it’s a contact sport, powerlifting, crossfit, or long distance running, the guy in the mirror is the guy you have to beat. The other guy, he is simply there for the ride.

So wear the gear, whether its a Gi, a patch, a rashie or a shirt; keep us informed and we’ll bring the whole community in behind you. You are not on the own – you are a member of the strongest community on earth. The brotherhood of strong old men. Stay old man strong.