What Would Gandalf Do: Masters Division vs Adult Division

In judo and bjj, being 30+ years old means you have the option to compete with other 30+ year olds in a separate “Masters” division. This year, I have joined the ranks of this group. My first instinct is that of Groucho Marx of not wanting to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Early on, in my 3+ years of jiu jitsu, I was forced to acknowledge a simple reality:

I will never be as good as the current black belt BJJ world champion in my weight class.

I know this might seem like an obvious fact to just about anyone who knows anything about jiu jitsu. In fact, it’s pretty embarrassing just to write those words. But I’m human, I’m a dreamer, I have an ego, and I had to ask myself on a few occasions: how good can I get? The answer to that was painful, humbling, but ultimately liberating. I have found simple happiness in the day-to-day learning, hard work, improvement, and a systematic dedication to understanding the art and the sport of jiu jitsu.

Anyway, I’m off to DC for a presentation tomorrow, after several days and nights of programming, reading, scribbling in a notebook, and then more programming. My life is not that of a full-time competitor. For me, my work (research) is the main challenge and the main source of enjoyment in my life. Despite the occasional lack of smile, I’m sincerely a happy dude.

gandalf-you-shall-not-passSo for major tournaments (e.g. Pans) I’m faced with a choice: masters division or adult division. I know many people from white belt to black belt that go back and forth. The reality is that winning Pans in any age division is tough, but of course there is a reason why black belt masters matches are 6 minutes while black belt adult matches are 10 minutes. The guys that win the adult division don’t just bring technique, they bring an incredible level of physical preparedness (cardio, agility, flexibility, aggression). The 30+ guys have a bit more “old man strength”, wisdom, and experience (theoretically). Still, I believe that “wisdom” (the opposite of “recklessness”) is more of a negative than a positive. Ultimately, competition requires stupid confidence and focused aggression. If your brain is allowed to ask philosophical questions around the time of competition, you’re probably going to lose.

Also the masters divisions are usually smaller. At the 2013 Pans (see 2013 Pans competitor list) the purple belt middleweight division had 37 guys for adult and 25 guys for masters.

In some sense, thinking about age is the very thing that ages you. If you don’t give a shit, then you don’t age. I’ll leave with this quote from Satchel Paige (baseball player from over 50 years ago):

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

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