I have a little experience with boxing and kickboxing (< 1 yr) and did ok in those sports. I have a chance to do jiu jitsu, but am wondering how much flexibility is needed. I am older (late 40s). I know virtually nothing about the sport. I'm interested in Jiu Jitsu right now rather than more boxing because I find it's easiest to exercise when and where I have the opportunity. I drop my son off for Jiu Jitsu and it occurred to me I could use the time to exercise rather than read a book. It would be problematic to get to a boxing gym right now (3 kids, job, etc.) However, my brief viewing of Jiu Jitsu leads me to observations:

  1. The folks seem young. Folks were younger than me at the boxing classes, but there were a few older ones.
  2. It seems like flexibility would be more important in Jiu-Jitsu than other sports (such as boxing). In boxing, I wasn't the greatest at "bobbing and weaving". It didn't seem to hinder me too much at my level.

Perhaps those who have done jiu-jitsu and boxing (or kickboxing) could chime in. Does Jiu-Jitsu require much more flexibility? Is it harder? If so, how is it harder?

  • 3
    Ed O'Neill, the actor and star of TV's "Married With Children", started his BJJ training at age 41 and received his black belt at age 61. FYI: bloodyelbow.com/2015/1/15/7551375/… Apr 30, 2016 at 2:22
  • 1
    Thanks Steve. That was a great read. "Married With Children" was one of my favorite shows.
    – Dave
    May 2, 2016 at 15:29

5 Answers 5


I understand you are comparing two specific physical attributes related to training (flexibility and youth), but I suspect you are asking:

“Do I have what it takes to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”

You are not alone. It’s a daunting sport to enter. I began at 29 years old and I'm a 50 year old black belt now. I realized early on that the only way to make this a long-time passion was to understand the notion of the "multi-faceted fighter," of which flexibility, age, strength, etc. are considered.

Watching your first class from the sidelines will give you a mixture of excitement and dread. You will be questioning every aspect of yourself as you make a decision. In short, you will discover that for every aspect of skill required in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are people who persevere in the sport due to strengths in a variety of areas. Be prepared for something completely different, but understand that despite your best efforts, it may not work out. Here are some characteristics to consider:

  1. Fitness
  2. Weight
  3. Strength
  4. Size
  5. Aggression
  6. Technical Skill
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Flexibility
  9. Agility
  10. Competitiveness
  11. Physical Intelligence
  12. Physical Creativity
  13. Knowledge of your Opponent
  14. Knowledge of Yourself
  15. Showmanship (getting inside your opponent's head)
  16. Age

Characteristics that Define the Fighter

Many of these characteristics can be improved upon with work, such as strength, fitness level, and technical skill. Others can be changed slightly with substantial work, coaching and mindset, such as competitiveness. Others are difficult to change or control, such as aggression, agility, and physical creativity. I just scratch the surface of each of these characteristics.

Fitness Level

It almost always starts here. People who are “out of shape” often think they need to get into shape before joining. I suggest that you really are never going to be in shape enough to start grappling unless you are already grappling. Paradoxical, but it’s the same in every sport. Until you use the muscles and move in the way the sport demands, you won’t discover them though some other cross-training regimen. Get on the mats and get in shape there.


Regarding weight control, I’ve seen more pounds shed on these mats than I can count. It’s hard work, but it can be done. And why not learn how to fight while you go through the hard labor of weight loss?

On our mats, the overweight train side by side with the super-fit. We’re all in it together. Fitness as a way of life, practiced through the sport of submission grappling. In the professional fighting context, mixed martial artists are well regarded as some of the most well rounded athletes out there. It is rare to find a successful fighter who doesn’t have an incredible fitness level.

MMA legends Ken Shamrock and BJ Penn have both lost fights because their opponent was better conditioned, not more technical. Ortiz did it to Shamrock and Matt Hughes did it to Penn.


The amount strength matters depends on the situation. If two opponents of similar skill faced off, strength would matter and would absolutely define the victor. Since it is rarely the case that two people are that closely matched in a fight, especially an unplanned street altercation, strength really doesn’t have the lion’s share of consideration. In training for competition, anything an athlete can do to legally improve their ability to win should be focused on. There is no doubt that strength training improves the overall athlete. If you are not naturally strong, you should weight train, use kettle bells, etc. If you are naturally strong, you can put it off, but eventually, you should consider resistance training to improve your game.


Size matters. While many proponents of this sport will point to great champions who overcame larger opponents, they neglect to say that those larger opponents had less skill, agility, or stamina than the smaller opponent. Taking a single factor into play against a like opponent in all other aspects, size matters. In my time coaching, I have seen many larger (or stronger) guys learning the finer points of ground fighting slower than smaller guys since they can rely on their other assets. Technique comes later, and only when their size (or strength) is neutralized by an opponent of greater skill.


Aggression is an interesting quality, and one that surprisingly doesn’t help a refined fighter much. Aggression, simply stated, is the ease with which a fighter is willing to be violent or harmful. It is completely different from the desire to win, or more accurately, the complete distain for defeat. This attribute is the competitiveness. Don’t confuse the two. An aggressive man may lose all desire to win at the slightest sign of pain, loss of position, or exhaustion.

You don’t need to be a naturally aggressive person to love the challenge of competition. I’m a very passive individual. I would never fight unless cornered or defending a loved one. Yet I love the combination of competition and challenge that comes when grappling on the mats. I don’t mean to overstate my case, but there may actually be a negative correlation. Overly aggressive guys generally clumsily hurt people. When this happens, they get ostracized (other guys don’t want to train with them) or even physically beaten by the senior students repeatedly to scare them off. It is rare that someone with the singular skill of aggression distinguishes themselves in the sport. On the other hand, a nice dose of controlled aggression combined with several other factors can make for a great fighter.

Technical Skill

Technical skill is the accumulated knowledge of a student and their ability to draw upon it when needed, with appropriate speed, strength, distancing, and precision. The sports of submission grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu celebrate technical skill like most martial arts and sports. Those with the most technical skill tend to be those who have accumulated the most realistic mat time against strong opponents and have been lucky enough to have solid coaching. Clearly being able to demonstrate technical skill requires significant agility, technical intelligence, and usually requires flexibility.

Technical skill is by far the most important of the characteristics that make a fighter great. When Randy Couture wore out Gonzaga against the fence in UFC 74, it was his technical skill that kept Gonzaga at bay. Sure, other aspects of the fighter helped (strength, fitness, fearlessness, desire to win), but it was Couture’s skill that allowed his much heralded body lock to disable Gonzaga. By far the most spectacularly technical fighters out there is Marcelo Garcia. Garcia won the ADCC, in his 66-76 kg weight division three times in a row. He has only lost against much larger opponents in the absolute division, generally in the finals. How Garcia wins is important: he almost always wins by submission rather than points, this is a key indicator of technical advantage over his opponents.


It takes a bit of bravery to face off with an opponent on the mats. It takes even more bravery to come back to class after getting your butt whooped a few times. I recall my early days as a white belt. I’d miss a couple of classes and think how easy it would be to never go back. I knew if I went back in, I’d get obliterated by the more advanced students. I think the pure excitement of learning such an effective fighting system kept me coming back. It overcame the fear. You don’t have to be fearless to be great. In fact, there is a fine line between bravado and stupidity. Knowing when to tap and when to back down in an unwinnable match will keep the injuries at bay.

Technically skilled students may become more fearless, simply because fear is all about the unknown. An advanced student knows what every submission feels like and knows their limits. An advanced student has a greater chance of winning a fight. Both of these greatly diminish fear.

Fearlessness is closely related to Desire to Win.


Flexibility is completely independent of all the other factors. I’ve seen overweight, physically unfit people with incredible flexibility. Conversely, I’ve seen some amazing fighters with significant limits to their range of motion in various limbs. Some people are naturally inflexible in certain parts. No amount of stretching, yoga, or conditioning will improve this more than a few percentage points. More flexible people can get out of tighter jams and can stay calm in very nasty physical situations. But I’ve got some very good fighters who are very tight. It matters, but won’t make or break your game on the mats.

Eddie Bravo’s flexibility has helped him redefine the sport of submission grappling. I also credit Eddie’s physical creativity in creating scores of new moves. Not everyone can succeed with the rubber guard. More flexible fighters have more options to put their body into shapes that help them succeed.

Agility and Balance

Agility is by far the most important characteristic of this sport. Agility, in context with this sport, is defined as the ability to move your body smoothly and precisely on command, from a multitude of angles, both with or without the full weight and strength of your opponent borne upon you. That’s a tall order for many students. Prospective students who ask me if they have what it takes to succeed on the mats are often times answered by my asking this question: “Can you dance?” This is a good indication of agility, balance, physical creativity, and physical intelligence. After training over 250 students at Austin Jiu-Jitsu, it is quite clear that the most agile students bubble quickly to the top of the stack of the group. Agile students fly past awkward ones. In the end, gyms that train in fighting sports have a pecking order. The most agile are often on top. It is rare that someone without agility will dominate.

Desire to Win (i.e. Will, Competitiveness, Confidence, Mental Strength, Mind Game)

Be very afraid of an opponent with copious amounts of competitiveness. An overly competitive personality in a poorly skilled opponent is dangerous to himself. These are they guys who never know when to tap and end up getting hurt and emotional when they lose an unwinnable fight. Conversely, a competitive personality in a highly skilled opponent is a treacherous opponent indeed. A desire to win is an outstanding quality that absolutely makes the difference between chumps and world champions.

An important part of the desire to win is the mental strength that allows a fighter to stare into the eyes of another. While some may call it an act, this display of confidence tests the will of the opponent. It is the beginning of imposing your physical will over an opponent.

Physical Intelligence

The Right-Brained Fighter has Muscle Memory

Physical intelligence is defined by a rapid ability to recall physical motion. Some people learn physical motion with fewer repetitions than others. I’ve seen this as completely independent of other forms intelligence. “Book smart” intelligent people don’t learn physical motion any faster and certainly can’t tap into that muscle memory any faster. The difference is how quickly muscle memory latches on and if it can be tapped when needed. If it’s not there when you need it, in an instant, you don’t have it.

People with greater muscle memory certainly learn faster in physical sports like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you don’t remember techniques well, you’ll need to “rep” techniques more. In the end, you’ll learn it if you commit the time to practice.

Physical Creativity

Left Brained Fighters define their own moves

Physical creativity is the ability to work out new situations with the movement of your body. For example, a physically creative person can discover new submissions or escapes quickly by untangling the numerous positional relationships between the fighter and the opponent. These are the guys who advance the sport and define the fighting system in terms of their own body, rather than simply mimicking the movements of others independent of consideration of the physical aspects of the differences of others.

The left brained fighter isn’t necessarily artistic off the mats, but on the mats they take the often times clumsy movements of fighting into something graceful and beautiful. Generally, a physically creative person is highly agile, but an agile person may not be physically creative.

An interesting question to ask is why advanced fighters so often end up making up their own moves? Is it primarily because advanced fighters have so much mat time to have successfully, through trial and error, created new moves? Or is it because only physically creative people make it to the advanced levels of this sport? It is very unusual to see a brown or black belt in the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who hasn’t defined their own special sub-species of the sport.

Knowledge of the Opponent Sun Tzu summed it up best “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Beyond simple knowledge, you need to know how to adapt your fight. You may know someone has great take-downs, but if you don’t work the sprawl, you’ll still end up on your back.

When Randy Couture beat Tim Silvia in UFC 68, he won the fight by knowing how to avoid the punching power of Sylvia. A new Randy Couture emerged at this fight: someone who bobbed and weaved like an experienced boxer.

Knowledge of your Own Limits

Don’t get pulled into a fight you can’t possibly win. Fighting an opponent out of your league isn’t smart. Of course, the prerequisite to this decision is knowing your opponent. Unless this is a friendly sparring match, if you can compare your skills and you can’t win, don’t fight. Unfortunately, cornered on the street, you have no choice.


It may seem surprising to hear that showmanship in any way applies to the ability to fight, but showmanship is a mental game designed to get the crowd on your side and to get inside the head of your opponent. Nick Diaz is great at at goading his opponents. He’s so good at it, he even confused referee Steve Mazzaggati into mistakenly declaring that Diaz was somehow breaking the rules in the UFC. Nick knows how to piss people off. A pissed off opponent isn’t necessarily more dangerous, just distracted. Kazushi Sakuraba’s showmanship gets the crowd behind him almost every time. When he spanked Ryan Gracie in Pride, it created such a buzz, the media attention alone elevated Sakuraba’s stature as a “Gracie Killer.”

During matches, a fighter’s ability to conceal pain, pretend they are less challenged than they really are, and generally show no concern, is generally a successful approach. This poker face tactic prevents the easy “read.” If you know your opponent is in pain, tired, or afraid, you will pick up the attack.


If you have safe training partners, you should be able to grapple into your retirement years. Communicate your constraints and concerns, and good training partners will respect them.

Enjoy BJJ!


Jujitsu isn't harder, per se, but the stresses of boxing/kickboxing on an aging body can be very different than those of jujitsu. While age doesn't do our joints any favors, stretching doesn't need to be the purview of the young.

My 70+ year old father started Tai Chi a few years ago, and he marvels at the realization that he is now more limber than he has ever been before. Jujitsu uses your muscles in different ways than boxing ever did, and assuming you don't have any medical conditions which would prevent it, the long term benefits will vastly outweigh any transient discomfort.

It shouldn't take you long to start seeing progress from the stretching exercises, and I am a firm believer that every human being should learn how to fall without injury (i.e. break-falls). Assuming you have good instruction, I think that jujitsu will be kinder in the long term to your body than boxing/kickboxing. I advise that you stick with jujitsu for at least a few months, and then evaluate any notable benefits to your fitness and flexibility.


I am 44 years old, and fairly fit. I cannot speak for boxing, but I just began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the middle of August, and I now have my 1st stripe as a white belt. Prior to this, my only other exposure to martial arts was 6 months of Hapkido during college, many moons ago.

I am fairly flexible, and this has been a "nice to have", but I would say it is not a requirement. Stretching should be a daily part of your life as you grow older. As you move through your Jiu-Jitsu training, 2 or 3 times a week, you will have an opportunity to stretch, but more importantly, the techniques are going to work your body, increasing flexibility and strength as you go.

Something you should consider is the type and style of Jiu-Jitsu training that would most suit you. Some training centers are "meat-grinders", and you might get injured, being thrown into 45 minutes of sparring, following a 15-minute "teaching" session. Other centers emphasize the longevity of practicing the art, teaching it safely and methodically, with sparring and intensity coming at a later stage, once you're more equipped. The latter type of training might be a better route for you to take.


I am now 45 years old, and even more fit, and I would credit that to practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

As I've worked through 14 months of training - averaging 3 to 4 sessions per week - the number one thing that has both helped me to avoid and endure injury, has been a focus on Mobility. I was fortunate enough to attend a Mobility for Jiu-Jitsu training seminar with Steve Maxwell a few months back.

Generically speaking...

Flexibility is the ability to stretch or bend something without breaking or tearing. However, you can stretch beyond your ability to support what is being stretched or bent, and once you go beyond that threshold, you are at risk of injury.

Mobility is the ability to move and move freely, and could be described as a range of motion that has the foundational support of muscular strength.

Staying within the range of your body's ability to support something muscularly, is an important range in which to remain. It's better to be a somewhat tight, mobile athlete, who can muscularly support the movements and extensions that are being made, than a highly flexible athlete that is able to contort or move into extreme positions. The latter may have no strength to support those extended positions, nor defend against unforeseen or surprise movements they hadn't anticipated. In such cases, injury is far more likely.

Mobility is key. Especially in the pursuit of life-long Jiu-Jitsu.


I haven't done straight boxing, but have 20+ years of striking TMA's with some kickboxing thrown in.

I started BJJ when I was about 44, and got my black belt just before my 59th birthday. I spent about six years at white belt, but the rest of my belt progression matched that of many of my younger peers.

I do pretty much all BJJ now, TBH I got sick of getting punched in the face, and with about $50K worth of dental work in my past I'm not keen to put that at risk any more. And I find BJJ far more interesting.

I have to pace myself a bit at age 61, but I'm hoping to keep doing Jiu Jitsu well into my seventies if not longer. No reason anyone who isn't reasonably fit couldn't do the same - if you've boxed for a while, that should be you. You will be pretty sore at the start because this is an unusual activity if you haven't done anything like it before, but your body adjusts fairly quickly.

A high degree of flexibility can be useful for some Jiu Jitsu techniques, but it is hardly a requirement to be able to grapple effectively. Overreliance on flexibility rather than good technique and structure is to invite injury.

Flexibility IMO is far more important for proficient kicking.

This is a great activity to do with your kids.


Jiu Jitsu is about Technique. There are movements that needs a little more flexibility than others but not exceptional flexibility.

You will learn movements that require or not flexibility, also movements that require more explosion or strength. During the fight you will use just that you are comfortable and confident to do.

Because the Technique is the most important thing in the martial arts. The other things will help you to have advantage. If you have the same Technique ( this is hard to measure) but you are stronger than your opponent you will have advantage during the fight. Also the flexibility, fitness, time to apply the position and also creativity.

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