As one of the older guys training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I frequently get comments about so called “old man strength”. Old man strength is an interesting phenomenon because it only exists in a mixed-age context. When I’m in a room with other forty somethings the subject of old man strength never comes up. We might chat about our hemorrhoids and the stock market before nodding off into a drooling slumber but that would be the end of it.
Old man strength only comes into play when an old guy puts it on a young guy. Since we generally expect the young guy to beat the older guy in a sportive setting, when the old guy emerges victorious we all sit up and take note. What just happened? Who is this old fart who dares defy the natural order of things?
Let me let you in on a secret. Old man strength isn’t really about strength. Certain old men are competitive simply because they’re meaner; they’ll gladly cross the line that younger people cower behind. Society says wrist-locks are a dirty move? I guess that makes me a dirty old man, because I’m taking your wrist home with me sonny. Knowing how to win is a generational trait and the grayer your hair, the more profound is your craft.
Nowadays kids grow up in a world where everyone on the field gets a trophy. But if everyone’s a winner you can’t expect young people to learn how to compete. From this murky cesspool of low expectations was the millennial generation born. Employers complain that millennials view the world through the prism of entitlement. It can only be thus. Just make sure there are enough trophies to go around. Everyone’s a winner, right?
Old men are different because we know that the real benefit of competition, of the down-and-dirty, smash mouth, mano-a-mano variety, isn’t that you become good at winning. It’s that you learn how to deal with losing. This is why the old man who is relentless in battle will also be gracious in defeat. Therein lies the old man’s true strength.