Last weekend I attended a seminar given by my BJJ professor’s instructor, fifth-degree black belt Professor Ailson “Jucao” Henrique Brites. As is customary, at the end of the seminar students were awarded promotions. I received my first two stripes on my blue belt. I could go on about how I feel I do not deserve them (and I don’t feel I do!), but I realize that is not for me to judge. I put my faith in my instructors and find encouragement in a quote I remember seeing but not sure where: If you feel like you deserve it, then you don’t. If you don’t feel like you deserve it, then you do.

But the real theme of this post is not my stripes, but the stars I saw on the mat that day and draw inspiration from: The new purple belts that set the bar for the next major promotion I aspire to. The newly-minted black belts that attained such a key milestone, one I intend to reach one day (even though I’ll be pushing 55 or 60 by then). The training partners I had never met before yet who each showed the spirit of BJJ brotherhood in their help and support through the techniques taught that day. And most memorably, a practitioner in his early 60s who received a certificate of honor. In presenting the award, his instructor told how he admired his student for competing in every tournament, never missing a class, and being a “tough SOB.”

I went up to this man afterwards, and told him he was an inspiration to me in my own training aspirations, given that I hadn’t really started my BJJ journey until 43 years of age. This guy told me he had started at 45 – and not long after being temporarily paralyzed by a stroke! He suffered a second stroke several years later, and knows that a third could kill him. Yet he not only trains and competes in BJJ but also kickboxing, and fully credits these pursuits with keeping him alive.

I can’t even begin to imagine what this man has been through, but I know enough from a three-minute conversation to say that I admire him and find him to be an inspiration of toughness, discipline, dedication and enthusiasm for life. What an encouraging example of the ability to overcome obstacles, remain active and keep your “edge” well into middle age!