Most people who practice jiu-jitsu hit a crossroads at some point where they don’t feel the same motivation. For me, set in last year about mid-June. I had a minor medical issue, which required that I stay off the mats for about three weeks. When three weeks ended, I didn’t feel like coming back right away. I decided to take the entire month off. Then, we went away for two weeks. A three-week break started to stretch into the fall. I was getting out of shape and the things jiu-jitsu helps with – depression, frustration and isolation – started to creep back in.
Come mid-October, I hadn’t trained jiu-jitsu in more than three months and on most days I didn’t want to come back. I was tired of the grind, tired of playing defense, tired of feeling tired, tired of washing sweaty clothes multiple times a week. Most of all, I was tired of feeling I had spent several years of my life pursuing mastery of something and not making the progress I thought I deserved.
One of the most important things about a gym is the community and we are blessed with a good one. During my time off I was never meant to feel that I wasn’t part of the gym. My training partners called and texted. My coaches encouraged me to come back, said I was missed. Then the week of my birthday a number of my training partners showed up to celebrate my birthday on a Friday night. It meant a lot. When they said “we’ll see you on the mat” I knew I was coming back, not just because I needed it but also because my community was more important than my pursuit of an objective. I didn’t want those relationships to fade.
The reality of training jiu-jitsu is that a layoff is inevitable, whether it’s for physical reasons or burnout or, in my case, a combination of both. I’m now back to training three times a week so I’ve survived my layoff. I thought I’d share a few things I learned.
-Remember Your Community: When you train you are part of the fabric of a community, one that is especially close knit because training jiu-jitsu requires trust that your partners will protect you and train competitively but safely. When you leave you don’t just deprive yourself of training but of the bonds you’ve built. Community and connection are sorely needed in our world today, and training provides both.
-Don’t Jump Back In Too Fast: This is especially true if you are 35 or older. Even when you train and roll smart jiu-jitsu requires a level of physical fitness. Don’t show up thinking you can get right back on track. Start slowly – maybe just two classes a week – and work back to where you were before the break.
-Take The Long View: Learning jiu-jitsu is like learning an instrument or a craft or a language. In some ways it’s harder because it involves both physical and mental awareness. It takes a long time and everyone progresses at a different rate. Also, most athletes don’t train 52 weeks out of the year. If you can factor in shorter breaks it might help
-Use The Time Wisely: If you do take time off try to do something you enjoy. Read books. Ride a bike. Go to the movies. Take the time to recharge and don’t punish yourself. If possible, exercise around your class time so you maintain a habit.
-Prepare To Feel Like You’ve Lost A Step: People continued to train while you were away. Some may have improved considerably. Guess what: rolling with them just got much more challenging. Accept this and be thankful that you were part of that person’s road to improvement, and thankful for training partners who can make you better.
-Look At Things To Change: In my case, I might have been overdoing it prior to my break. I was taking two classes during the week, going to open mat and training with the competition team on Saturday. By taking off on Saturdays I’ve been able to stay consistent but not feel taxed.
-Don’t Overthink It: Perhaps the worst thing you can do is try to overanalyze your progress or journey when you’ve taken time away from the mat. You will almost always put a negative spin on it. Jiu-jitsu is something of and for the moment, not for self-recrimination or negative talk. When you are in class, participate fully and pay attention. When you roll, relax and have fun. Make sure to repeat that several times a week. It’s that simple.
Your journey on the mat may at some point take you off of it, but the most critical thing is to pack the gi and show up, even if you haven’t been seen for a while.