About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
We who train Brazilian jiu jitsu love it. We love training, our teammates, how it has improved our level of fitness, the culture – the list goes on. When we are forced to be away from the mat, whether due to injuries or schedule conflicts, we make those around us miserable with our complaints.
Understanding that all of this is true, even the most devoted of us have days that challenge our feelings for BJJ. We have times when we wonder what our lives would be like if so much of what we do and think about was not tied to training and competition. On those days, we are hyper-aware that BJJ, while fun and rewarding, is difficult, time-consuming and challenging. In this state, it can be very tempting to hang up our gis and quit the sport that we profess to love. We know in our hearts that we LOVE BJJ, but on these days, we question whether or not we actually LIKE BJJ. Knowing that these days are inevitable and that quitting would lead us to regret, how can we best prepare for them and position ourselves to not allow these days to derail our BJJ journeys? What do we do on the days when we do not LIKE BJJ?
Tip #1: Go train anyway
My students know that one of my favourite sayings is, “The hardest part of training is taking the step into the academy for practice”. When we are tired, busy, frustrated or distracted by life, there are a hundred reasons not to train. These reasons pile up and weigh on us as we pack our gym bags, go on our academy commute and make our way into training. The good news is that once we cross the threshold into the gym, it is all downhill…the hardest part is over! Once we see our training partners and actually get on the mat, we are reminded of all the things we enjoy about training. When we spar, our minds commit 100% to the task at hand out of necessity, as we go about the business of playing chess with our bodies. I have lost count of the number of times that a student has said something like this to me after class while smiling and dripping with sweat, “I didn’t want to come tonight, but I’m so glad I did…I needed this”. When we forget how much we “like” BJJ, going to class anyway is often the quickest way to regain our appreciation for how much it really means to us.
Tip #2: Grab a bite after practice with a teammate or two
When talking to people over the years about what they love most about BJJ, there is one answer that always ranks close to the top: the people. As we continue to train, we cannot help but develop relationships with those who are making the same commitment as we are, share the mat with us and help each other improve. When I was at the Yamasaki Academy in the Washington DC area, we had a core group who would go to a local juice/smoothie shop after most practices. Anyone at the school was welcome to join us and many people did from time to time. This was not only a fun tradition but the camaraderie it inspired was obvious and it helped set an inclusive tone that enhanced our training. It also served as a nightly reminder of the great people and friendships that BJJ brought into our lives. Now that I have my own academy (Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu in Atlanta, Georgia), this is a tradition that I am happy that my students have embraced. When we are down on training or on BJJ in general, sometimes just grabbing a bite to eat (or a smoothie) after practice with a few teammates is all we need to reignite our enthusiasm for the sport.
Tip #3: Share BJJ with someone close to you
Another way to rekindle the fire of passion we have for BJJ is to share it with family or friends. Whether we invite them to a class to try it out or we just show them some moves at home, showing an interested loved-one some basic techniques serves a few purposes. It can help them understand the complexity and skill involved in BJJ and that enlightenment often makes them (and us) feel even better about our chosen sport. Sometimes we get the added bonus of sparking their interest enough that they actually take up BJJ. When that happens, we can take pride in the knowledge that we have given a great gift to someone we care about. Regardless of which of the previous outcomes we end up achieving, we generally feel better about BJJ when we take the time to share it with those close to us.
Tip #4: Sign up for a tournament
Signing up for a tournament is another great thing to do when our BJJ flame starts to flicker. Getting ready for a competition takes our attention away from our changeable feelings and puts it on a specific task/mission: preparing to put our best foot forward. We approach training with greater focus and enthusiasm as we have a defined short-term goal to work towards. Sometimes the process of tournament preparation is all we need to allow the malaise to pass and our enjoyment of BJJ simply returns. When that does not happen, the actual tournament experience can be the catalyst that reminds us of our love for the sport and lifestyle. On the day, we are supported by teammates, sharpened by competition and enriched by the bonds we form and that are strengthened with both groups of people. Some of my greatest BJJ memories are from tournaments I competed in – wins and losses, regional and international. Those events provided me with the opportunities to improve myself as a BJJ athlete, bond with teammates and win the respect of and build friendships with rivals.
There will be days when we do not LIKE Brazilian jiu jitsu. For some people, that will not be an issue as they will simply quit and move on to a more suitable hobby or sport for them. Those of us who have committed to the BJJ lifestyle have come to another conclusion whether consciously or subconsciously. We have concluded that regardless of how hard BJJ can be or how we feel in the moment, our lives are BETTER with BJJ than without it. That simple reality fuels our loyalty to the jiu jitsu lifestyle and, combined with the specific action items in this article, can help us successfully navigate through the tough days when we need to be reminded of our love for the sport. See you on the mat!