About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a labour of love for most practitioners. We sacrifice free time, minimise the severity of injuries, ignore pain, spend lots of money to train, compete and live the BJJ lifestyle.
When our friends and family ask us why we spend so much time on the mat, we often dismiss the question with the belief that unless they do BJJ, there is no way for them to understand. Sometimes, if we train long enough, the euphoria wears off and BJJ can start to feel like a chore or job; we begin to see it as something we “have to” rather than “want to” do. This feeling can be the result of a variety of things but, regardless of the reason, we must deal with the problem quickly or we risk losing momentum in our progression or even quitting BJJ altogether. Here are some suggestions as to what we can do if BJJ starts to feel like a job!
Take A Break from Our Goals
On the face of it, this seems like TERRIBLE advice. Goals are good! Goals help us improve and they give us focus. All of that is true… but what is also true is that goals, and the desire to achieve them, can be a source of pressure. Sometimes we just need to have a little fun.
As a blue belt, I moved to the Washington DC area – with a new job and fiancée – and began training at the Yamasaki Academy. Shortly after relocating, LIFE happened in the form of a break-up and enormous work pressure. Up to that point in my BJJ journey, I had always been working towards competition goals. In light of what was going on in my life, the pressure of preparing for competition started to turn my training into a negative experience.
I was miserable, until a training partner and friend made a random comment about having fun that I took to heart. I decided to take a break from competing and just trained for a couple of months. Almost immediately, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and BJJ became fun for me again. I actually spent more time at the academy as I felt like it was an escape and it also re-charged me to face the challenges in the rest of my life. The months “off” flew by and I came out of the competition hiatus refreshed and hungry to achieve my previously set goals.
Enjoy Our Teammates Away from the Mat
One of the best things about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the people we get to call our teammates. We sweat, work hard and learn with them and that dynamic creates great friendships. One of the ways we can keep our time at the gym fresh and fun is by spending time with teammates off the mat.
At my gym, Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta, students do things like go to movies, have dinners, watch MMA fights and participate in community services projects together. This activity bears fruit in how people show up to the gym and get energised by the mere presence of real friends. Spending time away from the mat with teammates keeps us excited about spending time on the mat.
Revisit the Things That Make BJJ Fun for Us
David Jacobs is an old teammate of mine who now runs a successful school in Northern Virginia in the United States. While the David Jacobs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy has tough athletes and excellent instruction, it is most known for its open-door policy and enthusiastic participation in the larger BJJ community. This philosophy is a direct reflection of David and it has its seeds in what he has always considered “fun”.
Coming up together, we not only competed in lots of tournaments but the expectation was that we would be training hard every time we were on the mat. David had a full-time job and a family so the grind was especially taxing for him. I often saw him “re-charge” by focusing on the things he loved in the sport. He was always open to learning and new experiences on and off the mat. He learned Brazilian Portuguese, volunteered to host visiting athletes, attended seminars and always looked to learn new techniques. Actively focusing on these things, rather than any difficulties, helped him keep the joy and fun in his BJJ experience.
We all have different things that we love about BJJ. Some enjoy learning new techniques while competition charges others up. Seminars are popular with many, as are open mats. The point is that BJJ captures the hearts of people in a variety of ways. When training starts to feel like an obligation, we can often rekindle the fire we have for the art by revisiting the things that make it enjoyable for us.
Break Our Patterns
Training BJJ, we tend to fall into patterns; we go to the same classes weekly, train with the same handful of teammates and try the same moves/techniques. This is natural as most of us are creatures of habit. Usually this is not a problem, but habits can become tedious and even stunt real growth. When that happens, we must take action and break those patterns for the good of our BJJ experience.
I started BJJ in 1998 and came up very “old school”. Classes were simple: warm-up, do some technique and then spar like it was a tournament. As a brown belt and new black belt, I got to spend a few years training with Renzo Gracie black belt and head coach at 5 Star Martial Arts Academy, Shawn Williams. One of the main things I took from that time was his prioritisation of technical growth and advancement.
Shawn always pushed himself and his students to fully understand positions, in terms of when and why they worked. Sparring was more a lab than physical exertion or conditioning and he encouraged technical experimentation on a variety of partners with a wide range of BJJ-games and body-types. Shawn paid much less attention to who “won or lost” in sparring and keyed on improvements in positions and techniques.
I learned a lot technically from Shawn and I got the added benefit of experiencing a different approach to BJJ training. It re-energised me and showed me how being open to new ideas and trying new things could have a positive impact on my BJJ in terms of improving and having fun.
Check Out the Kids’ Program
Kids have a way of keeping things simple. If it is fun, they want to do it. When they see improvement in something, their enthusiasm is obvious and their ability to learn and apply their new knowledge can be awesome to observe.
One of my favourite pieces of advice to give to grapplers in a rut is to plug into their academy kids’ program. Whether it is talking to the head coach about becoming an assistant instructor or simply showing up a little earlier to adult class to catch the kids sparring, the energy is infectious. I have seen and experienced first-hand the positive impact that exposure to children training BJJ can have on grown-ups. Kids can be the spark that gets our fire for BJJ going again.
There are many things we have to do as adults. We must pay our bills, buy groceries, fill our gas tanks and pay taxes. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should never be on the list of “have-to do.” If we find ourselves in this situation, we need to take steps to regain the love we have lost for BJJ or we risk losing it and all its benefits in our lives. Taking the simple steps outlined above will help us get back on track, looking forward to and enjoying BJJ.
See you on the mat!!
Don’t forget to check out Gracie’s new online instructional website, Roger Gracie TV