Ups and Downs

My friend Daniel recently posted a blog article where he dissected some of his feelings about being a grappler and the stagnation that sometimes accompanies this. Go and read it, then come back here.

I’m sure it’s a topic that I’ve written about before, but in the interest of not polluting my current views, I’m not going to re-read any of my writing, or direct you to. I want to investigate it now (as a purple belt with a single brown stripe who’s been training for about 8 years).

Many grapplers will tell you about the walls that they hit during their career where they feel like progress has stalled and the grind isn’t worth the gains anymore. It might be following a belt promotion or unrelated, but it often starts with a day away here and there that turns into a week off the mats, which devolves into a month and then it’s Christmas and you’re commenting to others about how you’ll be back next year. I’ve seen it happen numerous times, to various types of characters with a multitude of daily pressures and stresses. It’s a common occurrence around the blue belt promotion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is considered the first significant coloured belt. This belt is often earned after two or three years of training and the effort required to achieve it is often compared to a black belt in a more traditional art like karate or taekwondo. It’s a big deal, and for some, it provides a good opportunity to exit the sport with an accomplishment in hand. I’ve heard it thrown around that 50% of the grapplers who get their blue belt don’t begin working towards their purple the next day, which seems about right to me.

Like anything, 8 years is a long time to devote yourself to any pursuit, be it sports or otherwise. BJJ is no different. How many people do you know that have played football for 8 years, or cricket, basketball or any other sport? None of my friends outside BJJ have consistently devoted themselves to their sporting endeavours as much as I have to BJJ, that I can think of. I know a few climbers but at best they get up a wall or outside once a fortnight. It’s not a critiscism – life gets in the way, as they say.

And I think that’s an important thing to remember – life gets in the way of everything. Unless you’re training BJJ full time (and that would mean you earn a living teaching, most likely) then you will have work, family and a myriad of other things jostling for your time, and in many cases, getting it.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to always remember that BJJ should always be providing you with a challenge and equally rewarding you for attempting to solve its puzzles. Note that I believe the rewards should be attached to the losses as well as the wins and in many cases it’s not even an on-the-mat reward. My biggest reward last year was a sorry drive home feeling like I didn’t represent myself accurately and let my ego get in the way. That led to a conversation and a cleansing of sorts, which is now blossoming into a mutual respect on and off the mats. It was a serious growth in my character and one that I attribute to BJJ alone. It wasn’t a new technique; it was a genuine growth realisation. Ask me about it some time.

If you’re not getting the love from BJJ, maybe it’s a good time to take a break. Think of BJJ like a relationship – maybe you’re just not that into her anymore, even though you really want to be (on some level). Maybe a few months apart will reignite the spark or maybe it’ll prove to you that space is a good thing.

BJJ still challenges me and rewards me and it’s because of this I’m certain I’ll be back after my son is born. That’s certainly a time I want life to get in the way. When I do come back, I know I’ll see you there Daniel.