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When Life Gets In the Way of BJJ
After rolling with one of the newer female white belts at our academy today, we had a few minutes to chat and I asked how she felt she's doing right now? How was her confidence level? Was she enjoying BJJ? She is fairly new and has only been actively able to roll for less than a month, as we ask that people wait until they earn their first stripe before they begin to live train. I feel it's important to do some self reflection every now and again and to pick out not only the areas that we want to focus on to improve, but also to not forget the positives that often go seemingly without notice.
She said she felt like she was actually losing a bit of the confidence she had when she first started several months ago. After further discussion, she revealed that a recent job change and the need to help take care of an elderly relative had changed her ability to train. In just a few months, she experienced a number of the things that we all experience over the course of our jiu jitsu training, but her changes came within a matter of months. As a new, excited white belt who is eager to improve and consume as much knowledge as she can gain, all of these changes made it harder to get to class as much as she would like.
My advice to her was first and foremost to look at things from multiple perspectives. First from a BJJ standpoint, any time you've established a regular training schedule and life changes or challenges impact it, you can feel like the world is coming to an end as your jiu jitsu knowledge evaporates out of your brain into the ether. Especially as a newer student who is excited to learn and who has not experienced the long road as much as the higher belts in the school. If the same life changes happened to a brown belt, they would most likely have slightly less psychological impact because after that long, the brown belt 1) has probably experienced things like this and worked through them and 2) when you're a brown belt and higher, you begin to take more of a responsibility for your own development--not meaning what the instructor is teaching is no longer important, but you begin to branch off into a kind of independent study program with your instructor as a guide.
So my goal was to share with her that these things were going to happen over the coming years and though they were impossible to avoid completely, there were ways to combat the feeling of disconnectedness and rustiness that being away from the mats can bring. Thankfully, her husband and daughter also train with us, so immediately, I suggested working on things at home like drills or simple techniques to keep the mind and body engaged. Also, any additional research or study she can do on positions or techniques that interest her can help keep the mind engaged.
The combined effect of the job change and the increased responsibility caring for an elderly relative who needed constant attention had taken away some of the physical activity she had been getting at her job and the needs of the relative added some stress to her life. Being physically active, whether through some sort of exercise program or our jobs is crucial to our mental well being. The loss of this physical outlet, exacerbated by the stress of caring for her relative and the inability to attend class as regularly as possible had created a powder keg that led to the feelings of frustration that she shared with me today.
At the end of the day, we must not forget that for most of us jiu jitsu is an outlet, both physical and mental. Without it, I don't even want to imagine what my life or stress levels would be like. Little things that may have annoyed or challenged me before, simply don't matter. After training for an hour, I'm a better person than before training and that's a fact. For that reason, I made sure I left her with the idea that no matter what kind of time investment BJJ was, it was never wasted and would always make the rest of the day better. And any investment in BJJ and ourselves is what keeps us moving towards that coveted black belt in BJJ and in life as well.
When you feel yourself feeling frustrated or overwhelmed with life challenges or if you feel like you're not progressing like you should be, step back and take a deep breath and remember outside life can greatly impact BJJ (many times negatively) and BJJ can greatly impact the other hours of your day (mostly in positive ways). The key is to make the two work for you to the best of your ability. If you can't get to class like you want to, find other ways to keep yourself involved, whether it's solo drills or physical activity at home. If job and life stress is getting the best of you, use jiu jitsu as a way to relieve that stress. Jiu Jitsu is not just a tool for self defense. It is a means of self discovery and self actualization, along with being a great workout and a means to kick ass! Don't beat yourself up if you're feeling like you're in a slump. Find a way to get to class and let your friends and training partners do it for you. That's what I do!
One of the best things you can do when you're feeling like you're in a slump is look something new like a technique or position to take your mind off of the slump and give your energy to adding something new to your game. Bernardo Faria has put together his Foundations of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which will give you the best solid foundation for your game at any level and give you plenty of new material to work on. Check it out at BJJ Fanatics!