Helio Gracie once said, “Always assume that your opponent is going to be bigger, stronger and faster than you; so that you learn to rely on technique, timing and leverage rather than brute strength.”
Anytime you recommend Jiu Jitsu to a friend you probably find yourself using the “David vs. Goliath” explanation to illustrate one of Jiu Jitsu’s main challenges.
When you heard that explanation at the start of your Jiu Jitsu journey, you probably thought it was pretty badass. Maybe you envisioned yourself as the David (or Helio) of your story, slaying Goliath through your own wit and cunning.
Landing that sweep you just learned against the big guy, or even a higher belt in the gym feels great. But, if conquering the bigger, stronger, and faster guys in the gym and on the streets was the only obstacle in Jiu Jitsu, your journey would be over pretty quickly.
Jiu Jitsu has many more challenges that you don’t remember being printed in the academy brochure. After more than a decade of training, I can tell you that those challenges are frequent, sometimes demoralizing, and that much more satisfying when you overcome them.
If you are serious about your Jiu Jitsu, you’ll have to address these obstacles. Here are a few major challenges in Jiu Jitsu, and how you can deal with them.
Motivation. Perhaps the only thing in this world that can disappear faster than a new blue belt. Generally, Jiu Jitsu is a fun enough activity to keep most people coming back. Those occasional stripe promotions also help you recognize the progress you’re making. Times are good. This Jiu Jitsu stuff is easy.
Well, now your body begins to ache. It’s been a while since you received a stripe. Your triangles aren’t as slick as they used to be. On top of all that, you can’t remember the last time your professor threw a celebratory Shaka your way for hitting the move of the day.
Things aren’t as fun as they used to be. However, Jiu Jitsu isn’t unique in that regard. From cleaning your house, to finishing a last minute project, everyone struggles with staying on top of their goals. You will hit plenty of walls, but here are some tips to maintain motivation in Jiu Jitsu.
Understand your goals
Knowing why you’re doing something can help you properly set your expectations. Whether you’re in Jiu Jitsu just to make friends, for fitness, or for competition, your goals and how you approach them will differ. If you’re in it for fitness and you’ve shed a few pounds, revel in that victory! When you know your goals, you also know when you’ve met and exceeded them.
Don’t play the comparison game
Teddy Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” That can be very true in Jiu Jitsu when you get caught up in the “cosmetics” of Jiu Jitsu. Maybe that new member was promoted ahead of you, when you’ve been training so much longer. But, you may not see all the extra work they’ve put in off the mat. Avoid sapping your own motivation like this, and focus on your own journey.
Don’t rely on “fun”
Jiu Jitsu is fun for many reasons. Jiu Jitsu is not exactly fun when a white belt is kicking you in the head everytime they throw an armbar. Jiu Jitsu is not fun when you’re getting crushed by every upper belt in the academy. That’s OK. If we dropped our passions at the moment the smile melted from our faces, nothing would ever get done. Do what you need to do, not what you feel like doing.
Not everyone can quit their job, sleep on a friend’s couch, and train Jiu Jitsu full-time. I know you’ve tried. The fact is, life happens at different speeds for everyone. That high school kid is getting so much better because he has nothing but time in the summer.
However, when work is done, you have to rush home to get your gear and then back to the academy just hoping the coach didn’t notice that you missed warmups. It can be hard to have the time, or the energy to keep that up. When you sacrifice a training session because you’re tired or lack time, it is easier to drop another, and another.
We’ve all got stuff going on. However, if you’re serious about Jiu Jitsu, you will have to make it a priority.
Set a schedule and stick to it
Easier said than done, right? Even with kids, a job, and your other hobbies, it’s likely you already have a routine. That’s a good thing! Study your academy’s schedule and see where classes can fit into your routine. Do you work at night? Morning classes might be your thing.
Don’t play the numbers game
You may not have the training schedule of the Miyao brothers, but you should take advantage of what you have. If you’re only able to train three days a week, make those sessions as productive as you can.
Additionally, try to find if those days have additional classes and expand your training schedule that way. For example, If you train three days a week, but you attend two classes every one of those days, you can complete six sessions in less than a week.
A considerate partner might ask before a roll, “which knee is your bad knee?” After training Jiu Jitsu for a while you may let out a heavy sigh and point to both knees.
We’ve all seen the “young” old man meme. Unfortunately, we have probably all felt it too. Although Jiu Jitsu is touted as the gentle art, eventually your body will begin to feel the no-so-gentle effects of constant training. Sore backs, achy fingers, and bad knees are things you now share with your grandparents before you hit 30.
Train for longevity
If you plan to train Jiu Jitsu until you become one of the old people in those viral BJJ videos, you should learn to take it easy. Don’t treat every roll like a world title is on the line. Know when you should roll hard and when to just drill.
Training too hard for the here and now, may put you out of commission before you reach the Master’s division.
Take time off when you need it
Listen to your body. You may want to show everyone how tough you are by training through an injury, but you might end up creating a more serious issue for yourself.
Let your body recover while finding creative ways to train what you can. In other words, if your leg is hurt, keep your arms and grips strong.
A round of rolls is just a different kind of exercise. No one is going to attack you while going for a run…hopefully. The weights at the gym aren’t actively strategizing for your defeat. But, a workout where your equipment fights back is particularly draining.
Cardio is a cornerstone of Jiu Jitsu. At times, the only thing keeping you from executing that technique perfectly is your focus on sucking in as much oxygen as possible. If you want the “secret sauce” to close the gap between you and an upper belt, it’s cardio. Sometimes sheer athleticism can take you from underdog to top dog.
You may see this phrase in hashtags or on bumper stickers, but it is key in improving your cardio. It is important to supplement your training with other exercises, but the best preparation for Jiu Jitsu is Jiu Jitsu.
At your next open mat, count how many rounds you spent sitting on the wall versus on the mats rolling. If your wall rounds exceed your mat rounds, you need to learn to embrace the suck of Jiu Jitsu.
After an hour straight of rolling, your rolls will hurt and your lungs will burn. These are the moments where your Jiu Jitsu cardio will increase. Even if your movements are slow and you fail every submission attempt, just keep moving.
Maintaining your gear
Compared to other life altering hobbies, Jiu Jitsu can be pretty affordable. However, if you are constantly training, the dollars can add up between replacing damaged gear and laundry detergent.
If you always went to mommy when you needed a load of clothes washed, you may find yourself learning a new skill. At this point, your washing machine might as well be a purple belt after all the time it’s spent with a belt.
Match your gear to your schedule and add one
Once you know your routine training schedule it will be easier to plan what gear you’ll need. If your budget allows it, try to have a pair of everything (a set of gi/no gi apparel) for that day.
Once you have gear assigned for everyday you train, add an additional pair to allow for damage, or that day you forgot to do laundry.
Nothing is more demoralizing than getting that crisp new gi in the mail only to have the sleeves shrink up to your elbows after a spin in your laundry.
Jiu Jitsu gear is generally made from more specialized material. Each has its own requirements. The easiest laundry research you can do is just reading the tags on your clothes.
Fitting it all in your head
Let’s say Jiu Jitsu comes easy to you. You have no trouble summoning motivation to train. Maybe your cardio is top notch, and your gi always smells so good. But there is one aspect of Jiu Jitsu that is universally challenging: keeping all the techniques you learn in your head.
If your professor shows a few techniques every class you may find it hard to keep up. While the class is practicing the fourth move, you might still be working out the angles on the first technique that was shown.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Some people just hid it better than others. We all have our strengths and weaknesses in what we excel at.
Bring a small notebook with you to practice. Jot down the techniques for the day and detail them as much as you need to replicate them later. The level of detail you use is up to you.
Be sure to note key details that you struggled with so you know what part of a technique is worth revisiting. A notebook is also a great way to track your progress.
Kano Jigoro once said, “To ask may be but a moment’s shame, not to ask and remain ignorant is a lifelong shame.”
Don’t be afraid to be the one raising your hand when your coach asks if you have questions. Often, we fear we are being “annoying” or simply don’t know how to ask our question. More often than not, your coach will appreciate your question and guide you through the technique with greater care.
Anything worth doing is going to be difficult. That’s an age old sentiment that is universal to any endeavor. Although Jiu Jitsu is fun and rewarding, it can also be challenging. Hopefully, when you face these challenges, you can recognize how to overcome them for a more fulfilling Jiu Jitsu experience.
Jeremy is brown belt and has a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, but he also enjoys creative writing. Originally from Connecticut, where he began his 11 years of Jiu Jitsu training.