The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) by Eugène Delacroix.

Some Tips on What To Do When You Can’t Train BJJ

Repeatedly starting and stopping one’s BJJ training can be mentally exhausting. It’s like breaking up with someone and getting back together over and over again. Sort of. Anyway, it’s quite easy to just say FML, sell off your gis or spats, grab some beer, a pack of cigs and watch reruns of Seinfeld like some shitty version of Sardanapalus. Still, as with most of life, there is something to salvage from even the most banal and tedious challenges thrown at us.

My last two years of training have been replete with gaps that sometimes verge on chasms. Injury and illness alongside ennui and a certain amount of laziness have found me sometimes taking more than a week off the BJJ mats. Sisyphus is my current spirit animal (though sometimes when I emotionally eat it’s the tapeworm :-/).

While it can’t be said enough that nothing takes the place of training there are things one can do to safeguard against the ruinous drop in skill or, more importantly, the fear of some ruinous drop in skill. Here’s what has helped me quite a bit.

Do Not Seek Out New Techniques – If you know you’re going to be off the mats for more than week, don’t wander down some YouTube rabbit hole hypothesizing on the efficacy of some new technique or techniques. You will likely get lost in abstraction. You will also be burdened with information overload that will cloud your current game with a lot of theoretical hubris. When you finally do return to the mats you may likely suffer a good amount of analysis paralysis for your troubles as well.

Go Over What You Already Know – I tend to take notes after training to ruminate on my rolls and what I’m working on. These notes are a kind of manual for my current game. This forms the basis of any kind of study or search I make online or elsewhere when I can’t actually train. The goal is to continually fortify what I already know, especially if I’m off the mats for more than a week. 

Workout if You Can – Obviously, if you’re injured, rest. However, if it’s something else – work, stress, your mother-in-law – that’s temporarily got you off the mats, keep working out. I judiciously ran hill sprints 2-3 times a week for a month when I tweaked my neck. Surprisingly, I returned to the mats with a slightly improved gas tank because of it.

Mobility Work – Work on your mobility. While many of us are not going to be reckless contortionists like, say, the Miyao brothers, mobility work alongside strength training is good insurance against injuries big and small.

Relax – BJJ is a marathon not a sprint. I take that back. It’s actually a venture into some wild, existential point of no return that sometimes finds us on the wrong end of North South, but I digress. Even with all the time off I’ve taken I am still progressing. Strange, right? If you’re going to stumble, try to stumble forward. Just make sure you’re tending to your own path and not someone else’s. The grasser is greener where you water it.

Become a Mental Badger – Years ago on some back road in Idaho I almost ran over a badger over with my truck. I stopped. The badger stopped. It looked up at me, took my measure, told me to f**k off and wandering into the adjacent farm field.

We can all learn a few things from the American badger. They are truly the assholes of the animal kingdom. Not because they’re ferocious, but because they’re inexhaustible and stubborn. I mean really stubborn. They’ve been known to fight off critters much larger than them including black bears and mountain lions on just plain will alone.  

I’d like to think that all this starting and stopping has fortified my will to a degree. I still show up to train, sink or swim. Talent and skill are enviable traits, but grit, resolve and determination move us forward far more often on and off the mats.

© 2019 Gable Gripes All Rights Reserved

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