For most practitioners of BJJ there comes a time in life when shit gets real. After many years of putting your BJJ before everything in your life other than making some sort of paycheck to cover the most basic expenses (in this order): tuition, online training resources, training gear, tournament fees, ramen noodles and cell phone fees, we start to feel like maybe we are missing out on something.
Oh, I don’t know, friendships, romantic relationships, career advancement, family planning, home ownership, financial planning (what’s that? you mean I can’t just clean mats to train for the rest of my life?) suddenly start to feel like they might matter too.
But what then of your precious training time? How on earth will you get better at BJJ if you have to devote time to your long-term existence and success?
It’s a careful balance when you have to consider shifting your priorities. The first and most important battle is admitting to yourself that something else may become more important than BJJ. Now I firmly believe that everyone has a right to be a little selfish in their life because our selfish needs are what makes life worth living. Without our personal ambitions, we may be living for other people vs. living for ourselves. But moving on from the familiar rhythm of training day in and out and regimenting your entire life around your gym schedule is a very scary thing for many people because you feel like you may be lost without training, or you may feel like it means that you don’t love BJJ as much as the next person.
So before you begin to feel guilty about all the time you won’t be able to dedicate to training anymore, remember that your relationship to Jiu Jitsu is 100% yours. You practice for your own reasons, so don’t let anyone else’s goals or routine make you feel inadequate about yours.
Here are some ways to think about your training and exercise your passion when you are constricted for physical time on the mats:
1. Quality, not quantity. When you consider the hours you can actually train per week, no matter how minimal, seek out the best way to spend those hours. If you only have 2 hours a week to train, look at your gym schedule and zero in on the classes where you really jive with the teacher or you have access to the most helpful training partners. Don’t just go to any class on the schedule. Make your time special and make it matter.
Another scenario is that perhaps you don’t have a lot of good schools around you. If you know that there is a good school further away, it may be worth your time to train 2 times a week at a really good school vs 4 x a week at a low caliber meathead club.
2. Put effort into what you train and with who. I often hear the complaint, ‘I’m a brown belt and the school I go to only have white belts and 2-3 blue belts. They don’t push me hard enough.’ This is bullshit (most of the time). Be accountable for your own training and think about what you need to get better. We don’t walk into a clothing store and say, ‘Dress me, I’m here!’ You go pick out the things you like. If you want to work on sweeps, pick out techniques you want to work on and then just hit them on everyone you can. You’re lucky to have another body in the room. It’s up to you to make use of them. It’s also your responsibility to help make them better and mold them into the training partners you’d like them to be. The overall outcome is that you can get what you need out of whoever is breathing and moving around with you. If you have the opportunity to travel to a different gym from time to time where they have more belts at your level, go test yourself out. Take ownership of your practice, everyone is useful in some way.
3. Watch BJJ. A lot of it. If you can’t get on the mats a ton, watch a lot of matches on the internet. Enroll in an online academy. There are so many online resources now. If you’re a visual learner, watching matches may help you emulate movements on the mats. MGInAction has an ‘inaction’ feature where you can watch Marcelo Garcia hit particular techniques in live training over and over again from varying entries. I loaded up a whole bunch of these once and mysteriously found myself trying to hit these moves in sparring a week later. It gave me more motivation to study the techniques more closely. Sites like the Grapplers Guide give you the ability to build flowcharts and link videos. There are a ton of great tools out there to help you methodically piece together your game or help you think about how to push your studies forward.
Alternately, go support a teammate at a local tournament. Watching tournament matches is a great way to see what is trending.
4. Go to a BJJ camp or retreat and consolidate your learning. If you can’t go to class 5 x a week, how about dedicating 2-3 days to training 1-2 x a year? There are some incredible camps and seminars that are being marketed these days with stellar instructor lineups. Find a camp or a seminar series with a solid reputation and in 2-3 days you will probably take in enough technique to keep you going for 6 months or more. This is especially helpful if you are an instructor yourself and you don’t have the option of being a student much because you have to be the responsible leader on the mats most of the time. Going to a camp or seminar allows you to take everything in and be a student again.
5. Stick your nose in a book. Read a BJJ book. Read an autobiography about a fighter your admire. Read about performance psychology. Reading or listening to an audiobook can greatly influence how you think about training. This in effect can affect your physical time on the mats. Perhaps you begin to drill more efficiently or implement routines that you learned about in your exploration.
6. Grab a grappling dummy. For some people, drilling is super effective. Building muscle memory helps you take the thinking out of execution in the moment. If you need hours but don’t have bodies and time, grab a dummy and put in some reps each day on your own time.
7. Create feedback loops. Film your training. You can study your footage and critique your strengths and weaknesses. Then when you get on the mats you can specifically ask your partners to set up training situations that will address your problems.
8. Invest in a periodic private lesson. I see some students on a regular basis and others on a more periodic basis. Working with your teacher or another teacher you enjoy can be a great investment in time and money. They can help you troubleshoot areas you are getting stuck in, or teach you a stylistic series of movements that you’ve never seen before. Either way, you are getting personalized attention for a full hour (typically). This is a big bang for your buck.