I have been competing for a long time. I actually signed up for my first tournament before I started training. Yes, you read that correctly. That, in itself, is a story worth reading if you haven’t heard it yet already. Go here to get caught up.
My most recent competition was Dec. 6 of 2014, making this weekend a full year since I last stepped onto the competition. I’m not sure what I had expected from stepping away from competition after doing it intensely for 7 years, competing an average of 8 times a year, but it’s been weird. When the New York Open and No-Gi Pans and trips to California become a regular part of your calendar, leaving them behind is difficult.
Last year, as I ticked off the days approaching No-Gi Pans, I realized I was burnt out. I was not looking forward to training sessions. I couldn’t find the motivation to do extra conditioning. What was my end goal? Haven’t I accomplished enough? What’s the point of this all?
I pushed through the doubts and took second. Less than a week later, I took a super fight against Tom DeBlass. I loved the idea of testing my leg lock game against a competitor as talented and with as much experience as Tom, and the match was as interesting I had hoped. He caught me in a heel hook, but somehow I was happier about losing to Tom after a long back and forth leg battle than I was about taking second at No-Gi Pans.
After about two months, I admitted to myself that I needed a break. I crossed the competition dates off of my calendar and replaced with trips to see friends, BJJ training camps, a massive Magic the Gathering tournament (shout out if you went to GP Vegas), and a long overdue visit to my family in Chile.
With a year to process it, here are my thoughts on taking some time away from competition:
My game has developed. I definitely feel I have grown into my black belt. I have put time into filling holes in my game. When tournaments are on the horizon, you can get caught up in playing your “A” game in order to perform at your best, making it difficult to put time into working on new things.
I got to enjoy my travels far more. I realized how little I had done on my trips to California. Other than spending hours at the pyramid and eating In N Out after the tournament, I really didn’t get to do much else. This year I got to enjoy so much more of my travels without having to worry about making weight or losing a whole day to waiting for my match to be called.
I am hungry again. I have a list of goals for next year, and I am looking forward to stepping on the mat again to compete. It feels good to have that desire back.
I enjoyed my training much more. Without the pressure of a tournament ahead, I got to try new things, and when they failed and I got smashed it was okay because I was learning and having fun.
I had time to heal. With time away from competition, I could take better care of my body and rest injuries rather than pushing through them (perhaps making them worse) or stressing about whether or not I would be healthy in time for the next tournament.
It will definitely take a few matches to take the rust off. Even though I have been training consistently in my time away from competition, I know that I’ll need time to refocus my competition game and to get back into the groove of competing at the black belt level.
Without hard deadlines and weight to be made I am about 15 pounds heavier than usual. It turns out that I like beer and food. A lot. That weight will have to come off, and I’ll need to pay more attention to my diet overall.
Taking a year off was tough. More than once I was tempted to join my teammates at a local tournament. I am glad I stayed the course, though. I realized why I enjoyed the super fight with Tom so much: I was learning. I didn’t feel pressured to win. I got to test new techniques and new ideas against an awesome opponent. That meant that I got to grow as a grappler. With some time away, I got to focus on growing again, and I think it its core, that what makes jiu-jitsu such a compelling sport.
As I’m looking ahead to next year, I know that I need to find a new balance. I can’t go overboard on competing. I need to leave for things that I enjoy, like BJJ camps and spending time with the people I care about. If you’re finding yourself butting heads with burnout, this could be what you need as well.