Drew, Chris, Bryan, Jerod, Travis, Mike, another Mike, Matt, Ryan, Phil, Kyle—These are all people that I personally convinced to sign up for a jiu-jitsu membership at my home gym, and none of them train with me anymore (that I can recall). A few moved to different cities and continue to train, but most simply quit altogether.
Anecdotally, the wisdom goes that 1 out of 10 people will make it from white belt to blue belt. 1 out of 10 blue belts will in-turn become purple belts. If you follow that math through black belt, 1 out of 10,000 people that start jiu-jitsu will stick around to earn a black belt. Unfortunately, we don’t have the hard data to make this a scientific fact, but most of the grapplers I’ve talked with agree that these numbers reflect their general experience. When someone disagrees with these ratios, it’s because they believe that it is far worse than I’ve described.
Jiu-jitsu is a hard sport, and training for life is not for everyone. In fact, expecting someone to try a new hobby and to stick with it forever is almost unfair. People will leave, and that’s okay.
But where does that leave you if you’re a lifer? Well, after a few years on the mat, there will come a day when you sit down and reflect on all of the training partners you’ve seen come and go. And oh boy will it depress the hell out of you.
For me, it happens a few times a year. Usually the downward spiral starts after a hard roll, when I’m leaning against the wall, and someone asks, “Hey, whatever happened to ______?”
These moments hit me hard because I typically quite like my training partners and it makes me sad to see them leave. While losing training partner still bums me out, here is what I’ve learned:
A jiu-jitsu gym is not immune to the natural ebbs and flows of life. People come and go all the time, but the static four walls of a mat room can warp that perception and make it feel more intense.
Jiu-jitsu is a fantastic art that can transform one’s life, but it’s not a lifetime hobby for everyone. Some people simply lose interest, and if you look back on your own hobbies, you can probably fine a few that you’ve quit that people you used to know will stick with until they die.
If you want to help lower the attrition rate of jiu-jitsu, you need to be helpful and understanding. Welcome new students, talk them through the hardest moments, and don’t apply your standard of commitment to everyone that comes through the door. Just because you’re in the gym 7 days a week doesn’t mean that everyone should be. Acting like people are somehow less engaged because they don’t train late at night like you do can actually push people out the door.
Enjoy the time you have. People leave a gym for all sorts of reasons, so don’t take your time with a training partner for granted. You never know when an injury, a job, or some other real life obligation will pull them away. Learn as much as you can from the people around you because they could be gone tomorrow.
Losing training partners can be emotionally difficult. You can invest so much of yourself in others only to have them leave. Know that it’s usually not personal. It’s just life. Treasure the time you have and be extra thankful for the brothers and sisters that stick by you for the long haul.