Ask a Panda: Dealing with the Jiu-Jitsu Blahs

Question: I am a brown belt, and I love jiu-jitsu. I am in it for the long haul—there is no question about that—but sometimes I find myself feeling ambivalent. I look at some of my teammates, particularly ones who have not been training for as long as I have, and they seem so excited. I know I used to feel that way, but nowadays it feels more like a slog. Lately I go to class, get in my reps and my rounds, and am out the door at the end while some people are still tinkering and asking questions, or even just chatting. These are all things I used to do, but no more. I do not feel enthusiastic or inspired, though I know I am still committed.

My question is: What do I do? I know I will always train, but how do I get through this slump? How do I get back the excitement I used to feel about training?

Answer: I suspect all of us ask this question of ourselves at different points in our lives, regardless of whether we train. Even the most exciting times in our lives eventually end or even out. This is not always bad. In fact, a heart-stopping level of excitement is usually unsustainable for the long haul. Consider the feelings people often have for a new crush. That person may permeate all their thoughts and disrupt their normal functioning—they cannot eat, they cannot sleep, they cannot concentrate, all because they are consumed with thoughts of this special someone. Eventually, though, if this ardor is to be sustainable, it must mellow out; otherwise it is impossible to see to the rest of life’s demands.

A longstanding couple may not always feel that giddy, crush-y feeling for each other, but in the best-case scenario, that feeling becomes more of an accent to a deeper, stronger connection. It sounds like you might have the same kind of relationship with jiu-jitsu: it started out like a wildfire and morphed into a steady blaze, but sometimes it feels that blaze is in danger of dwindling to an ember. Read on for some suggestions for feeding the flames.

Ask some teammates what excites them about jiu-jitsu. People who have not been training for as long as you are more likely to demonstrate youthful exuberance because they are less likely to have accumulated injuries and experienced the cumulative physical and mental effects of years of the jiu-jitsu grind. Ask some of them what excites them; you might awaken some reminders of your own early enthusiasm that have become muted by years of dedication.

Switch up your game. After years of training, sometimes our worldview narrows. We invest time and effort in certain sequences and go-to moves, and/or we find ourselves in similar situations roll after roll. This can certainly become repetitive at times. One cure for this is to branch out. Got a teammate who leglocks everyone? Looking to try more smash-pass tactics? Rusty on the feet? Find someone whose game incorporates these aspects of jiu-jitsu and become a new student all over again. You may experience the wonder of learning something new, and you will have the added benefit of being able to learn more quickly than your white belt self, thanks to your years of training.

Teach. Another way to combat the blahs in your training is to teach. Most teachers, of jiu-jitsu or of other things, will tell you that being a teacher requires an orientation to a subject matter that is different from that of a student. As a simple experiment, think about one of your favorite sequences to execute during training. Now, think about how you would explain to a novice how you do it and how they could do it. Extend the experiment by delivering your explanation to someone, and think about how your focus and energy compare to those of your student perspective. By teaching, you can develop an even more sophisticated understanding of techniques in your arsenal, and you also get to experience the satisfaction of helping someone else achieve a goal. If you like the feeling, talk to your instructor about opportunities to teach a class here and there.

Go to a tournament. Even if you do not compete and have no interest in competing, the energy at a jiu-jitsu tournament is a marked departure from what you are likely to experience at your academy. Take it all in: the matches, of course, but also the comments and reactions of the spectators, the activity in the bullpen, the commands of the referees and coaches. Observe the preparation of the competitors and their intensity in competition. Even check out the interactions at the snack bars and gear tables. Do some serious people-watching. All of this spectacle is part of the world you have chosen to participate in, and perhaps by watching a competition you will be inspired by techniques you see or the camaraderie of teammates. Go and observe. See what moves you.

Visit a different academy. Experiencing the environment at a different academy can be a shot in the arm in much the same way going to a tournament can. Everything from the way instructors run warm-ups to the kinds of techniques the students tend to go for can provide different stimuli. So, whether you are traveling for business or taking a field trip, investigate how the other half lives. Just make sure to clear it with your instructor first.

Take some time off. Sometimes lethargy and ambivalence are a sign of burnout. If it has been a while since you have taken an extended period of time off (we’re talking days or weeks, not hours, people), consider unplugging. Yes, I know, you may fear that on one of the days you are gone your instructor will divulge the one simple trick that will make you a jiu-jitsu master the likes of which the world has not seen since <insert name of person you believe is the GOAT>. But if you are burned out, you will be no good to anyone anyway. Rest is a vital part of training, and if you do not schedule breaks into your training, then you are not training as effectively as you could.

Embrace a new normal—for now. You are a brown belt, which means you have likely been training for upwards of six or eight years. Chances are that when you started jiu-jitsu, your life circumstances were different. Perhaps back then you did not have children and now you do. Perhaps you have a more demanding job. Perhaps you have acquired additional interests, which is allowed. It simply means you will need to allocate your available time differently.

It sounds like you still enjoy training. Perhaps you simply do not have time to linger anymore because you have other things to get to. This could be your new normal—for now. You come to class, get your work done, and go on your way, because right now that is what your life demands. Then the cycle will continue, and perhaps you will find you have a bit more free time. Such is life, and variety is one of the characteristics that keeps it from becoming too blah, which is where we started in the first place.

You are bound to experience the blahs if you train long enough. If you find yourself struggling a bit with motivation or inspiration, try one of the tactics described above to jump start your energy. Good luck, and thank you for the question!

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