Hitting a training rut is one of the inevitabilities of jiu-jitsu. If you stay on the mat long enough, you will eventually hit a plateau, and the worst of plateaus will make you feel like you are moving backward. You won’t know why. You’ll be training as hard as usual. You’ll be at every class. And you’ll just feel lackluster. After a few weeks, you see your training partners start to outmatch you at every turn.
Training ruts can become like quicksand, dragging you and your morale to a dark and frustrating place.
Whether you’re in a rut now or are prepping for when the day will come, here are the steps you need to take (based on my 10 years in the sport; your results may vary):
1. Calm the hell down. Jiu-jitsu is important and our passion for the sport runs deep, but let’s put your rut in context. In the scheme of problems that you could face, a training rut is pretty minor. You could be staring down a serious injury or facing difficult challenges at work. Training ruts suck, but they are perfectly normal and are only made worse by over-obsession.
2. Take a day off. Your instructor might not like my giving this advice, but it’s helpful. If you are nose-to-the-grindstone five days a week, skip a day to go watch a movie or to binge-watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix (the new season will be here soon!). Sometimes your mind and body just need some rest, which can give you the fresh start you need to make progress again.
3. Get a new perspective. Sometimes the trick to beating a rut is to jumpstart your training with completely new ideas. Book a private or head to a seminar to inject something different into your game. My suggestion here is not to worry about finding the “right” technique that you should be working on. Instead, just get your creativity flowing again. If you take a private lesson, for example, ask your instructor to show you something they like or are working on that you haven’t used before.
4. Go back to basics. Does nothing seem to be able to push your progress forward? Go back to the absolute basics and work on those. Insist on catching everyone in a cross collar choke or an Americana. Chances are that you’ll still lose as often as you have been, but that’s okay. You’ll be working outside of your comfort zone and trying new things to solve your self-imposed challenge. That process can uncover a surprisingly plentiful pool of learning opportunities.
5. Devote more time to teaching. If you are moving into the upper belts, ask your instructor if you can help with the beginner or kids class. You don’t have to be leading the class. Simply walking around to offer some extra tips here and there will do. In doing this, you take your mind off of your own training, which is healthy in its own right, but you also force yourself to think about your jiu-jitsu from a new person’s perspective. Teaching others can also reveal a lot for you a swell.
We love jiu-jitsu, and we take our training very seriously. We’ve been at it for a while, so we naturally want to continue seeing returns on the hard work and time that we invest. All of that is fair, but the harder you are on yourself about a training rut, the worse it can get. Take a few steps back and work through these suggestions. You’ll be out of your rut in no time.