Jiu-Jitsu Should Change as You Change

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world likes to throw around the word “lifestyle.” Live the jiu-jitsu lifestyle, man. Wear flip flops everywhere. Eat some acai. Wear some jiu-jitsu t-shirts that no one but fellow jiu-jiteiros understand. Maybe hit up a camp or two. And that’s about where our thinking about the jiu-jitsu lifestyle tends to stop.

Here’s the thing: We assume that jiu-jitsu will be a lifelong pursuit. That’s the nature of the art, but very few people talk about how your jiu-jitsu lifestyle will need to evolve and adapt to the rest of your life as you add year after year of training. A lot can happen in a year—You could get a new job, you could start a family, you could move, you could get hurt, you could have a family emergency. But, as a community, we don’t seem to put much thought into our jiu-jitsu lifestyle changing. We put it in this little vacuum and hope that our oasis will always be just as it was when we started.

Your jiu-jitsu lifestyle must change as your life changes.

That’s the only way you will enjoy the sport for the long run. If you create this idyllic idea of what it means to be a part of jiu-jitsu, you lock yourself into a set of life circumstances that will inevitably change, and after a few years you will find yourself hating the sport because you can’t train as much as you used to, or your body isn’t holding up, or all your favorite training partners packed their things and moved to another gym. The jiu-jitsu lifestyle should not be some static idea. It should grow with you as you, as a person, grow as well.

This means being willing to reevaluate what the “jiu-jitsu lifestyle” actually means for you. For me, after a series of injuries and a decade of working behind the scenes in the sport, I know I can’t train the way I did when I was 21, so I am learning to adjust my own expectations. Training everyday isn’t in the cards, physically or logistically, so my own expression of the jiu-jitsu lifestyle is rolling a few times a week and getting to that mental place where I am just totally focused on jiu-jitsu. That’s my bliss.

As an instructor and as a longtime student, other life events could trigger a jiu-jitsu lifestyle adjustment. Here is what I’ve seen and how I’ve seen jiu-jiteiros change positively as a result:

  • A new baby. For the normal person with a fulltime job and a marriage they care about, adding a baby to the mix almost completely destroys your schedule. Training three days a week may not be in the cards for the first few months, but with some open communication with your spouse and a healthy management of priorities, you can spend some time on the mat and still be present for your family. It just might not be at the volume of training you’d prefer.

  • A new job. Moving into a new professional role can come with a lot of stress. Your routine changes, your commute might get longer, and your responsibilities might grow. Like the baby scenario, maybe expect to dial back the training a bit for the first few months, but don’t stop training. Insist on making it to the gym at least once a week and consider adapting your training schedule to your work schedule, perhaps jumping into more morning schedules.

  • A new injury. Your body will age, and some form of injury is virtually inevitable on a long enough timeline. Follow your doctor’s advice about recovery time, and consider backing off the super intense rolling sessions if you feel your body not being able to handle it. This is one of the hardest truths to swallow—that you’re not what you used to be—but the good news is that longevity is a bigger topic now in sports medicine than ever, which means that with some smart exercises and some mature decisions about your own capacity, you can train for longer and stay healthier in the process. You might need to make some changes, though.

  • A new marriage. I’m not a fan of people bagging on their spouses not letting them train. If you’re working a full time job and training five days a week, you’re not leaving much time for your loved ones, and that can create problems. Open communication seems to be the key here—at least it was for me and my marriage—and good communication also comes with compromise. If your only solution is that you should always get to train as much as you want, you will probably lose your relationship or your jiu-jitsu.

  • A new hobby. You are allowed to have other interests that are not jiu-jitsu, and you are allowed to be happy with training a few times a week. Every black belt I respect has eased off of the “JIU-JITSU IS EVERYTHING” mentality and picked up other interests to varying degrees. Studying something intensely non-stop for years and year is just not practical. If your goal is to train for your entire life, you might actually want to do something other than jiu-jitsu now and then to stimulate your mind and to expand your personal horizons. That’s okay, and it’s probably the healthier approach.

Adapting to life changes could mean everything from training more or less, training differently, training at a different school, or rethinking what you actually enjoy in the sport. Change is difficult to resist, and with the right mindset, you can make your changes healthy. Let your jiu-jitsu grow with you as you grow.