Making Jiu Jitsu Suck (A Little) Less
with several options
The World Health Organization defines the quality of life is “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.”
For this essay, I define the jiu jitsu quality of life as “an individual’s perception of their position in their jiu jitsu in the context of the school and value systems in which they train and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.”
Why Jiu Jitsu Quality of Life Matters
This past year I have spent investing more in having a great experience in jiu jitsu. I think less about how to win medals and instead how to increase my sense of well-being and quality of life in jiu jitsu.
This all started because I needed to have something to focus on that was within my control and sphere of influence. Good technique is hard to acquire and takes time, so if I was to depend on medals to help me feel good about myself, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
In fact, I discovered that fixating on achievement had muddled my desires at best and destroyed my self-esteem at worst. However, by filtering my actions and thoughts through the lens of increasing my jiu jitsu “quality of life,” I’ve seen a big change in reducing the depressing, stubborn feelings of Not Enough.
That said, the factors below are the ones that have worked for me, with a lot of tweaking over time and investment of both time and money. There are plenty of other ways to raise your quality of life in jiu jitsu. These are simply the ones I’ve tried, so far. In reading this, consider the options I’ve put forth not as only literal suggestions, but also the spirit and impact of these suggestions.
Factors Influencing Jiu Jitsu Quality of Life
Visiting new places
Open mats and seminars may seem daunting at first, but a change in place and pace can greatly allow you to appreciate your training at the home gym even more. You will also understand better what works against different partners in much lower stakes than a tournament, and you begin to see what your coach tries to impress on you. For those who like novelty, it may be a chance to learn a different style that your gym may not focus on otherwise.
This year, I visited 3 (!) different gyms in the span of two weeks, and I realized just how much I had progressed since last year in terms of my mindset towards skill development. I will also be making a trip to New York to train at a world-class gym, and I am looking forward to exposing myself to new styles.
Getting off Instagram (and other sites that skew reality)
Cutting off Instagram can be a game-changer for someone who easily falls prey to self-comparison, either because they have been conditioned from an early age to do so, or also because the jiu jitsu world is inherently competitive. Not being on social media means that you are not constantly bombarding yourself with messages that someone is better than you AND that you are trash.
Personally I found that quitting altogether has given me the best chance of happiness. I am someone who likes to scroll. I could intellectually understand that Instagram was *not* reality, but I could not emotionally understand it. As someone who suffers from depression, getting off Instagram has allowed me to focus deeper on myself, instead of performing for others.
Getting your gear organized/washed/packed
It is about 5 minutes before you must leave for class. You’ve been late a few times before and the instructor has already lectured people for it. You start to get ready to head out the door but realize that you haven’t packed your bag. Like, at all. You find a rashguard somewhere, but then remember it is the gi class, and your gi is still kind of wet around the armpits. You grimace but tell yourself it’ll only be somewhat uncomfortable until you start sweating after warmups. When you arrive to class you find that you forget your belt, so your gi spends time flapping in the wind and signalling to everyone that you weren’t prepared. After class you realize that you forgot a change of underwear.
If you find yourself stressed out and anxious before class, consider whether it’s a good idea to pack your bag earlier in the day, or even better, the night before. For most of us who work demanding jobs, getting ready for jiu jitsu is often a hassle when we’re already mentally drained. So, the less stressful we can make getting out the door, the better.
Plus, fresh underwear.
Approach to Training
Some may find it painful to watch themselves on film, but overall, this is a great way to start the process of developing awareness of technique gaps. If you’re a beginner, you may not always have a solution to the problem, but you can at least recognize what has happened and consult a more experienced resource. If you’re an intermediate/expert, you can use the footage to help clean up details or notice missed opportunities.
And, regardless of the experience level, having a record of one’s improvements over time is encouraging, especially because growth in jiu jitsu often seems like 2 steps forward, 1 double leg takedown back. Watching myself roll in class has showed me my gaps in my own mindset as well, like how I can show myself more compassion and objectivity when reviewing my training.
One of the things that white and blue belts especially struggle with (including myself) is what they want to focus on. Even the largest and simplest of the jiu jitsu main categories — guard, passing and takedowns — are made infinitely more complex given the interaction of gi versus no gi. Add in submissions, grips, and transitions in between, and one begins to get the sense of the factorials involved. Choosing one aspect of the jiu jitsu curriculum means that one can have more chances to work on a deeper understanding of techniques than I would have otherwise. One may also find a sense of increasing peace, since the number of distractions and detours decrease.
I have focused on situational sparring for the majority of six months now. I have been able to gain a much deeper understanding of techniques than I would have in free form training. It’s been good to have a plan when I go into the live training portion of class, so I can feel like at least I engaged fully with the learning process that day.
Investing in bodywork
I used to think that sports massages were for professional athletes who did their sport as a living, but I changed my mind after I spent several weekends in absolute wretching back pain. I finally decided it was worth saving my sanity instead of my money and went to get a series of specialized sports massages, with a guy who works with athletes.
The biggest quality of life change for me wasn’t just the physical healing that took place, but the mental shifts as well. Namely, by investing in my own self-care, I had to buy into the belief that I deserved to feel as good as possible in all aspects of my life. I feel like I’m finally treating myself with the care and love that I deserve, especially after intense training sessions.
This isn’t the same as taking class notes, which are more utilitarian in nature. I do my journaling about how I feel about my overall journey in jiu jitsu in a separate notebook, as to reinforce my intention that this is a complete focus on my inner world. Sometimes I journal because it helps me figure out stuff or break down issues that are bothering me. Other times, I do it to capture a specific feeling or event from training or competing that day. Sometimes you just need a safe space to get your thoughts out and to process the events of that day, and the journal is a great place to do that.
Taking non-jiu jitsu vacations
I’m not a fan of taking breaks from my training and have struggled with that for a while, but I am a huge fan of vacations. I’ve learned about myself that vacations away from jiu jitsu, the city, and my home gym allow me to reconnect with myself as a person, before there was jiu jitsu. It’s also a great reminder of what it’s like to have fun without someone trying to strangle or smash me.
Most people also report that when they return to the mats, they are more focused and actually able to catch people in submissions that they weren’t able to before. I think this is because the brain naturally needs spaces to work and rest, and the time that you spend away from the mats means that you can synthesize the current inputs you’ve received without overwhelming yourself further.
Postscript: Like I said at the beginning, these are some options that have worked for me. The most significant aspect has, and always will be, the way we feel about our training and the work we put into it.
If you think there might be someone who would be interested in this essay, why not give it a share?