It is almost always true that relationships are easier when they start. You are in an initial phase of discovery and romance and everything is exciting and new. I think that the relationship with jiu-jitsu is no different.
When I first started jiu-jitsu, it was love at first sight. I fell fast and hard. I was enamored with everything I was doing…pushing my body in ways I never thought possible, competing, seeing results on and off the mat. I couldn’t get enough. So much so that I joined a second gym and regularly trained 6-7 times a week. I often felt tired, weak, beat up and sore. I got a few injuries. I didn’t care, all I could think about was jiu-jitsu and it’s all I wanted to do.
As time went on the luster of new love started to wear off and I began to realize that jiu-jitsu was not the flawless end-all, be-all I thought it was. Sometimes it’s not fun to feel like you got hit by a truck, sometimes not being able to move a joint for a couple of weeks without significant pain sucks, and sometimes being crushed on the mat just isn’t fun.
As the rose-colored glasses started to come off, I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do on days when I was feeling exhausted and I didn’t feel like training. I had pushed myself so hard for so long that I didn’t know anything else but training. Whenever possible, I would arrange social outings with my friends around jiu-jitsu and my life was a constant pattern of work, jiu-jitsu, sleep, repeat.
This all came to a culmination this summer after training for two tournaments and pushing myself really hard. I decided to take a week off after so that I could recover, something I never voluntarily did before, and I found that afterwards I didn’t feel the same drive and compulsion to go back. I went into a pretty significant funk and couldn’t focus on anything training related. I had to make myself go to class after work, I wasn’t staying long after to roll, I couldn’t get back on track with my diet and cardio. A few weeks after that I sprained a ligament in my knee and I almost felt relieved to have an excuse to not go to jiu-jitsu.
The change in my attitude plus my time off forced me to take a good, hard look at my relationship with jiu-jitsu. While I still felt that I loved jiu-jitsu, I started to wonder if maybe I had jumped into a committed relationship too fast. Sure I still wanted to be with jiu-jitsu but maybe it was time to see other people too.
So after my injury, jiu-jitsu and I took a break and I got to see what life would be like without it. For a while it was pretty fun. I was going out with friends a few times a week, eating and drinking stuff I tend to stay away from while training, coming home before 9pm and watching a bunch of TV and movies that I don’t typically have time for.
However as time wore on, I started to miss jiu-jitsu. I missed the gym. I missed my coaches. I missed my teammates. I missed the challenges, both physical and mental, that I cannot find anywhere but on the mat. I missed the focus and discipline that came with training jiu-jitsu. I realized that I did not feel as complete without jiu-jitsu in my life.
So after going through a rocky patch, I finally feel that I am ready to come back to jiu-jitsu 100% committed. The bloom of new love has worn off and I realize that jiu-jitsu is not perfect. Sometimes it’s flawed. Sometimes I am flawed (very rarely of course). But I have discovered that I like the person I am with jiu-jitsu much better than the person I am without it.
Of course now and then I am going to want to hang out with my friends to blow off some steam when I am feeling angry with jiu-jitsu, but I am committed to always coming back. I feel really good about where I am in my relationship with jiu-jitsu right now. It’s easy to be committed when everything is new and wonderful but it’s a lot harder to make the same commitment when you realize the amount of work it takes to succeed. I know that jiu-jitsu and I are in it for the long haul and I think we will have a long, fulfilling life together.
This has been my life since I have started to get back to training. I am now done with physical therapy (not because my knee was 100% better but because the prescription was for 4 weeks and I did not go back and get another) and trying to smartly ease my way back into training. At first I wasn’t going every night and now I am going more nights than not but trying not to roll hard two days in a row. It’s been mostly going well but every now and then (like this past weekend) I push it too hard and my knee swells up and gets painful again. This is of course super annoying because all I want to do is get back to training like I was and each setback makes me wonder if that is even possible.
For some reason (advancing age? broken down body?) this injury seems to have taken more out of me than my others as well. I am having trouble picking up anything we drill and when I roll I feel weak, slow, gassed and ineffectual. I know that I just have to get used to training again but it’s hard not to feel frustrated by taking steps back.
I am no stranger to jiu-jitsu injuries. I have had a few rib injuries, concussions, popped elbows, my fair share of black eyes and more gi burns, scrapes and bruises than I can count. Mostly when I’ve been injured my focus has been on rehab and all I can think about is getting back on the mat. However with this injury I am experiencing a lot of anger for the first time.
Why am I so angry? Because this injury was 100% preventable. In the past when I’ve gotten hurt it’s been during tournaments or rolling where I go in knowing that I am accepting a lot of risk but this injury came about because an overzealous partner went too hard while drilling single legs. It’s really hard for me to admit that “out loud” because I feel like I am breaking one of the sacred, unspoken rules of jiu-jitsu in which we never blame our partner for an injury.
I think it’s important to state that I know that my partner did not intentionally injure my knee and although I am not overly happy with this drilling style, I don’t think any less of him as a person or hate him now (truthfully I don’t see him anymore as he’s gone back to school but if/when he comes back, I still won’t hate him). But the fact of the matter is that I was standing there offering no resistance and my partner shot in really hard on my knee and I got hurt and when I think about it, I get angry.
Besides the fact that I feel completely rusty, I find that I am shutting down and just concentrating on not getting hurt when I roll. This is a problem I had before and I definitely do not want to go back to that style of jiu-jitsu. I worked really hard to overcome this in the past and I feel like I’ve added a mental setback to the long list of physical setbacks I have to deal with. This is, I think, why I feel so angry about this injury. Because I feel like I’ve regressed and this would not have happened if my partner was a little more careful when drilling.
I also find that I am feeling overly anxious about who I roll with. My gym has a lot of big guys (to me at least, I guess it’s all perspective) and in the past I have not been afraid to roll with most of them. I have felt that my jiu-jitsu was to the point that I could deal with someone wanting to hulk smash me but now whenever I get approached by one of the big guys, in the back of my head all I am thinking is “don’t hurt me”. This is definitely not a good mental state to be in when starting a roll.
So this is where I’m at right now. I’m rusty, out of shape, angry and afraid of half the people at the gym. Sounds bleak right? I’m not going to lie, it is. But as much as my brain is feeling done with jiu-jitsu right now I know that this is nowhere near the end of my journey. Even now as I am driving to the gym making myself nuts overthinking everything (this is one of my more endearing qualities), I feel the surge of adrenaline and anticipation I get every time I go to train. There have been moments where I’ve had a good roll or something finally clicks and I remember the part of jiu-jitsu that is pure joy.
So the plan for now is to keep being smart about training but to keep pushing myself to go. Eventually my brain will remember what the rest of me has not forgotten and we’ll all love jiu-jitsu again. I also have to make peace with my anger because it is only getting in the way of me moving past this injury. As always the only solution to a jiu-jitsu problem is more jiu-jitsu!
That was my Saturday. It was a big day for our gym as we hosted our first in-house tournament (the Hellfish International In-House BJJ Tournament) where we invited other schools from Team Balance to come fight us. Considering it was the first time that we tried to run a tournament, I think it went very well. We were done at a reasonable time, everyone got at least 2 matches, there were some really awesome medals and even a black belt superfight, all for $30!
Since I have barely been able to start drilling again and only rolled a few times in the last couple of weeks, I decided it wouldn’t be wise of me to actually fight in the tournament but I told my instructor I’d come and help out since I was going to come watch anyway.
I arrived early and helped with organizing everyone into brackets as we were getting their registration forms. After seeing so many people I know sign up and watching them get ready to compete, I definitely got the bug and I decided that I wanted to do it. I told my coach that I was going to register and he gave me a disapproving look and told me he didn’t think it was a good idea. I whined like a 2-year old and said “but I really want to and I want one of the medals…” and he told me to relax and just enjoy the tournament as there would be others. Sigh. Fine.
I know he was right because I would be quite upset right now if something had happened to my knee and I had to sit out again but it was really hard to not participate. It’s funny how when I can compete the thought makes me nauseous and anxious and when I can’t compete it’s all I want to do. I am so difficult!
Instead of competing, I got to keep score at one of the tables (we had two matches going on at once) for most of the tournament which was actually quite stressful in its own way. I kept worrying I would mess up the score and end up costing someone the win. It is also really hard not to pay attention to the other mat when one of your teammates is competing or when you hear a lot of cheering.
I also had the experience of watching one of my students compete for the first time. It feels weird to say “my” student as she is the gym’s student but she got her start in the women’s class and only trained with me for the first few months of her jiu-jitsu career so I feel very responsible for her.
Being that this was a small in-house tournament and that she is the tiniest of tiny (she weighed in at 108 with all her clothes and her sweatshirt on), her only opponent had a 25-30 pound weight advantage on her. Despite this and the despite the fact that she woke up feeling sick, she still went out there and fought her heart out for two solid fights (they fought a best of 3 series). She didn’t get the W but I was really proud of her for working up the nerve to compete and giving it all she had.
Experiencing the tournament as a coach instead of competitor gave me a whole new perspective on competition. Whenever I lose in a competition, I feel like I let my coach down. Even though he has told me numerous times he doesn’t care about winning and losing, I can’t help but feel he is disappointed when I don’t win.
I can honestly say I felt so proud of her for stepping out there that I would not have cared even if she got submitted right after bumping fists. I am hoping this new perspective on competing will help me lighten the mental baggage I like to take with me every time I compete. But enough about me. Way to go Carrie, you rocked the mat on Saturday 🙂