ALTERNATIVES TO TAKING A BREAK FROM BJJ

“I went from literally considering “taking a break” from BJJ to taking significant strides while getting re-invigorated.”

About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.

Introduction 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training can be a grind!  BJJ is a combat sport so sparring is a huge part of the learning process and that can be physically and mentally draining.  Couple that with how long it typically takes, 10 years is often quoted, to earn a black belt and you have the picture of a long, hard road.  As a coach, I sometimes see people take “breaks” from the mat.  I am not talking about a few days off, which can be great for you, but rather voluntary time, usually weeks or months, away to focus on other things or to recharge.  In theory, this is a great idea as it ideally allows the opportunity to “miss the mat”. In application, life often gets in the way of ever returning and you end up missing out on all the benefits that initially got you into BJJ.   

So, the question is:  what alternatives to taking a training break are there that will not derail your BJJ journey?  Here are a few of my suggestions!

Adjust Training Intensity

Sometimes simply adjusting your training intensity can be just what the doctor ordered to get you out ofyour BJJ rut.   You can benefit from increasing or decreasing training intensity at different times.

Coming up the colored ranks primarily in an “old school” environment, practice was like a tournament…rolls were matches with winners and losers.  I felt like I needed to be my best every night or I would risk getting passed in the pecking order in the academy.  I clearly remember “hitting a wall” at brown belt in that I was starting to grow tired of night after night of “competition” on top of the stress that regular life was putting on me.  I started to train a little less regularly which led to me getting frustrated at my slowed progress and started to breed dissatisfaction with the sport.  

That started to change when Shawn Williams, black belt under Renzo Gracie and head coach of 5 Star Martial-Arts in Los Angeles, introduced me to flow-rolling, also known as s-training, as a primary method of sparring.  The general theory is that you can get fantastic training in with great technical and cardio benefit by moving without using a lot of power and holding positions…translation:  lowering the physical intensity of sparring will still yield positive results.   I saw Shawn train this way most of the time and how it helped him and his training partners so I gave it a try.  I was very happy that I did as that change of pace not only gave me a spark mentally but I made significant technical advances in my game due in large part to flow-rolling!

I went from literally considering “taking a break” from BJJ to taking significant strides while getting re-invigorated.  And, I credit much of that to the change of focus and intensity of my training.   To be clear, intensity does not always have to be tapered down.  Sometimes, you can get the same jolt by upping the intensity of your sessions whether it is to get ready for competition or to just challenge yourself.  As a coach, I find myself advising both adjustments as the students and situations determine.  My point is that changing your level of intensity can often re-light your fire and increase your enjoyment for and of BJJ!

Experiment With Your Game!

Another way to add a jolt of energy to your training is to experiment with your game.  I am not talking about trying silly stuff that you have no real interest in, but rather making a concerted effort to expand your game or take it in a new direction.  

When David Jacobs and I were purple belts together at the Yamasaki Academy, he was known for good wrestling and crushing top-pressure.  David was very active in the competition scene and starting to get on a roll when he broke his thumb.  His doctor told him to take 6-8 weeks off as he was wearing a cast and needed the time to heal.  Well, David lasted about 1 week before he simply missed training too much and decided to come in to see what he could do.  What started out as David just drilling one-handed ended up with him taking the better part of the time working on his butterfly guard and guard retention.  Two huge things came from that time:   1- David found another level of enthusiasm as he started to make strides in an area he had not focused on previously and 2- David improved in that area to the point that it became one of the core-attributes of his BJJ game.

While this David Jacobs story is more about a forced break, the lesson still applies and the solution of focused experimentation to deal with a rut works.  It not only helps you stay on track with your training but often leads to real evolution of your game!

Another way of doing this, if you primarily train in one, is to spend more time training gi or no-gi.  Before moving to Florida due to a job-change in the mid-2000s, I had spent 90% of my time training in the gi.  When I found ADCC champion Pablo Popovitch’s academy, I was excited about the level of BJJ I would be exposed to but I was not sure how I felt about half his schedule being no-gi.  What ended up happening was I had more fun training no-gi with him than I had ever had and it went a long way towards keeping me in the sport during a difficult adjustment period personally (new state, new job, etc).  The change of pace of training more no-gi had enough juice and made BJJ fun enough for me that I persevered through a time when I might have taken a break or even quit…and, when I came out the other end, I was happy for it!

Sign-up For A Tournament/Help With Kids!

At first glance, these two things seem unrelated but they have a few things in common.  First, they are commitments.  Signing up for a tournament and helping out with the kids’ program both require you to commit and show up.  Secondly, they require investment…in yourself, in others and in the academy/community.     At my gym, Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu, we have a saying that “BJJ is both an individual and a team sport” and part of what that motto implies is the power and impact that investing in others canhave on both the individual and the team.

Tournaments seem individually focused, but you prepare with your teammates.  Those people are there as you deposit sweat-equity leading up to the event and they are making their own contributions (whether they are competing or not).  That process of investment can be a breeding ground for renewed energy and fun, if you allow it to be, and be the reason you avoid taking time off.  

At Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu in Atlanta,2nd degree black belt, Derek Kaivani , runs our kids’ program  and does an exceptional job “pouring into” the kids.  Not only is he giving them high-quality technical instruction but it is obvious to anyone watching how much he cares about the kids in his care.  The impact on the students is there for all to see but something else I have noticed is how it’s positively impacted Derek’s training and overall energy around the gym.  On top of that, the assistant coaches who follow Derek’s lead also reap the same benefits in terms of fun and energy!  The formula is pretty straight-forward:  sincerely invest in the kids and you get much more back!   This is a great and productive way to keep yourself on the BJJ path.

Conclusion

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left”.    Chris Haueter, one of the first American BJJ black belts, famously said this when talking about getting a black belt in BJJ.    At it’s core, this quote speaks to the power of inertia and consistency above talent or natural aptitude.  With that in mind, resisting the temptation to “take a break” and taking one of the above steps instead will empower you to stick with BJJ while getting re-energized and motivated.

See you on the mat!

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