I am assuming that most of you reading this love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But, have you ever arrived at your academy with a body which has been broken down by days of hard training, and thought ‘fuck this shit’? I have always lived life under the assumption that more of anything is better; however, I have come to see recently that under certain circumstances, the cliché: less is more, is actually a profound truth.
I really love jiu-jitsu and for the past eight years my daily existence has been consumed by it. Although, it wasn’t quite love at first sight, initially, I found it awkward, overly complex, and claustrophobia inducing. This was coupled with the fact you had to wear a weird outfit. But, it didn’t take long before I fell hard, its multi-faceted personality absorbed me; the way it seamlessly managed to function as a sport, a form of self-defence, and a beautiful art-form where one is able to creatively express themselves.
My life has revolved around it: training six days a week, studying matches, keeping abreast of the latest techniques, devouring magazines and books; spending all my disposable income on fresh new shit, and visualising possible mat-based scenarios while I should be working.
I was happy to give my heart to the mats; this was an unconditional love which ignored hurt and injury, agony and loss.
I wanted to spend as much of my time as possible in its sweet embrace. I had to get better. I had to acquire more techniques. I had to win medals. Logically I believed that the more time I spent training, the more skilled I would become. Like a jealous lover, I just knew that if I wasn’t on the mats somebody would take my place, they would be improving and I wouldn’t.
My desire was insatiable and even led me to quit my job to train full-time.
At the beginning of the year I made the decision to enter the bizarre and wonderful world of professional wrestling. Consequently, my ability to train jiu-jitsu became limited. It wasn’t the end of the affair, we weren’t going to be “taking a break”, but, we were certainly attempting a long distance relationship.
My new schedule afforded me the opportunity to train no-gi twice a week. This wasn’t easy. I missed spending time with all my dudes, I missed knowing, I was working towards the day that I received my black belt; I missed the “toxically masculine” environment and all the dick jokes; I missed being choked with my own clothing, and I missed my connection with the flow state that only jiu-jitsu could provide me.
As with any significant change, it was very alien at first. When I did train, I didn’t feel as sharp; while rolling, guys who I felt had no business doing so got the better of me (insert ego here!). I was riddled with self-doubt over my performance – which was compounded by recently returning from broken ribs – it felt like I was going backwards.
After a month or so, as I became acclimated to this new routine, something strange seemed to happen. I actually felt like I was getting better. I felt stronger, fresher and incredibly motivated.
Some of this can be attributed to the strength program that had been created for me (size being a prerequisite for pro-wrestling). For years, I had mistakenly followed the advice of Caio Terra: being a weakling was irrelevant, only techniques matters. This is sound advice if you are an anomie like Caio but well-meaning bullshit if you are the other 99 percent of the jiu-jitsu population. Although, the blame can hardly be laid at the feet of the pint-sized wizard. My blind adherence to this pseudo-philosophy should have been shattered after being bullied around for years by those stronger than me on the mats. Lifting heavy things seemed like an incredibly mundane act in comparison to rolling, so I simply didn’t bother. I loved jiu-jitsu not squatting.
Even with this addition, it sounds like an improbable paradox, how could one train less of a sport and actually improve? When I look at it objectively, training as much as I did, there was certainly a point of diminishing returns. While living in Rio, I would often train three-times a day, two sessions of hard rolling and an “essential” drill session (my body and I were often not on speaking terms). I was no spring chicken to boot, attempting this at the age of 30.
My overall enjoyment of training has radically changed. Now, every single session I am excited. I look forward to getting on the mats. I feel super fresh and inspired to learn. This is a stark contrast to how I used to feel. A number of times during the week I would arrive at training and be so tired that it was arduous even walking up the stairs. Worse still, I wouldn’t even want to go and had to force myself into my gi, resenting the fact. During these sessions I would invariably perform badly, grappling in an effete manner and get beaten down by cats. I would go home in a pit of depression, lamenting the decision of coming in the first place and convincing myself that my jiu-jitsu sucked beyond belief.
In hindsight, I spent a lot of time over-trained. Training was a chore. I had to go and that was it, I couldn’t let others get ahead or risk falling behind. Perhaps, this wasn’t actually a love affair, it was addiction. I was a fiend that put desire in front of well-being.
I think I have a developed a more sustainable relationship with jiu-jitsu, my body is not being continually ravaged and broken down, nor is my every waking thought invaded. For me, taking a step back has certainly reenergised and reinvigorated my love. I don’t need to train jiu-jitsu every day, nor am I jealous of those who do; there is more than enough jiu-jitsu love to go around! I actually think I am a better grappler now (without having actually competed this year, I have zero empirical evidence to back up my own hypothesis). Like all successful relationships, I have learned to really appreciate our time together as well as our time apart.