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Jiu-Jitsu Burnout and How to Handle it While Training

With Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becoming more popular than ever, more and more people are coming to train and develop their ground-fighting skills. This inevitably means that more and more are also leaving their schools, contracts and teammates behind, as they give up in the pursuit that they may have been so passionate about before. But why?

Jiu-Jitsu burnout is a real state of physical and mental fatigue that saps motivation and slows down progress. Athletes and coaches alike go through it, and you may even notice that one of your favorite professors no longer shows up to class. The excuses come in that life is just getting in the way, but that is (commonly) just a defense mechanism to combat the hard truth: That the love once felt for a physical activity just isn’t there anymore. Yes, people have jobs, families, and more important responsibilities than their hobbies, but as Vince Lombardi put it, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”

The Big Blue Wall

There is a common cliche that centers around Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu having an invisible wall that must be climbed that most people face after training for 2- 3 years. It changes from different schools and perspectives, but it’s generally thought that the vast majority of people that are going to quit, do so after receiving their Blue Belt.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, and as a recent Blue Belt myself, one that I have come to resent.

Have I felt Jiu-Jitsu Burnout? Yep. But Hell no, I’m not quitting! 

It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up

However, that’s not to say that I cannot see and understand why others have a hard time jumping the gap to get to the next level. More importantly, I think it’s vital for all of us Blue Belts, and White Belts getting ready to accept their Blues, to take a hard look at what is really driving people out in order for us to head off our issues before they drag us away from our precious training.

jiu-jitsu trainingWhile I am not a psychologist, an athletic trainer, or even an expert in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (someday!!), it’s easy to get a feel for what is going through the minds of my teammates and friends in the community when they fall off the wagon/mat.

Plain and simple: it’s pressure.

Pressure is something different for everyone. It comes in the form of performance anxiety, increased physical demands on the body, and a whole lot of peer pressure. I’m sure I’m missing some variations, but these stick out the most to me, and I’ve gone through significant amounts of all three types of pressure.

As a Blue Belt, you are no longer given a psychological free-ride when it comes to your abilities to compete on the mat. This can be completely dependent on individual training environments, but even in the most wholesome and friendly of classes, the fact that you have a higher rank makes you feel the need to perform at a higher level of skill.

This can be horrible or amazing, as I’ve seen people put on a new belt and soar into the next level. I’ve also seen though, people lose their own game to their anxiety. Those that seem to fit right into their new belt make it even tougher on those that are struggling with their promotion, as the latter eventually looks around and wonders why others are doing so well when they feel they should be too.

Add in some new, naturally skilled White Belts to humble your recent promotion, and I’m sad to say that I may not see you around as much anymore, as this can definitely contribute to Jiu-Jitsu Burnout.

These people shouldn’t be chided or chastised, as that only drives them farther away. It’s more important to help them realize that Jiu-Jitsu is a series of waves, with a harmonic ebb and flow that everyone experiences. There are highs and there are lows for everyone, and no one quits during a high point. A surfer doesn’t feel the need to quit while riding the perfect wave on a perfect day; he most likely feels the need to quit after a killer wipeout and a period of next to no activity out in the water.  A Big Blue Wall of water slams the surfer’s motivation and dignity just like the Blue Belt slams the confidence of someone coming off their perceived success as a White Belt. It’s a brand new world, and those that aren’t ready for it have a hard time keeping the faith.

How to Deal with Jiu-Jitsu Burnout

If you have quit because of burnout, I want you to try again! If you are showing up a lot less to class, I want you to pick it up again! But how? I have a few tips that I’ve picked up on my own journey that I hope will help any of you going through the trenches of burnout in Jiu-Jitsu.

1. Recognize your belt rank as a personal achievement, not a measuring stick.

Every stripe and every belt promotion means something different to the person getting it. What accomplishment do you feel earned you yours? Yes, you may have seen someone get their belt gifted to them standing at the top of the Pan Ams Podium, but that’s not a reasonable expectation.  You may have been promoted simply because you consistently show up for class, and your coach knows that dedication breeds eventual success. Do not, under any circumstances, look at your teammates as new testing instruments. Even if those lower than you in rank now come at you like a raging hurricane, stick to your plan, and stick to your game.

2. Compete in BJJ! But make sure your head is in the right place first.jiu-jitsu burnout

Competition is amazing for all of the benefits it brings, but it can drag you down very quickly. For the uninitiated, going into a competition expecting a podium finish, or worse, a gold medal, is a recipe for disaster, and definitely for Jiu-Jitsu Burnout. Remember to bank on the knowledge and experience you will gain from putting your game to the test, because that is a guaranteed payoff. If your goal is to become a champion, remember that world titles and professional careers are built on the failures that harden your resolve; no one, with very few exceptions, is a fly-by-night success in competitive sports. If you lose, make sure you remember the loss and all the lessons it taught you, because you need to live to fight another day.

3. Jealousy benefits no one.

Everyone’s felt it, and it’s the worst. I have been confided in about people being jealous, and I appreciate that their honesty and humility has been to their benefit in that they acknowledged it. . That White Belt that used to tap to you every time, ended up developing a key part of his game, and now the tables have turned and he taps YOU every time. If you hate him for it, your quest can divert down a dangerous path, hindering you from its biggest successes. Learn to see this coming as soon as it rears its ugly face. Their success is your success, and just because you are tapping now, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from their triumphs and your mistakes to push you into your next high point.

4. Avoid injuries at all cost, and above all, listen to your body.

It’s been said, “Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body”. Well, I’m going to rewrite that. How about, “A Healthy Amount of Soreness and Burn Without Pain is Your Body Getting Stronger, While Pain is Often a Warning Sign For Injury”. It doesn’t go as well on a t-shirt, but it makes a lot more sense.  The point is, that when you are injured, you aren’t training. Injuries don’t improve your body, they damage it, forcing you to regress on the skill-set you are building, and the cardiovascular and muscular endurance that you’ve worked hard to build up. It won’t be long before you recognize the difference between the amazing feeling of fatigue after a killer workout, and the shooting pain caused by a submission that maybe should have been tapped to earlier. We’ve all tapped a little too late, or had someone hang on a little too long. A few days to let your joints recover could be the difference between whether or not you are still training in six months due to Jiu-Jitsu Burnout.


Jiu-Jitsu Burnout Checklist

Do you feel Jiu-Jitsu Burnout sometimes, or have pushed through a period where you felt like giving up. Consider these questions about your training last week:

How much effort did you have to put in to bring yourself to train?

How good did you feel going into your training sessions?

How successful was your rest and recovery after and between training sessions?

How satisfying and relaxing was my sleep?

Was training fun?

How motivated was I to reach my goals during my performance?

Have you ever felt Jiu-Jitsu Burnout? Have you recognized it as Jiu-Jitsu Burnout?

Chat with me and everyone else in the comments so we can motivate each other!

Comments 12

  1. I’m actually going through this since getting my blue. Couldn’t figure out what was going on at first. Went from training 4-5 nights a week for a year (and wishing I could do more) to having to force myself to make even 2 classes a week. Was helping one of the guys get ready for his blue test and he asked me what he should expect, what advice I had, and I said “Honestly? Enjoy your white belt. I miss mine” without thinking. That’s when it hit me that I was less enthusiastic because I feel pressure now. Being the only female in my class doesn’t help, I’m sure. So I love reading this and seeing it’s not just me. I’m working on getting out of my own head and putting the joy back into my bjj. I’ll never “give up”, but I’d like my enthusiasm back, and that means I need to adjust my thinking. Thanks for this writing, it’s provided additional motivation for me! : )

    1. I am not alone !!! haha, I miss my white belt too. It has been a transition for sure. I think sometimes we have to remember to enjoy the journey, and not focus so much on the end result, you know ? We get so busy and dedicate so much of ourselves to the sport that we can forget to have fun. I am glad that the article has added some motivation for you . 🙂

  2. The hardest time for me was when I was a white belt and I tore the PCL in my left knee. I was pretty much off the mats for almost a year with surgery/rehab and during that time I saw the people I started with surpass me in both skill and rank. When I came back I was very limited in what I could do and getting back to regular training felt like insurmountable task. I had to learn how to do things a different way and I failed A LOT.

    There was a lot I learned about myself when I came back, and I fall back on those lessons as I continue through my journey. I recently broke my ribs and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis so my progress has been sporadic. Keeping the right attitude and recognizing progress, no matter how small, is the key to avoiding burnout.

    NEVER GIVE UP!

  3. Part of the struggle for me, especially at blue, was enjoying the journey. It was easy as a white belt to love learning new positions and techniques, but as a blue there wasn’t a whole lot of new invigorating discoveries, just a lot of fine-point, painstaking building of chains of moves and fighting out of similar scenarios. In essence, when I got promoted it inhibited my ability to feel safe experimenting, bc I still had to defend the belt. This is why blue belt felt like one big plateau, which made it hard to appreciate my progress. One day it dawned on me that even when I play a “safe,” controlling, closed guard that I still end up in the same positions where the higher belts would still eventually pass. It would be like a grudge match of who could be more physically imposing. I decided that if the result was going to be the same every time, even if i played a safe guard game, that I needed to just throw caution to the wind and go for broke, meaning choosing when to open my own guard, play with new, seemingly vulnerable positions (spider guard, deep half, leg over guard etc) and use them to attack, attack, attack! The week I instituted my new “rule” I swept a few black belts multiple times, and passed their guards decisively. This evolution immediately led to purple. I still have this playful, creative, open-guard mentality and continuing to just enjoy the roll led to receiving brown much earlier than I expected. Now I just try to be as technically sound as possible and perform stuff that I know is high percentage to defend the belt, but when I roll with advanced grapplers who flow well it becomes more of a chess match and less of a pissing match.

  4. I completely agree that not getting injured is incredibly important. Take care of your body. It needs to be said.

  5. This article was amazing. I got burn out and I hated hearing all these “true fighters” never thinking about stopping ever, and you just need to suck it up. It only made me question myself more and be more unmotivated. I reluctantly received my blue belt I knew I still had so much to learn.

    I then moved towns and my entire support circle of Jiujitsu friends were gone. Jiujitsu got expensive no one in my immediate life understood my drive to continue. being a girl it’s hard to find training partners in your reasonable size range who are willing to train with you.

    I hit my wall hard and I’m still trying to break through I’m in school and have responsibilities now I’m not sure if it’s something I can realistically pursue. I have relationships that need time, bills that need paid, and my beloved jiujitsu falls more behind on the priority list.

    Reading your article has given me hope that I’m not alone with feeling the pressure of being blue and burn out is common. I plan to get back to the matts one day, even if now isn’t realistic, when I do I plan to enjoy this wonderful sport again and worry about my own improvement not what others think of me. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  6. This is a great read. I assume anyone on their BJJ journey has felt like this at one point or another. Whether they recognized it or not.

    Your point about resting when the body needs it is spot on. The mind and body have to be able to work together. If one is lacking, the other is sure to follow. If your mind says ‘yes’, but your body says ‘no’, then I believe one should really consider their choice to train that day/week/month.

    I am not a Physical trainer/therapists/etc. but it was explained to me that the body has a certain threshold for pain before it actually sends pain signals to the receptors in your nervous system. Your body could have an ongoing issue without even feeling pain (yet). Once you start to feel pain or discomfort, consider the idea that it may have been around before you noticed, and could potentially get worse if you don’t address it. That is why I don’t suggest “pushing through” the pain on this life long journey. Just to be clear I am talking about pain not soreness from training.

    1. Thank you, I sure know I have at times. Key is to remember why you started, have fun and continue on your own Jiu Jitsu Journey

  7. I use to look forward to training but I’ve been having to force myself to lately which doesn’t make me enjoy it anymore. I want the drive back but I don’t what went wrong. Everyone tells me I’m looking sharp and becoming really good. But lately I haven’t been trying. Im a whitebelt btw

  8. I know this post is a few years old but still relevant. What i keep reading about burn out is to keep going and don’t stop. I have. I’ve not stopped. But ive also stopped feeling good after class. I’m still coming off a knee injury that kept me out for two months. Even then i still went to class, took notes, videos, but I feel as if i am not progressing at all. That i have regressed and am back to where i was before my first stripe. I am a two stripe white belt. I can’t seem to get back mentally. Any thoughts or suggestions

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