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.
While 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.
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!