A World Without Jiu-Jitsu

Was the title too dramatic? Look, it’s the apocalypse — let me have a little fun.

If we’ve learned anything over the past few weeks, it’s that it takes more to wipe jiu-jitsu off the map than a mere pandemic. The community has been making sure that our treasured pastime of Sweating Onto as Many People as Possible can stay alive even when our ability to sweat on others is restricted. As gyms temporarily shut their doors, students are offering to keep paying their dues to keep the academy open, and instructors are releasing free online content so that students can keep learning.

Jarring, though, has been just how quickly the COVID-19 coronavirus has reshaped our community, if only temporarily. For a moment, there were only a couple of grappling organizations postponing their events. Then, literally overnight, we went from the shock of seeing Pans get canceled to being able to assume that if a jiu-jitsu event was planned, it was probably canceled now. Closing the gym or refraining from training went from being a drastic or even “extreme” measure to being inevitable. A weekend that was supposed to be filled with exciting jiu-jitsu events was instantly transformed into a quiet couple of days — even the UFC event happened without an audience.

We’re not far enough into this whole thing to start writing our doomsday BJJ diaries, and there’s still enough jiu-jitsu out there that you could find a gym to train at or even invite friends over for a low-key drilling session at your house. You shouldn’t, but you could. Still, even in the early days, when you divert your attention from the broader impact that this pandemic is going to have on society and zero-in on its impact on our relatively tiny community, you can see the drastic shift your life would feel if you could train jiu-jitsu, but also couldn’t train jiu-jitsu.

For many of us, this is the first time since we’ve started training that we’ve stopped training for no reason other than there being no option to do so. Lots of people take time off to heal injuries, raise a growing family, or adjust to a new work schedule, but a situation like this is virtually unheard of.

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As much as we’re all itching to get back into the gym, this is also a good time to reflect. What would you be missing from your life if jiu-jitsu just disappeared? How would you fill that time? Would you search for other, less social ways to stay in shape and let out your energy, or is jiu-jitsu the only thing standing between you and a lifetime of sitting on the couch eating junk food? How would your social circle change? Would you spend more time with your family or find yourself desperate to get away from your spouse for a couple of hours every day? What hobbies would you take up during the two hours a day you normally spend training? Or would you simply watch a lot more Netflix?

Obviously, self-isolating while working from home and maybe taking care of kids during the day throws a wrench into all of these hypothetical situations. But the question of “What does jiu-jitsu add to my life?” is still worth pondering. If you were allowing yourself to go out and hang out with other people, would you do it? Would you find a way to work out? Would you have goals if there were no jiu-jitsu tournaments? Or is jiu-jitsu the glue that’s holding all the positive things in your life together?

It’s easy to take all of this for granted when BJJ becomes a part of your routine. There are plenty of days we don’t want to be there in the first place. But, of course, the moment someone says we can’t have something, we want it all the more.

I appreciate the community’s efforts to keep the world safe during this time, but I also fear for the gyms (and other, non-BJJ-related small businesses) that will take a hard hit as they take necessary action to slow down COVID-19. I fear for athletes who make a living off seminars and assistant coaching jobs, and I fear for competition organizations that have lost thousands from having to abruptly cancel their events.

The constant sharing of free DVDs and other digital resources offers proof that it will take a lot more than the coronavirus to make jiu-jitsu disappear (Sidenote to the Powers That Be: Please don’t take this as a challenge). Our sport will be in its own world of hurt, though, if we can’t do our part to support it when it’s time to step up. If you’ve signed up for a camp or tournament that is now canceled, avoid asking for the refund and instead see if you can get credit for a future event instead. Once the outbreak is over, help athletes (even the non-world-famous ones) organize seminars if you think people should be learning from them. And of course, if you can afford it, the best thing you can do right now to keep your own favorite training spot afloat is to keep paying your dues even if the gym is closed.

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When society and the jiu-jitsu world do return to normal, I hope we can all look at our sport with new eyes. Money will likely be tight for a lot of people, but once we can afford it, I hope we can all put some of our own income back into the community to support the people whose contributions to our happiness we may take for granted. The coaches, promoters, gym owners, and athletes we benefit from will need our help to rebuild after a month or more of prohibited Aggressive Person-To-Person Sweating, and my fingers are crossed that after a few weeks of time away, we’ll all be in the right mindset to give them that help.

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