At some point in our training, I’m sure we’ve all been on one end or the other of a guilt trip for missing class. Jiu-jitsu seems to have its own time zone, one in which your teammates feel like if you skip a day, it’s been a week since they’ve seen you; if you skip a week, it’s been a month; and if it’s been a month, you’re probably dead.
Each person on the mat leads a different life, and while many people can train multiple times a week, a lot of people struggle with balancing their life outside of jiu-jitsu with their life on the mats.
I’m a full-time college student. My commute to school is about 45 minutes one way, my full-time job is an hour away from school, and my home gym is as well. By the time I get home, if I’m lucky enough not to be working on a gym day, I have to decide between studying or training. I’m sure there are tons of people with even busier schedules than mine, especially those of you who must balance your children’s schedules as well!
If you are one of those people that can train often, this article may not be directly for you. However, I bet you have a teammate who’s a mother, a workaholic, or has a crazy schedule, and maybe you can help him find ways to get his desired training time in.
If you are someone who finds it hard to get the stars and planets and your schedule to align just right with your gym schedule, I can’t promise these are the answers for you, but I hope it gives you some ideas on how to get creative with finding training time! These suggestions come from my own struggles learning to find time to train as well, and many of them have been influenced by my awesome teammates.
The Fifteen Minute Theory
My good friend Mike Mihas — better known on the internet as Mr. Jiu-Jitsu — brought this idea to my attention. My academy held an open mat over a holiday and Mihas came in, got a few rolls in, and left after about 15 minutes. Fast forward to this week after a morning class, Mihas showed up, grabbed two rolls, and left. Somewhere in between these two instances, he made a post on his fan page about how he worked an insane number of hours and still managed to train five times during the week, even if it was only for 15 minutes.
This is what I took away from this: if you can’t make it to a full session, it’s okay! If you need to leave class early, come to class late, or only attend 20 minutes of an open mat, that is 20 minutes of mat time you didn’t previously have. You are 20 minutes better today than you were yesterday. I would recommend discussing this with your coach or professor beforehand out of respect. However, I’m sure she would love to see you on the mats, even if it’s for a little bit!
Phone A Friend
If the hours that classes are available do not work with your schedule, see if you can get mat time outside of the scheduled times and ask a friend to come in early or stay a little later to work on drills with you. Some people have mats at their house, too, so you can always plan time for training and drilling at a friend’s house!
Think Outside Of The Schedule
If the gym is open for another class, see if a teammate will join you for some training on available mat space. For example, there is a Muay Thai and kickboxing class before my jiu-jitsu class, and I can ask a friend to come in and drill with me then. This allows me to do two things: I can add an hour to my training time and attend jiu-jitsu afterwards; or if I can’t attend the jiu-jitsu class, at least I got some mat time in. You don’t have to be limited to the scheduled classes. Coming in early and staying later is also great if you can only make one day of training. You also have the option of making it a long day!
Remember, going back to the 15-minute idea, even 15 minutes earlier is better than nothing!
Teach A Kid’s Class
You can probably set up a triangle, right? Can you explain how to set up a triangle in a way that a seven-year-old can understand?
As adults, it’s hard enough to make your body do certain movements until you’re confident, and we’re always gaining better awareness of our bodies. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fair share of falling up the stairs because I forget how to use my feet.
When you help a child, who is also learning how to gain awareness of her body and how to utilize it, your jiu-jitsu will improve. This ties back into thinking outside of the schedule and taking advantage of any time on the mats. Day off and there’s only a kid’s class that day? Go help! Try it once; I promise you’ll learn something. You will have to break moves down and help with repositioning, and it will make you really look at the details in your own execution of moves.
My best friend encouraged me to help with a kid’s class. It was challenging, but I learned so much from it. Teaching moves will also help you learn how to articulate details, and it can help with retaining information and troubleshooting.
Be Intentional With Your Time
You’re reading this article because you have limited time. The time you have available to train is precious, so treat it like such. If you work hard to find time to train, then train. If you are chatting with your teammate in-between drills, you are cheating yourself out of training time.
It’s okay to catch up with people. Jiu-jitsu has a great community. But if you only have one day a week to train, don’t spend half of it talking or dilly-dallying! If you are using one of the recommendations above and aren’t at an instructed class, have a plan to get the most out of your time. This could be knowing a certain move you want to work on, specific drills, questions for different positions, or specific goals you want to work on. Know what you want to get out of your session and try to make it happen.
Scheduling a private lesson with your coach can also help you work around a tight schedule. In fact, it gives you more flexibility! Talking to your coach is also another option. Remember, he wants to see you succeed! Don’t be afraid to ask him for help after class. You can also skip rolling and spend some time talking to your coach on how to achieve your goals. If you have a very specific situation with your schedule, he may be able to better assist you in finding a way to train.
Find A Schedule That Works For You
Your academy may have a very limited schedule, or it just might be hard for you to find people to come in and work with you. Maybe you can’t afford private lessons.
For a while, my work schedule conspired against me and I worked during nearly all the classes, both morning and evening. The only night I could go was on nights when the kids class was being taught. I love helping with the kid’s class, but sometimes I just really wanted to train with adults.
There was a gym 10 minutes away from my workplace that had classes on a night that my gym did not offer classes. I asked my coach if he minded if I went there on those evenings occasionally. After I got his approval, I went there straight from work, as it was close and fit my schedule at the time.
I am not here to argue about whether you should ask for permission to train somewhere else or discuss opinions on cross-training. I know there are a lot of opinions on it. All I can say is know your coach and do the respectful thing. Be respectful to all parties involved. Also, make sure you know the rules, the mat fees, and the other details involved with visiting another gym regularly. Remember you are a reflection of your academy and coach! I would never leave my academy for a place with a schedule that fit mine better. I strive to manage my time to make it to my gym when I can, even if it’s only a few times a month.
However, if it is absolutely impossible for you, make the decision you feel is best. If you commute and there is a closer place and you just can’t drive an hour to your gym, then maybe finding a place nearby is a better option. If you’re a college student living on campus during the semester, this could be an option for you.
There’s No Place Like Home
Jiu-jitsu doesn’t have to be limited to the gym. There are plenty of things you can do at home (and a few of these in your office) that can help your jiu-jitsu improve!
- Movement drills! Grab a yoga mat, puzzle mats, or – if you’re lucky – wrestling mats and get on them to practice movement drills. There are many great ones on YouTube or you can use warm-ups from your classes. You can also ask your instructor for some! It will help with your fluidity, muscle memory, and you can improve movements you use in jiu-jitsu.
- Journal! Write your goals, plans, weaknesses, strengths, and so on. There are lots of great jiu-jitsu journals out there, but a spiral notebook is just fine! A journal for jiu-jitsu is a great reference tool. It will allow you to make the most out of your time and see where you are progressing!
- Study! Listen to some jiu-jitsu podcasts, watch YouTube videos, or read a book on jiu-jitsu. There are lots of great resources out there. You can listen to a podcast on a drive or in the kitchen. You can also study YouTube videos on your lunch break.
In general, if finding time to train is important to you, you will find time. Don’t let other people judge the amount of time you spend on the mat because your journey on the mats is your personal journey. When you are working to escape a position, you often need to create space for the escape. For many of us, jiu-jitsu is an escape.
Find a way to create space for jiu-jitsu.