Me! Hey! Me!
The truth hurts, especially when you have to tell it to yourself.
I was never an athletic kid, as much as I wanted to be one. I was active — I rode horses and did all the poop-scooping and hay-bale-lifting that comes with it — and yet, exercising for the sake of exercise was not really “my thing.” But then (and you know how this sentence ends) I found jiu-jitsu.
Suddenly, I was paying (!) someone to teach me how to do a sport (!!), and eventually, I even wanted to compete (!!!). I was doing workouts that would help supplement my BJJ, usually under the direction of my coach, who understood that I probably needed to be yelled at in order to do exercise that didn’t involve trying to armbar someone. There was even a period in which I was running on a semi-regular basis to get in better shape so I could stop getting so winded during my rolls.
I really thought that after eight years of this, I’d formed an exercise habit. I’d been going to jiu-jitsu multiple times a week for almost my entire adult life. My life revolved (and still revolves) around jiu-jitsu. Don’t get me wrong, I never had the drive to be a world champion, and my love of carbs made my abs a bit shy, but I was healthy and in shape, and I thought that surely, I would never allow my life to look as it did before I found jiu-jitsu.
Then, you know, quarantine happened.
I had access to enough instructionals and workout videos and experience that I could’ve been working out all day, every day. I fully, naively expected to be taking complete advantage of those resources. What really happened is that I’ve done a few yoga videos, suffered through a couple of quick runs, took some walks, and did some push-ups. Friends, I am chonky, and it’s my own doing.
I’ve been hard on myself for returning to my ways of being a lazy bum through all this, and the memes telling me that I’ll never survive a zombie apocalypse if I can’t be arsed to stay in shape are probably right. I’m grateful, though, that the less athletically focused hobbies that I enjoyed (and had time for) as a teenager are coming back into my life. It’s nice to be able to read and explore my creativity more, focusing my energy on activities that require my brain to do more of the work than my body.
There are some people who do jiu-jitsu because they were born loving to physically push themselves, and by golly, jiu-jitsu will certainly give that to you. There are some people who are equal parts brainy and athletic, able to juggle their mental challenges with their physical ones. And then there are people like me, who really hate working out and have embraced jiu-jitsu as the exception.
I think, though, that just as jiu-jitsu has taught me about my strengths and weaknesses on the mat, it’s also helped me to stop, chill out, and ask myself why something isn’t working for me. I’ve had to experiment to figure out the small number of sweeps I can use against people who are twice my size, and now, I have to figure out what types of exercise I enjoy enough to continue doing.
If you’re also facing this predicament right now, ask yourself what jiu-jitsu gives you that these other workouts don’t. Are you missing the social aspect? The fact that it’s more practical than doing a bunch of jumping jacks in your living room? The fact that it’s a mental workout in addition to being a physical workout?
You may not like all the answers you find. Trust me, I was a bit embarrassed when it clicked for me that I needed someone like a coach telling me what to do in order for me to want to do it. But unless and until you accept these tough answers, you won’t find a solution that works for you while the gyms are closed. Maybe it’s time to join your gym’s Zoom classes even though it’s “just not the same” as doing it in person. Maybe listening to audiobooks instead of music while working out could make you feel more productive while you exercise. Maybe jiu-jitsu is truly the only hard exercise you will ever enjoy, and taking walks while playing Pokemon GO is all that you can muster until the gym reopens again.
The important thing to remember is that this is all temporary if you choose to make it so. As long as you come back to the gym when it opens back up, your cardio and technique will come back to you. Yes, it’s going to be harder for people who were just taking daily walks than for people who were training every day with their live-in teammates, but trust me, you’ll return to your BJJ-normal eventually. If you don’t want to use this unprecedented amount of mandatory time away from the mats to get buff and would instead prefer to explore other hobbies, do it. Hopefully, we’ll never get the same opportunity again.