As much as we love jiu-jitsu, merely getting out the door to go to the gym can feel like an insurmountable challenge, especially when you’re facing a tough time in your personal life or have a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Simple tasks like getting out of bed or taking a shower can be tough enough — getting out the door to attend a mentally and physically challenging class in an environment that puts you in very close physical proximity to other people may seem impossible.
Of course, though, we’re still jiu-jitsu practitioners. Even when we have that little voice in our heads pressuring us to stay home, chill out, give up, there’s still another voice reminding us that we need to push ourselves in training to be the best that we can be. It’s a brutal, polarizing conflict: Do Nothing vs. Be Very Good At What We Do.
Ironically, that pressure can make our mental health even worse. When you’re already having a day filled with your brain asking if your existence is even worth it, the added pressure to perform at your best in an already-demanding sport is the last thing you need.
I’m sure there are lots of big-time athletes out there who would tell you otherwise — that you need to give your 100 percent every time you train, and then give even more — but in order to achieve your jiu-jitsu dreams, you have to be alive and well enough to make them happen. If the best you can do on a rough day is to merely show up to class and stay until it’s over, it’s ok to declare that a victory. Even if you watched your coach demonstrate the move three times and still needed your partner to go over it with you step-by-step, even if you get submitted a million times in every roll, even if you take a few more rest rounds than you normally would, give yourself credit for having a bad day and merely showing up to an activity that’s hard enough on a good day.
Even if all you have the energy to do is watch from the sidelines or just drill the move without doing any positional sparring or rolling, do that. The goal is to keep your routine going, to not let your brain steal a valuable source of physical exercise and socialization during a time you need them most. Break it down into smaller goals: if you can put your training gear in your bag, you can put your bag in the car. If you can put your bag in the car, you can get in your car and start driving. If you’re driving, you can make it to the gym, and whatever you can do from there is up to you.
In a perfect world, “life” wouldn’t get in the way of training. We’d be able to set aside work or relationship problems for the time it takes to complete a jiu-jitsu class to fully let the effects help us through our struggles. But coping with reality means having to make adjustments and accepting that sometimes, our 100 percent today might not be as impressive as the 100 percent we gave a week ago. It’s ok if the “all” you’re giving manifests as showing up on time and refusing to leave until class is over. The world is tough enough, and jiu-jitsu is even tougher. Be hard on yourself when you need it, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well.