Many of us swear that nothing could tear us away from jiu jitsu. But sometimes, “nothing” comes to us disguised as a horrible injury, a massive change in our life plans, or simply a day of staying home that somehow turned into a year of staying home.
For me, it was a debilitating bout of depression last year.
Getting back to the gym after taking some time off can be a real challenge regardless of why you stopped going, so it’s no wonder that so many people who “take a break” end up never putting their gi back on.
But if you’re thinking about getting back into the game, there are plenty of ways to make your comeback as pleasant as possible.
Take it slow. You don’t have to roll for three consecutive hours six days a week like you used to. In fact, making sure you’re not overdoing it is crucial to ensuring you don’t get burnt out when you first get back into jiu-jitsu. If you’ve had any significant amount of time off, you’re not going to be the athlete you were back when you were training all the time. It’s okay (and encouraged!) to slowly build back up to training as long and as hard as you were before rather than jumping in head first. If you don’t, you risk being discouraged by both mental and physical exhaustion and ending up right back at square one.
Use your friends as a support system. Peer pressure is good sometimes! Get your friends involved and ask them to push you to train at least a couple times a week while you’re still getting back into the swing of things. If you’re not up to doing a full class, see if they’ll meet you just to drill. You’ll feel a lot more guilty about not showing up if you know someone is depending on you. Even if the reason for your extended absence was something like a big move across the country, I guarantee that even the people in your new gym would be more than happy to text you to encourage you to come to class. The jiu-jitsu family is a big one, and your teammates want you back on the mat, too.
Don’t be mean to yourself. You’re going to get tapped out more than you used to. You’re going to get tired faster. The people you used to roll on even ground with might have surpassed you. It doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get better, though. Like it or not, taking a hiatus from anything will send you a few steps back when you eventually return. You might suck now, but if you keep up with it, you’ll be back to your old self in no time. It’s amazing how much your body and mind retain when it comes to exercise, and while your formerly flawless techniques might be a little rusty now, the time it takes to re-learn them is going to be a lot shorter than it was when you had first started jiu-jitsu. It’s great to set goals, but don’t beat yourself up just because you’re not rolling like a Gracie after not passing guard for months.
Reward yourself. If the promise of post-training pizza is the only thing that gets you to the gym one day, then so be it. For some people, the reward of training is training itself, but if that’s not you, it’s fine. Rolling for the first time in a long time can feel like punishment, so it’s okay if you need to give yourself some encouragement along the way. Tell yourself that you’re allowed to watch an episode of your favorite show only if you show up to class today. You can even set larger, long-term rewards for yourself, such as getting a new gi after six months of consecutive training. Rewarding yourself too much can make you spoiled (and possibly fat), but you can give yourself some leeway when you first start back.
Remember why you started. Remember the day you decided to make up for being a chubby kid in high school by becoming an athlete in your late twenties? How about the day you finally escaped your abusive relationship and decided you never wanted to be a victim again? Whatever reasons you had for starting jiu-jitsu are still just as valid now, and you should be using them to not only start again, but to be happy to start again. Write your motivation on your bathroom mirror in dry-erase marker if you have to. Set it as your desktop background on your work computer. Do whatever you need to find that passion you had when you first started, and use it to drive you all over again.
Getting back on the mat after a hiatus is an accomplishment that very few people achieve. No matter why you stopped, don’t let it hold you back from starting again if you can and want to. It’s a long road, but jiu-jitsu itself is a journey rather than a destination. What matters is that you’re getting back on the road.