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The Layoff: Returning to Jiu-Jitsu After a Long Break

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The Layoff: Returning to  Jiu-Jitsu After a Long Break

Written by Gabriel Rodriguez, who has an excellent BJJ blog called languagefight.blogspot.com.au (Check it out)

For the last 8 years, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a big part of my self-identity.  For a little clarity as to how long that is, consider that “Laffi Taffi” was a number one song when I first started BJJ, and I still used mapquest to get to tournaments. Living rent-free and studying at the community college freed me up to spend what little cash I had on booze, pot, CD’s (yeah CD’s), and to take up a new hobby in BJJ.

At first being a white belt felt  awful. The more experienced white belts knew enough to use me as a glorified practice dummy, and the colored belts used me as a walking laboratory where they could try out crazy experiments. Eventually, I caught up to those white belts, and the colored belts even started to exert some real effort to beat my ass.

Improving as a white belt feels like being a toddler finger painting. Anything you do well is received with praise and reinforcement, and anything you do poorly is discarded as “Who gives a f*ck? You’re a white belt! Just be happy you didn’t pee yourself.” Everyday practice was a win-win situation for me. It was exciting and fun. I remember learning things like: don’t leave your arms out too far, don’t reach back to open the guard, and never ever wear mesh shorts to practice. I started to gauge myself against the higher belts, and started feeling personal pride when I did well against them. Eventually, my progress took me far enough to earn a blue belt, and I even saw myself doing well at comps.

After over a year and a half of training 7-9 times a week my BJJ life took a big hit. I moved away to live in Long Beach, and though I had training available for me, I became engulfed in a sea of school work. Suddenly I didn’t have the time to train, and when I did train my regression was painfully obvious. I could no longer dominate white belts, and suddenly other blue belts were dominating me again. Being dominated is a shitty feeling. I didn’t want to go to practice because I knew failure waited for me on those mats. It was difficult to find the time to train, but really, I was happy to find excuses.

Eventually I realized how much of a biatch I was being and committed myself to sharpening my jiu jitsu. I moved away from the sun and fun of Long Beach to train with my old teacher in Rancho Cucamonga. My first night back I noticed that one of my old training partners had surpassed me. While I genuinely felt very happy for him, a part of me felt jealous. I didn’t like the fact that now I was that colored belt that newer guys/gals were gauging themselves on. I struggled to properly execute techniques against beginners, and losing against them hurt the ego I had built up before the break. I hated being the “beatable” colored belt, but I had to accept it because jiu jitsu is honest even if we’re not.

When jiu jitsu exposes a weakness, we have to acknowledge it. We can decide not to, but the weakness will always be there laughing at us, mocking us, and visible for all to see. Those who don’t want to admit their short falls, fall behind. They quit trying to patch up their holes, and their frustration eventually beats out their will to keep training. I think anyone coming back from a layoff has to make the decision to either admit vulnerabilities or give up trying to get better.

A layoff brings us back to the shitty days of being a brand new white belt. We suck again, we have peers who toy with us, we have trouble with newcomers, and we are face to face with our own impotence every day. But unlike the old days as a beginner, we can’t dismiss failure as, “meh, you’re a white belt” and at the same time, we don’t get praise for executing basic techniques. The only praise we get is from ourselves. We have to be the judge of our own progress.

bjj long layoff

When I first came back from the layoff, the toughest battle was admitting to myself I wasn’t what I used to be. After accepting that heavy truth, I realized that the person I should be trying to beat is not my training partner, but myself from yesterday.

Here is where the ego must be discarded. The ego causes us to compare ourselves to others, our training partners, our peers, our friends. The ego feeds our personal pride, and in the immortal words of Mr. Marcellous Wallace, “F*ck pride! Pride only hurts. It never helps.” Hubris is a sin for a reason; it is something that builds as we progress, but we fear to lose. When we fear to lose that pride, we make excuses. Excuses are lame… excuses are the language of the weak, it’s what we tell ourselves when we don’t want to take responsibility. Furthermore, it really sucks to train with people who have such a big ego they can’t give you any credit. I remember, after coming back from another layoff as a purple belt, being swept by a white belt and telling myself, “well I just wanted to let him work.” Go f*ck yourself, you douche.

I’ve been swept, submitted, and mounted by lower belts plenty of times, and I used to think of a reason why I didn’t perform, but the reality is that they simply did a good job. I hated to admit it but f*ck, they got the better of me. And you know what? Good for them. After I reflected on it, I realized I should be happy for them, not upset at myself.

It all goes back to the honesty of BJJ. Over the last few years I’ve had to take more breaks from BJJ, each time I’ve tried to keep my ego in check. As a white belt, my shortcomings were excusable, and my ego was allowed to grow. Later in my BJJ career those shortcomings weren’t as easily dismissed, and I was forced to accept them and mature. This is what makes BJJ such an amazing sport. In few places is pure honesty as evident as it is in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When I tap my opponent to let him/her know I accept my defeat, there is no lying there… I am acknowledging I lost. It may hurt, both emotionally and physically, but by accepting my lickings I learn. And that’s the whole point… to learn and grow.

Though the layoffs sucks, they are an opportunity to reinvent yourself. A chance to build an even better you from scratch. It takes honesty, it takes commitment, and it blossoms maturity. As we mature we find that our goal should not be to beat up our training partners, but to be better when we leave the gym than when we entered.

Ever had a Layoff? Let me know by following me on twitter @LanguageFight and liking me on Facebook “Language Fight” and post in the comment section below to tell us your story.