When Life Sweeps You Off the Mat

When Life Sweeps You Off the Mat

by Phil Poma

The other day, I was stretching before class and was looking at the One World banner.  Occasionally, someone will ask, “Whose silhouettes are those?”  And like a good tour guide, someone who’s been around for a few years will rattle off the names.  Some are still here.  Some no longer train.  Others make a surprise guest appearance or come in every few weeks.  Think about people you’ve trained with and your own jiu-jitsu journey.  Good training partners come and go.  There are those who seem to sleep at the academy (a la Andre Galvao and Marcello Garcia when they were coming up) and others who are jamming a single two-hour training session into an otherwise full week.  This isn’t unusual.

Life happens.

No matter how much you love jiu-jitsu, life has a way of interrupting and throwing a monkey wrench in some of your best-laid plans.  Off the top of my head, I can give you a few life sweeps that can completely foil your current (and future) mat plans.  How many of these have you heard in the academy (or have you experienced in your own life)?


“I injured (insert body part here).  It will be (insert number of days or weeks here) before I can train again.”

“They switched my schedule at work so I won’t be able to train at night.”

“I’m going through some personal stuff at (home, work, school).”

“I’m getting discouraged with my progress.  I just don’t feel I’m getting better.  In fact, I think I’m getting worse.”

“I need a break.  I think I’m suffering from overtraining or burnout.”

“I’m just not having any fun.”

“I need to focus right now on (home, school, career, family, etc.)”

“I think I’m going to try another activity.”

“I’m starting (a new job, school, relationship).”


Sound familiar?  Now, instead of beating yourself up with worry or negative thoughts, take a deep breath and tell yourself: “This is all normal.”

No matter who you are, whether you are a brand new white belt or the veteran black belt, no one is immune to life’s unexpected challenges or problems.  I think of Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero who put his dreams of becoming a boxing world champion on hold to help his wife battle leukemia.  Although your challenge may not be this dramatic, you still have a problem – and no one can tell you that your problem is small, because in your world it might not be.  So when life Boo-shesha’s you with a bow-and-arrow choke and takes you off the mat for an extended period of time, what can you do?


Take Care of Yourself: Whatever the problem might be, take care of it.  If your body and/or mind are not right, then chances are your training (and whatever other life responsibilities you have) will suffer as well.  Have the surgery done.  Take care of things at home.  Focus on getting that job or finishing school.  Everyone has priorities.  And for this snapshot in time of your life, jiu-jitsu might not even fall in the top ten “need to do’s.”  That’s OK.  As you move through your other priorities, jiu-jitsu will eventually make its way back on the list.

Do What You Can: In a typical week, there are opportunities to train seven days a week.  There’s even early morning ninja training available (thanks to Meaty and Zvi).  So let’s say you can’t (or don’t feel like) training on your normal schedule, whatever that may be.  Then maybe you switch things up by going to a Saturday or Sunday open mat along with a Tuesday or Thursday (instead of Monday or Wednesday).  Mix and match.  So maybe once or twice a week is a steep drop-off from your normal 4-6 days a week routine.  Or if you’re injured, you come in for light drilling.  Maybe you can’t stay for the full class.  Complete the warm-ups and drilling.  Do what you can.    And like I said earlier, this is temporary…I didn’t say forever.

Mental Practice: Sports psychologists and self-development gurus talk about visualization and the power of the human mind.  When you hear successful athletes being interviewed, they talk about the importance of using their imagination to see and feel perfect execution or desired outcome.  The same can be said of jiu-jitsu.  If you’re injured or can’t make it on the mat, then take some time to grab one of your 100 BJJ books or DVDs off the shelf and immerse yourself in it for a while.  Or get onto YouTube and watch some matches or technique videos.  In other words, keep your mind active.  By keeping BJJ fresh in your mind, it will help with the transition once you finally get back on the mat.

Community of Support: The beauty of the academy is in the diversity of students from all walks of life.  This means there is a lot of life experience on the mat.  In other words, you’ll more than likely find someone who has gone through, is going through, or has experience with whatever you’re going through.  Solid people and training partners, who like sharing and helping you with technique, may be the very same people who can help you with what you’re going through.  Maybe you have similar injuries, job challenges, or family dynamics.  Whatever that may be, listen, ask around, and go talk to that person.  Who knows, the insight you receive could be life-changing…or at the very least, it may just be the mental boost that you needed.

Go Easy On Yourself: I remember having a conversation with a guy who couldn’t make it in anymore due to work-scheduling.  He was really down on himself, saying how discouraged and disappointed he was that he couldn’t make it in as often as he would like.  I haven’t seen him since.  We can be notoriously hard on ourselves.  I read that if we treated our friends like we treated ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends.  How true.  Acknowledge to yourself that you’re going through some challenges right now, and that you’re doing your best to work through whatever that may be.  Confront your reptilian brain (the overprotective and negative prehistoric part of our brain) and let it know that BJJ has made you mentally and physically strong enough to overcome whatever challenges are facing you today…so you can get back on the mat tomorrow.

What was your longest time off the mat and how did you cope with it?