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From Guard to Grounded: Redefining Progression During Covid-19 Lockdown

One of my favourite aspects of training Jiu-Jitsu is how easily I find it to map my progress, especially compared to other field sports I played religiously before I stumbled into my first BJJ class. Unlike other training sessions, Jiu-Jitsu offers me something definitively different to work on each time I’m in class: a new technique; a tweak to something I had previously learned; an entirely new concept; working with a new partner’s style or body type; the list goes on! When I played other sports, I could almost have given a complete and relatively accurate breakdown of how the training session was going to go before we even started. The set of skills required and practiced was much smaller and so the pool from which to choose what to work on/drills to do was much less diverse.

On the mats, fuelled by this ever-expanding sea of techniques and styles, there are always new levels of competence and understanding to strive for, always new concepts to learn and explore. These forward leaps and bounds are easily measured by physically testing these ideas and skills out on the mats. We all know that rush of seeing something new and mind-blowing for the first time (“Wait, HOW did you end up on their back, you were just – WOAH! Wait, do that again!!”), followed by that initial feeling of achievement when something you’ve been working on tirelessly finally clicks into place, the unequivocal burst of adrenaline and happiness when you pull a technique off perfectly in a live roll… *sighs exasperatedly* Yeah, I miss it too, guys…!

Simply put, if we adhere to the commonly cited “Keep Showing Up” rule, we will gradually be able to see ourselves improve. It can start small. I remember having an absolute epiphany moment when someone finally explained exactly what the term “sweep” meant to me – up to that point I had been politely nodding for about a month while trying not to let the anxiety of feeling stupid show on my face. The feeling of measured improvement can be more obvious. Rolling is where this becomes extremely clear. Techniques that didn’t work before, become go-to moves. We start to compete and test ourselves. Movement becomes feeling more fluid. Breathing becomes more controlled. If you’re anything like me, you start to knee people in the face less – all examples of clear and measured progress…!

But what happens when we can’t “keep showing up”? What do we do now that the comps are cancelled, the gyms are closed, and our training partners are miles away, gazing forlornly through rain-spattered windows, dreaming of aggressively cuddling us on the ground (I can only assume). Despite the fact that getting to the gym is not currently possible, the love, passion and drive to continue to grow and develop is still there for many BJJ practitioners.

Since the Covid-19 crisis began a few short weeks ago, many people within the BJJ community have had to face the reality of life without Jiu-Jitsu. Many people rely on BJJ to help them manage their mental and physical health, for some it’s their main social network, for others it’s their primary source of income. From speaking to people within my own network to seeing others express themselves online, this reality has brought with it stress, sadness and frustration for many people. However, it has also fostered a strong sense of community, resilience and creativity.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, many gyms have adapted in some way to keep their students topped up with new material through online videos and interactive and live feeds. World-class instructors have released free instructionals/live classes to help keep the Jiu-Jitsu community from going collectively crazy. People within the community who are also specialised in other areas have offered advice on home work-outs, on staying mentally strong, on eating healthily, on how to build a grappling dummy! With every surreal day that passes, people continue to reach out to support each other, something we as a community should be incredibly proud of.

But with that abundance of online supports can come a nagging sense of pressure to match your training intensity pre-global shutdown. To go from training 5/6 days a week to being stuck at home without many resources is jarring. It can be quite easy to let a sense of failure and guilt ebb into your thoughts. “I’m not doing enough.” “I have nothing but time and I haven’t achieved anything with it.” This battle against self-deprecating and negative thoughts is one of the biggest challenges we may face on this journey. And a perfect opportunity to work towards a stronger mindset that will be of huge benefit both on the mats and off them going forward. Boom! Something else to make some progress with.

It’s important to remember that we have to work within our environmental constraints. Thanks to the creative and generous support that has manifested in the form of online resources, there’s now a wealth of BJJ material to continue to explore. However, some of us may be without training partners (give it another week and I’m sure you’ll have convinced that stubborn sibling/partner/housemate to throw on your spare gi), some may be without mats or floor space, others may still not have time if they’re also suddenly trying to entertain two kids while also working their day job full-time from home!

Instead of assuming that you’re now stuck in a rut without your regular training routine, look for new ways to measure your progress. Did you do anything that might help you on your Jiu-Jitsu journey today? Did you eat well? Did you stretch when you got up or before bed? Did you overcome a challenging mental moment? All of these small little details are progress. Recognise them. Be proud of them. Build on them.

If you can fit in two or three small solo drill sessions a week instead of your usual five or six nights on the mats – that’s progress! If you can watch one video on one technique that you’re interested in – that’s progress! If you can build up, however slowly, to an adapted but regular training routine – that’s progress!

This is an incredibly challenging time. There is no “right way” to deal with this unprecedented and strange situation that has been thrust upon us. Jiu-Jitsu will be there waiting for us after this comes to an end. By taking small steps, it can help us navigate these uncertain waters, keeping us fit and mentally strong and ready for the absolute party that our first session back on the mats is sure to be!

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