With the end of a brutal year in 2020, you are probably gearing up to meet your 2021 goals for BJJ. Whether you are starting BJJ for the first time, or returning from a COVID-induced hiatus, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain of transitioning into training. With the possible end of COVID in sight, more people will be returning to the mats in 2021 than nearly any time in history.
These tips apply if you are a new BJJ student just getting into the art, or a returning BJJ student ready to get back in action.
#1 – Manage your expectations when starting BJJ (again)
If you are just starting BJJ, you are going to be a fish out of water. Everyone goes through this during the initial phases of their journey, and its normal to feel helpless as you fumble around on the mat and get smashed by people smaller than you. The biggest risk is to your ego, rather than your actual physical well-being. As such, managing your performance expectations during your early days of BJJ will help you overcome the emotional and mental hurdles of getting dominated during rolls and fumbling around during drilling.
For returning students, you must expect that you will not be as good as you were pre-hiatus. Taking time off from BJJ sets your skills back in the short-term. This is simply inevitable when you stop training for a while. Nevertheless, you will get back to your baseline skills far sooner than it took you to get there in the first place. Once you are back in the groove of training, it will be smooth sailing again. Managing your expectations upon returning to training will go a long way towards maximizing enjoyment and minimizing frustration when returning to the mats.
#2 – Set attendance goals instead of performance goals
Performance in BJJ is a cyclical process that you do not always have control over. Sometimes, you will be on your game and feeling great. On other days you will feel like you can barely survive against people who you just tapped out the day before. Much like chasing and catching a wave in surfing (for all you surfers out there), sometimes you can perfectly drop in on a perfect barrel, other times the wave passes under you despite your best efforts to chase it down. While it is frustrating when you do not hit your ‘performance wave’ in BJJ, just know that another will come.
With that concept in mind, setting ‘performance goals’ during practice can be unproductive given the often-uncontrollable nature of day-to-day BJJ abilities. However, the one thing you do have control over is attending practice. Telling yourself “I will attend four BJJ classes this week” is far more realistic than saying “I will tap out [insert training partner] this week.” While we all love some friendly in-gym competition, you are far better off focusing on what you can control and riding your performance waves when they inevitably come through.
#3 – Adopt or return to a beginner’s mindset
Adopting a beginner’s mindset is vital for both new students and returning students. As a beginner, you do not know what you do not know. However, you are aware of this fact and put aside your own thoughts and opinions, and table any previous knowledge to open your mind to new techniques and movements.
As an advanced or returning student, things are slightly different. After all, you do know some stuff, probably learned from the very school to which you are returning. Nevertheless, it is vital that you clear your mind yet again to absorb new information and return to your baseline training level. The beginner’s mindset also helps you avoid the frustration of feeling like you fell behind on your training.
#4 – Enjoy the process of learning BJJ
When you are a beginner, learning BJJ is an incredibly rewarding experience. You will start seeing how different moves and positions work together to accomplish the goal of controlling and submitting your opponent. Focusing on the thrill of learning BJJ as opposed to the outcome of your rolls will help you stay motivated to keep training and get the most out of BJJ.
If you are returning to BJJ, you may need to re-fall in love with the learning itself. Obsessing over your temporarily lost skill can kill the entire experience of training and improving in BJJ. Your best bet is to focus on the ‘aha’ moments and the thrill of learning and drilling new moves or revisiting the moves you already know and improving the details that make them work on high-level opponents.
The bottom line: starting or returning to BJJ
Both starting and retuning to BJJ can be challenging. Whether it is your first BJJ class ever, or your first class after a long break, it may take some time before you find your groove (again). At the end of the day, BJJ should be fun and rewarding. Following the above tips should help you hit your stride as soon as possible when you begin your training (again).