6 Ways to Break Out of Your BJJ Slump

It’s a common problem. It emerges as a gray, drab shadow that zaps the joy out of your most delightful hours of the week. Whereas you once couldn’t wait to hit the mats daily — sometimes multiple times — you now drag your feet heading into class. 

At my worst, I even shed some tears of misery before, during, and after rolling for weeks at a time — sometimes months. 

I didn’t know what was wrong with me and the only thing I could conclude was that I disliked Jiu Jitsu and Jiu Jitsu disliked me. My self talk was awful:

“I SUCK at this and should quit now and save my time and money.”

“I am such a terrible training partner. No one wants to train with me.”

“I don’t deserve this belt. I don’t deserve to train with anyone here. I’m probably the pity roll.”

“Nothing I do works. I must be the worst student in the school.”

Know your BJJ slump triggers

These days, my ego is a little more calloused to these small defeats. Though I’m not immune, my ego is better prepared to handle rough spots. They can be triggered by a number of things: 

  • Personal or professional stress: Not being able to shake off the external worries in class
  • Change of class or environment: Adjusting to a new class dynamic and training partners can throw you off your rhythm
  • Coming back from time off: Getting the ring rust off after injury, travel, pregnancy, etc., is an uphill battle 
  • Over training: Your mind/body connection isn’t sound because it is tapped out and tired
  • Prolonged success with a particular skill set: Your training partners have figured your game out and it is forcing you to evolve

Hitting a BJJ slump or plateau can be a trying time for a student. Most of us find training to be liberating and profound, and the last thing we want is our progress to stall. When students hit this stage in their training, it’s not easy to counsel them out of it. I believe this is because Jiu Jitsu is a visceral, lived experience. Words of guidance offered off the mat just don’t resonate the same way. It doesn’t make sense. 

At its worst, students will begin to employ the “Q” word. “I QUIT.” They’ve circled through all the reasons why they are so miserable and stagnant that they resort to blaming the art by concluding that it just isn’t for them. But it is important to know that this is most likely a perception problem and not reality. It is only your internal language and meaning-making that has built this castle of doom and gloom within your BJJ world. Chances are, no one else sees what you see. 

How to End Your BJJ Slump

Here are some methods I’ve used to break out of slumps:

  1. Take a break without guilt: Walking away from training for a period of time can do wonders for your body and psychology. Anywhere from one week to some months may  provide you with a healthier perspective on your training. Sometimes when you’re too close to something, you can’t see it for what it is. Don’t feel guilty about missing practice. Find something else to temporarily fill the time. I baked cookies for two months… Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and who doesn’t love eating cookies?!
  2. Talk to your instructor: Chances are they have felt the same as you. They may have some coping mechanisms that they can share with you about how to get through it. It could be a great opportunity to learn something new about your teacher — that they aren’t immune from this plague either. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone makes it feel that much better. 
  3. Switch it up: Switch up class, switch up technique, switch up training partners.Try something or someone new. We can feel stuck when we keep doing the same and more of the same. Occasionally mixing it up will force our brains and bodies to react dynamically, not routinely. It may be enough to edge you out of your stuckness.
  4. Travel and train: Need an excuse for a BJJ vacation? There are so many exciting camps and seminars offered to take advantage of. Perhaps changing the scenery by hopping on a plane and training beachside will help you take the pressure of yourself. 
  5. Journal and track feedback loops: If you’re really in the nitty gritty of training, journaling at the end of the day about your class will allow you to drop your critical thoughts into the digital (or paper) void so that you can wake up with a fresh take on your problems. Recording your training might also be a productive step as it will give you visual proof of what you think is going wrong on the mats. What we perceive vs. what is actually happening may be two different things. 
  6. Meditate: When we are obsessively caught in a negative mindset, we should train how to release ourselves from what oppresses us. Practicing 10-20 minutes of mindfulness a day can give you a lot of clarity. This app does a brilliant job of making mediation easy and unpretentious.

Twenty years in, I’m still just as vulnerable to a BJJ slump as any new white belt. The biggest difference is that I’ve learned to recognize the signs early and attempt to stay ahead of the drag by proactively practicing a lot of these ideas. 

Good luck!

Photo by Sacco Photo.

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