Am I even having fun?

By Shane McCarthy

My wife finds herself asking this question ever since she started training: Am I having fun in Jiu Jitsu? Joy. Happiness. Fun. They all describe the endorphins that flood your nervous system when something pleases your brain. Midway through a set of burpees in a gross, humid, 90-something-degree warehouse, with your muscles screaming for a reprieve, your lungs feeling torn at the seams, you teetering on collapse, would you be able to say that you’re having fun in Jiu Jitsu? After a rough night of training my wife and I had a conversation around the idea of fun in Jiu Jitsu, and it got me thinking.

Sometimes when I find myself deep into an hour-long sparring session — seven rounds, each six minutes long, zero breaks in between — I smile to myself. I even laugh sometimes. There is a sense of pride that washes over me knowing I can still push myself further. I adjust my gi, tie my belt, and I’m ready to engage in the formal exchange of the mutual hand slap and fist bump that locks me and my training partner into an unwritten agreement that we must attack each other with everything we have. In that moment I am happy, and then the beating ensues. 

Highs and lows

Usually after a long, strenuous training session in which I pushed it as hard as I could and I emptied my tank, I’m elated. There was nothing more I could have done. I have zero regrets. I don’t feel guilty for taking a round off or for going light. My body could feel destroyed, my muscles seizing up, my hands mangled, my lip bloodied. In that moment, I am having the time of my life. Yet, if you talk to me about three hours later when I’m struggling to string sentences together, let alone get off my couch to keep the facade of my social life going, in that moment, I am one hundred percent not having fun. 

It also could take one athletic blue belt with a sneaky ankle lock game to make me question why I even spend any of my time learning Jiu Jitsu. Maybe a purple belt who is hungry to prove that they are the one who deserves that brown belt around their waist. It most certainly could be the black belt who puts a beating on me so bad it makes me want to burn all of my jiu jitsu belts and start over as a white belt. It could be a round or even a position lost during competition prep.

My ego crumbles, compounded by neck and lower back injuries, aching knees, and busted hands. Mangled and deformed ears from letting people grab my head. Broken toes and arthritic knuckles.

Points and counterpoints

All of these factors could compound into a pretty awful time when it comes to training. Yet, every single one of these points has an equal counterpoint that brings so much elation you can barely contain it.

The blue belt you took under your wing is now winning gold at tournaments.

The purple belt who has been gunning for you receives their brown belt. 

The black belt asks you to show them that pass you’ve been hitting.

Losing 150 pounds and being in the best shape of your life.

Getting your hand raised as you win the first IBJJF gold medal of your life.

Fulfillment within reach

Just thinking of some of these moments fills me with emotion and reminds me that even on the days I’m not having fun, it’s all a means to an end, and that end is fulfillment.

It’s been a few months since my wife and I had this conversation and I asked her if she was having fun. She replied, “I just really want to pass that girls guard, oh and I just love it when I hit a sweep I learned. I think I’m going to compete this year.” 

Honestly, that’s the best possible answer to a yes, or no question.

Photo by Joshua Smith.

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  • Tony Kodor

    my only questions is how do you stop…lol
    if i had a build in training partner (spouse) i would get a set of mats for the house and i don’t think i’d ever leave, except for class and open mat

  • Shane

    My advice, don’t stop!!! Jill and I are actually looking into purchasing mats so we can drill at home! It’s a built in drill partner and keeps you both engaged at home! I’d personally rather rep out heel hook entries than watching mindless tv or staring at our phones for way too long.

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