This post originally appeared on submissionsinc.com on 2/18/11, when I had freshly returned to the mat. Over 3 years later, I’m happy I found a way to return with a good attitude, and didn’t quit, which is so easy to do when faced with the tribulations of a less-than-triumphant return.
It was just about the new millenium, and the best American guys you could find to roll jiu jitsu with were striped blue or MAYBE a few venerable purple belts. Mostly, as in my case, schools were run by blue belts given the green light by Brazilians, rapidly expanding their networks of schools in the states following the paradigm shift created by Royce Gracie’s performances in the UFC.
Like most BJJ guys, I became obsessed with jiu jitsu and trained 5 or more times a week. Along with my compadres, I ate, drank, and slept jiu jitsu between sometimes-twice-daily classes. We provided each others’ best competition, motivation, and guinea pigs. For 7 uninterrupted years, I carried on this way, until increasingly long stints away became a leave of absence from jiu jitsu completely.
Five years later, I am returning, sheepishly clad in my old purple belt.
During my original tenure, I saw guys leave and come back, only to leave again almost immediately. It was just too much for them to see how far everyone had come without them. Their ego just didn’t understand losing to that guy that was a white belt last time they saw him. You never quite return to your old glory immediately. It’s as much for myself as anyone else that I lay this advice out:
5 Tips For The Returning Jiu Jitsu Practitioner:
1. Relax and take beatings (including from those guys you came up with). Emphasis on relax. It should be everyone’s mantra really, but will be harder to internalize for the newly inferior BJJ player.
2. Don’t believe that jiu jitsu has changed so much that you’re impossibly behind. Jiu jitsu has evolved to include many more fancy moves, and some more complex strategies. These don’t render the old stuff useless. In fact, given every new player’s tendency to want to know “more moves,” and the recent ability for them to dilute their own practice by going down that rabbit hole, online and with video courses, many guys who started since you left may very well have huge holes in their basic skills. They’ll still probably catch you with a never before seen pupuplata, but you’ll be ok. Just go back to what you know. In fact…
3. Focus strictly on the fundamentals for a while. Especially with the ceaseless repetition of fundamentals that guys of my generation practiced (under instructors who only had a blue belt’s expertise), it is VITAL to return to those. They’re fundamental because they work, and vice versa. The body remembers, the instincts are still there. Get caught doing them until you don’t get caught doing them anymore and they begin to work every time again. Think basic guard pass, think “get to mount,” think position, and seek basic submissions.
4. Roll with newbies. Catch those fundamentals on new guys. See if you can catch them in slow motion. They should work, it will get those moves back into your arsenal (and will begin working on better and better guys), and it’s good for your confidence.
5. Roll with great players. Get beaten, and ask questions. Ask about strategy in addition to “how’d you just catch that,” “what was that,” and “what did I do to leave that open,” but definitely ask those too. Many of the best guys in your place might be your old buddies who have kept with it, so they will be especially helpful. They may also really like giving you a little beating, too (See #1).