A lifetime ago, I would have taken pity on me. Perhaps with dash of smug self-satisfaction. I would have congratulated myself on my dedication and single-mindedness and ‘felt sorry’ for the present me’s lack of focus. You see, 8 years ago I was halfway into my jiu jitsu journey. I’d had disruptions due to knee injuries, but overall trained several hours a day, 5-6 days a week, both at my club – Dartford BJJ – or with partners on my home mats. However, since those more innocent times I’ve become a parent, battled depression, nuked my adult life and relocated overseas, moved house again into our ‘forever(-ish) home’ and started a second business. Much of that in the last 3 years.
So, yeah, my focus is more dispersed now. I no longer daydream about jiu jitsu A LOT. I don’t spend those hours visualizing and writing in my training journal anymore. Nor do I get to hit multiple classes a night. My pace is slower but steady. Two mornings a week at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor, 2-3 sessions of strength & conditioning at Wolf Brigade Gym and perhaps an extra drilling session with a pal. A 30-something me would have inwardly scoffed while trying to understand how any priorities might override mat-time. A 40-something me is pretty cool with it and a little gentler on me and a little more fully understanding of others.
Good for me. What’s my point? My point is that it is okay to be a part-timer. Let me give some context.
Embrace Your Part-timer Status
‘Growing-up’ in jiu-jitsu I often heard ‘part-timer’ thrown around with derision. Perhaps you too have observed people chiding those who couldn’t be around as much as they used to be – for whatever reasons – with ‘Hello, part-timer’. Likewise, there’s the more subtle micro-aggression of ‘Haven’t seen you for a while’. While these certainly can be friendly banter with people you’ve honestly missed training with – and I believe, in the main, this is what I have observed or received – there is an accusatory undertone. A bit of criticism about one’s commitment. An amplification and expectation of guilt and shame for not being at every regular session. I mean, aren’t we all supposed to be rock stars that have a neurotic meltdown if we have to miss a few sessions of training?!
No. This is unsustainable. I refuse to accept that the ‘jiu-jitsu lifestyle‘ has to be all or nothing. If this were the case, I would have jacked it in when my son was an infant and I was lucky to get 1 session a week. Life can and will get in the way sometimes. If the only way we can train is proverbial balls to the proverbial wall, our community will whittle away its diversity, reducing itself to a subset of people who can and want to subordinate everything else to jiu-jitsu. So, while I am really thankful for the reps I got in while I was in that position, and I am happy for anyone who chooses that path now, I am in a place where I can honestly embrace being a ‘part-timer’. If you are finding it hard to reconcile yourself to part-timing, I hope you can get to that place too.
Here’s why: we don’t want to lose you. BJJ is stronger with you in, even if you can’t / don’t compete or move up the ranks very quickly. The more different kinds of people we have on the mats, the better off we all are. From the pros and high-level amateurs getting ready for comps on the regular, to working parents who carve out their 2 regular sessions a week (holla!). From robust 20-something bodies, to well-kept 50-something bodies that need a bit more recovery time. All the hearts and minds bring something special to the mat’s melting pot.
So what are some ways to embrace life as a part-timer?
1. Know Why You Train
Losing your purpose or not having one in the first place can be discombobulating. It’s also ok for your purpose to change. Just make sure you are always coming back to the mats for yourself.E Kwok, ’10 Tips for Longevity in BJJ’
As Emily Kwok recently noted in her discussion of longevity in BJJ, it is essential to know ‘why’ you train. As she notes, this sense of purpose can keep you going through those times when it isn’t so easy to train. Of course, barriers to training can be many and varied:
- injury or illness
- work or studying
- family and relationships
- emotional BJJ-shit (you know what I’m talking about)
Whatever the reasons that are making training less of a ‘no-brainer’ a clear understanding of why you do what you do, what you get from it, and why it is an important part of your life will keep you going.
And this is one of the many reasons why it can be important to embrace your part-timer status. If you train for the pat on the back of being on the mats all the time, or to smash the competition, or to get that blue belt, you are on an unsustainable path. These might be subsets of your purpose for being there. However, what they all have in common is external expressions of self. They are about achievement rather than personal development, joy or the process of learning.
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.George Bernard Shaw
In other words, the more your purpose for training is shaped by a growth mindset, rather than by the external validation that can come from achievement, the more long-term and sustainable your reasons for training. Likewise, when you need to adapt your training to life’s little (or big) bumps and knocks, resilient reasons for training, rather than more brittle achievement-based reasons will hold you down.
2. When You’re There, BE THERE
That is not to say that embracing life as a part-timer is a license to under-achieve, to sell yourself short or not give a hoot about developing your mastery. On the contrary, it is a call to action to be on-point when you are there. Indeed, John Danaher testifies to the abilities of the part-time grappler who trains with focus. If you can only give yourself 2 sessions a week, so be it. However, when you are there, make the most of it. Get your reps, work on goals and enjoy yourself!
3. Love How BJJ Makes Life Better
My final piece of unsolicited advice to those suffering from part-timer guilt, is to focus on how BJJ makes your life better. How the art / sport / discipline improves you. Again viewing this through a lens of personal growth and satisfaction, rather than achievement, per se. We’re talking more ‘flow’ and the psychology of optimal experience, less ‘being the best’. When these kinds of concerns are your focus, it is easier to transition into a part-timer state. It may still grate. It may still be raw to fall behind your cohort in terms of belt rank, or moves-owned, or competitions fought. However, it will also give you the psychology to cope with keeping BJJ as part of your life, rather than life itself, as and when you might need to. Because, guess what, it is okay to love spending time with your family, or building your business, or learning to play drums, or pay the bills. Or whatever else you want or need to prioritise. From this vantage, a part-timer isn’t a shameful shirker. On the contrary, the part-timer courageously keeps coming back to the mats even when it is hard and the path is less clear.
And, in the end, isn’t this a big part of jiu-jitsu mastery? The ability to ‘get over yourself’, to get out of your own way and stop striving for that ‘win’. But rather to focus and flow in the now, on the mats and off. To be better, or as the less grammatical would have it, to be best 😉