It’s a tough time to be a BJJ addict, amirite ladies? Many of us have been out of the gym since late March or early April. Some of us, like me, are still out because our life circumstances prevent us from going back safely, even if everyone is just doing solo drills six feet apart.
The anxiety caused by being forced to take a long break from training is so real. The discomfort has been palpable in all BJJ communities. One particular fear comes up over and over: will I lose all my progress if I’m not training for months at a time? Will I even be able to do BJJ when I finally get back on the mats? A legitimate fear, especially for people used to training multiple times per week. We all know what it feels like to come back after a vacation, illness, or an injury. It’s awkward and demoralizing to feel like we’ve fallen behind.
Luckily, the thought of not training for months didn’t send me into a tailspin, even though I love BJJ as much as any other addict. Why? Before the pandemic I’d recently come back from a four-year-long BJJ hiatus. In 2015, while I was in camp for my first fight, I tore the muscle connecting my hamstring to my glute, but I didn’t know that when the injury happened. I thought I was just sore from training. So, I pushed through the pain and kept training. I trained until I literally couldn’t walk before I went to the doctor. By that time, the tear had caused sciatica so severe I lost feeling in my leg for almost six months.
I went to physical therapy and tried my best to rest and recover. But I kept re-injuring myself from pushing too hard because of my drive to get back training. Consequently, I had to take a serious look at how BJJ was negatively impacting my life. I had to step away from the mats until I could sort out my relationship with the sport.
It took a lot longer than I expected. Four years later, I started teaching yoga at the combat sports gym I used to train at. I was back with my community and it felt great. I taught right before a gi class, and soon, I found myself longing to be back on the mats rolling again. However, I was several months pregnant, so it wasn’t an option, which I think was for the best. It forced me to sit with my desire to be back on the mats. It gave me time to figure out what my motivations were.
10 weeks after I had my son, I went back to my first BJJ class. I was terrified. Not only was I only 10 weeks out from a C-section, but also. I’d gained a lot of weight and I hadn’t trained in years. I thought I’d be a disgrace to my 2-stripe blue belt. But I did the best I could, and to be honest, it wasn’t that bad.
Of course, it took consistent mat time to be truly comfortable again, but I was shocked how quickly everything came back to me. Muscle memory never forgets. When I rolled, my body knew what to do. Of course I was getting tapped left and right, but I could still move and I generally remembered what to do. When I drilled, I picked up on new techniques much faster than I used to. I’d been training again consistently for about six months before the pandemic. Was I back to exactly where I’d been before my hiatus? Absolutely not. But was I close? Yes! And that was after four years of missed mat time! So, I know you’re worried that this break is going to kill your game. You think that you’ll be facing an insurmountable amount of catch-up. But I promise your game won’t disappear.. You’ll be surprised how quickly everything comes back, and you’ll be right back to where you were before you know it.
Robin Zabiegalksi i is a writer and editor from Vermont. Her work has been published in several digital media publications and literary magazines. She’s been training BJJ for several years and she is a 2 stripe blue belt, currently training at Combat Fitness MMA in Winooski Vermont. When she’s not writing or training, she can be found playing with her toddler, hiking or snowboarding depending on the season, or bingeing her latest TV obsession.