I was 2 years into BJJ training. New students looked up to me and expected me to know the answers and I was expected to show them the ropes. But outside the gym, work was crushing my soul. My toxic friendships left me drained. I was determined to show up to training sessions running on fumes. I was going through the motions--hoping some spark would light my fire again. The weight of the world that kept stacking on my shoulders was just too much to bear, and it affected my ability to enjoy jiu jitsu--my favorite activity became yet another obligation filled with frustration, pressure, and disappointment.
I wasn’t seeing improvement. I couldn’t muster the energy to survive those 10-minute rolls I used to relish. And I couldn’t understand why.
Ultimately… I was letting my vision of what I could become stifle my ability to enjoy the journey. That fantasy life I created in my head where I was competing on a world stage (when my reality is just trying to scrape up points at small local tournaments) was dangling a completely unattainable lure in front of me.
So I quit.
Well, not really. I wanted to--just relieve the stress entirely. Maybe I could take on a hobby that wouldn’t consume so much of my life. Spin class, or yoga, maybe? But it just didn’t sit right with me. BJJ is what I crave, what I daydream about when I’m in endless work meetings. When I work out, all I’m thinking about is how I can escape that submission I keep getting caught in, or visualizing takedowns I’ll try next time I compete.
I took a break. Like a Rachel & Ross break where doing anything else feels like cheating. Where you just want to go back, to say yes to open mats, but know it’s not good for you right now. I spent my time catching up on rest, eating greasy food, being… what anyone else would consider a normal person just living life. And god, did I hate being normal.
Eventually, I decided to step back on the mat and it turns out, BJJ is always there waiting for you. There is nothing forcing you to come back. While you’re off the mats, training moves on without you. Sure, your training partners miss seeing you, maybe they shoot you a message asking what you’re up to. But it’s a fact of the sport we see all the time. People quit.
When I came back to training, I didn’t just lower my expectations; I got rid of them entirely. I told myself, ‘you don’t have to be what you were before. You don’t have to be in the same weight class. You don’t have to remember the techniques you just learned before you got injured.’ The real question was... what’s going to change? What would I do differently now to accommodate a comeback?
I was gentle with myself; you don’t need to be at the competition class. You can flow. You can ALWAYS take on more. But taking on too much will burn you out. I had to reframe success. Aim for what I could control. Yes you earn promotions, you earn medals. But you can’t predict the belt being placed in your hand. Or if the fighter in your little local bracket is the next world champ. But you can control how many days you show up. Those bite-sized goals became my new fuel. Making it to practice 5 days a week. Eating protein-rich meals to get me through the grueling rolls after class. Going for that throw I just learned.
BJJ is 100% optional. No one’s going to force you to be there if you don’t want to be. So you have to enjoy it. When you enjoy yourself each time you step on the mat, you can always come back. And you always will.
About Katie Taylor
Katie is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Judo practitioner out of Providence, Rhode Island. She has been training & competing for 3.5 years and holds the rank of blue belt in BJJ. Off the mats, she enjoys writing, web design, hiking, rock climbing, and recently took up snowboarding.
You can check out her blog & website at messykatie.com
Follow her via Instagram @messykatie