Many of us have spent a lot of time at home for the past two years. Though blanket lockdowns are largely a thing of the past, most people will still have to make decisions about the level of risk they are comfortable with when it comes to potentially exposing themselves to the virus. For example, people who are immunocompromised or caring for someone who is going through a procedure that leaves them severely weakened (like chemotherapy) are going to be far more cautious than a young and healthy person who is living on their own.
However, even the healthiest among us will end up needing to take time away from the mat for reasons that have nothing to do with COVID-19. Whether it’s due to pregnancy, a new baby, injury, the need to travel for work, or school, there are innumerable reasons why you may need to step away from jiu-jitsu for a few weeks or a few months. Though time off can disrupt your training, teaching legend John Danaher told Bernardo Faria of the Bernardo Faria Academy in Massachusetts that anyone who needs to step away should ask, “Is there a way to maintain my skill level or even get better?”
As John says in the below video, even if you need to take a significant leave of absence from jiu-jitsu, you can keep that your mind and body sharp by following a three-part regimen.
When you regularly come to jiu-jitsu class, you end up pushing yourself to stay in peak physical shape so that you can keep up with your classmates. Once you stop coming to class, that motivation can begin to fade, and you may end up being less active or less diligent about watching what you eat. Unfortunately, this can lead to a rapid deterioration in strength, flexibility, and endurance that you may not even notice until you get back on the mat.
To counteract this, you will need a maintenance program. John suggests finding one that you’re comfortable with rather than searching out the best diet and exercise combo. What’s important is that you stick to it. If you have an impossible diet and an exercise schedule that results in you spending four hours in the kitchen doing prep work and four hours going a lifting routine, chances are you’re going to become overwhelmed and find yourself on the couch watching reruns of Cobra Kai while slamming pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
Solo Movement Drills
Not all of your exercise should be strength training or conditioning. As John notes, “All athleticism is relativized to a given area.” Very few people are outstanding athletes at every sport. For example, just because you’re a great quarterback doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good pitcher. This is true of martial arts, too. Being a black belt in jiu-jitsu does not mean you’ll excel at boxing or karate.
To stay sharp, John recommends checking out his video that contains solo movement drills which teach specific movements to improve your grappling technique and enhance your physical capacity for movement on the floor. This video is freely available here.
While John’s video can help you train and stay in shape, he also says that you should be broadening your jiu-jitsu horizons by watching footage of fights on YouTube or elsewhere. As John notes, “If you can’t work on skills in the dojo, work on knowledge outside the dojo.”
While repetition and muscle memory are integral parts of jiu-jitsu training, you should also be thinking about how different sequences can be done in the most efficient way and observing the technique and style of great fighters. Anyone with an internet connection can do this. As John says, “We live in a privileged age where you can go on YouTube and watch the greatest people in this sport anytime, anyplace.”
Though it may be difficult to stay motivated when you can’t go to jiu-jitsu class, there are loads of free resources that can keep you sharp and potentially even allow you to become a more thoughtful fighter. What’s important is that you stay active, stay curious, and follow John’s advice. If you do, you’ll find that “you’re moving better, your physical body’s as good as it ever was, and you know things you didn’t know before.”