Monday, February 04, 2013

Thoughts on returning from a layoff...

I was off the mats, more or less, for about a year.  Sure, I took a class or two here and there when I could, but my mind and body were more devoted to the IVF process than anything else, so I really wasn't connecting to jiu jitsu.  In fact, I got so lazy and comfortable with my little Susie Homemaker routine in the evenings, I began to wonder if I'd ever go back to training.  (This disturbed me, obviously, but also worried my husband; I'd put so much of myself into BJJ that for me to just "get over it" might mean the endtimes had begun.)  My layoff was a little different from most as it wasn't entirely injury-driven.  Sure, there were times it would have been physically difficult or dangerous for me to train hard, but it isn't like I have to go through rehab on a knee and then take it easy on that body part when I come back.

So how did I decide when and how to get back into it? 

Partly it was just waiting for a point in my IVF schedule where I knew I would be able to train, as hard as I wanted, for a few months.  (I'll have to take a break again when we get to the stage of putting embryos back in and hopefully being pregnant.)  But a lucky coincidence helped me out-- right about the time I was coming back, one of my favorite acolytes of my instructor came for a three-week visit.  He's a brownbelt just about my size, with a personality and charisma fifty times his size.  So I decided I wouldn't miss a moment of his teaching.  (Our usual instructor, Paulo, is back in Brazil while his wife has a baby and they're packing up to move to Texas permanently now.  And Donald has been busy with work for a while.)

I have really enjoyed getting back on the mats and I think some of the secrets of my success are as follows:
1.  I got back into my regular gym with my crossfit-esque classes for about a week before getting back into jiu jitsu.  I know that's not really long enough to restore cardio and fitness, but it helped me feel like I was getting back into it gradually, it helped me deal with sore muscles, and it gave me the confidence to face our warmups.  (If you work out for an hour a day for a week, you approach a 20 minute warmup with more assurance that you will, in fact, not die in embarrassment in front of your team.)
2.  I told myself I wasn't trying to win. I finally allowed myself to expect nothing of myself except that I would keep moving and not give up.  This applies not just in sparring, but in drilling and training too.  I'm so very hard on myself usually, even during the technique portion of class I would expect perfection.  I would be embarrassed if I couldn't do something right even when my partner wasn't resisting.  But having been gone a while kind of gave me the excuse I needed to be rusty, ineffective, uncoordinated. 

3.  I told everyone that I sparred with, and everyone I partnered with, that I was rusty, old, fat and out of shape, and just try not to tear my head off, but to feel free to work on whatever they wanted to do as I was sure I was back to whitebelt level.  In response, I got a lot of positive reinforcement, encouragement, and even the whitebelt guys didn't try to tear my head off.  I knew I wasn't in the right place, physically or mentally, to be going 100%.  Some people were willing to pause and say, come on, you remember, hip out! again!  Sometimes I needed the reminder and it was nice to get the feedback.

4.  After I'd been back about two weeks, I took some privates.  It gave me the opportunity for one-on-one correction and instruction, following up on new problems and new areas I want to work on.  (I have two new guard passes, answers to the berimbolo, and firm resolution to play butterfly and X guard whenever possible.  Hot damn.)  And the visiting brownbelt was perfect for this-- it financially rewards him for taking time away from the school he runs in Ohio, but also he's my body shape and size, AND he's phenomenally positive.  One thing I know about myself as a student: I crave positive reinforcement.  I will move heaven and earth to earn words of praise.  It feels SO good to do something new and hear someone yell "YESSSS!!! BEAUTIFUL!!!"  (even if they yell it in your ear.)  So when the going gets tough-- I mean, when it's 7:20pm and my couch seems like it might need some holding down-- I remember that I EARNED that exclamation, and it makes me want to try to get more.  Whether it comes from someone yelling in my ear, or from getting a sweep, or getting a hug from a teammate, that feeling of happiness is fresh in my memory and more rewarding than relaxing at home.


Anonymous said...


I just recently stumbled upon your blog but have read all the way back through quite a number of your older posts. I found inspiration in this one in particular. Although I have not had to have a significant layoff during my two years of training, I often feel frustrated about losing momentum and getting rusty after just a week off, or a few consecutive weeks of less-frequent training due to work/family commitments - particularly when I am having trouble with other blue belts or even a white belt that has a size advantage (I'm only about 153-155 pounds myself). So I really appreciate your perspective on putting aside the ego, not worrying about winning and losing, and just to keep moving. It is also inspirational that, given your personal situation with a demanding professional job, IVF etc. that keeps you from training consistently, you train when you can and don't give up or get discouraged (yes, I know you get discouraged at times, but certainly not in an overall sense otherwise you would have quit long ago).

I don't agree with your politics, but that's OK, that's what makes the world go round :) I do enjoy and appreciate your blog.

Jim Caruso

Georgette said...

Jim, thank you :) I'm so happy my experience might be helpful to someone else. It kinda sucks not being 19 years old, 200 lbs and able to train full time, doesn't it? But the nice thing is, jiu jitsu will always be here, and now I understand what they mean when they say it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Looking forward to hearing from you again :) Take care!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Georgette. I should have also mentioned that I am 45 and discovered BJJ only recently after a very long hiatus from martial arts (although I have always paid attention to my fitness), so as a fellow 40-something your blog inspires me on yet another level!

Jim Caruso

Riggs said...

Another great, inspiring post. Like I've said in my previous comment, i'm coming from a year-long knee injury acquired during sparring, and your mentality to just go on and train, that you could be back to a white-belt level again, makes me crave to be back on training. Being a 41-year old, small-framed and perhaps one of the smallest guys in the gym, it has made me anxious to get back to the gym, knowing that someone like Jim Caruso or you made no excuses to train back...

cheers for that!