Avoiding Burnout in Martial Arts
As a coach I’ve seen it happen all too many times. A student who once trained obsessively stops coming to class. It usually doesn’t happen abruptly. Their attendance slowly declines and becomes less regular, until eventually they fade away entirely. Another student lost to burnout in martial arts.
Burnout is real, and I suspect few practitioners make it all the way to black belt without experiencing it at some point in their martial arts career. I often hear professors talk about how they wanted to quit literally hundreds of times during their journey, and I have experienced those same feelings myself. But I also think burnout is avoidable.
I’d like to share some strategies I’ve developed for combating burnout and maintaining a healthy, long-term relationship with martial arts.
Patience and Realistic Expectations
Eveyone hears that jiu jitsu is really hard to learn, and that it often takes more than 10 years to earn a black belt. But I think few people really recognize upon starting their journey just how much time and training it’s going to take to develop their skills. Once that realization hits home, many make the mistake of thinking that massively over-training will allow them to shortcut the process and get good at jiu jitsu fast. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
I mostly see this occur at the white belt stage, but it can easily carry through to blue belt. In fact, this pretty accurately describes my own experience at blue belt. I trained 7 days a week, often twice or even 3 times a day. The result? Constant pain and soreness, and low-level injuries. Looking back, I’m lucky nothing worse happened!
The reality is, more training will help you progress faster to a certain extent. But beyond a certain point, you’re just breaking down your body. And you need your body in good condition to be able to train effectively. If you’re constantly in pain or exhausted, you won’t learn as fast. You are your own worst enemy.
The real key to getting good at jiu jitsu is patience. If you stay dedicated and train sustainably, your skills will build through years of practice. But if you expect fast results, you’re only likely to experience disappointment, and eventually, burnout.
Balancing Your Time
Martial arts require dedication and regular practice, and that means setting aside time in your life for training. But it’s important to strike a balance between your training and the other things that matter in your life.
You may have a career or a family. You may have other hobbies or activities that are important to you. You may have friendships outside of jiu jitsu. And we all need time to take care of ourselves: cooking, doing chores around the house, and getting enough sleep.
When your training starts to eat away at the other things that matter in your life, you are on the road to burnout.
I used to feel guilty any time I missed a practice. It seemed unthinkable to take a night off from training just to hang out with friends or work on other hobbies. But I don’t feel that way any more. I go to practice because I want to train, not because I have to train. And sometimes I just need a night off. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Jiu jitsu should be a hobby, not an obsession. And that leads to my third and final point:
Remember to Have Fun!
Training martial arts should be fun. You may have other reasons for training, such as self defense or fitness, but those other goals hardly matter if you are feeling miserable every time you step on the mat. The journey is long, and at times, challenging, but it should also be rewarding.
Jiu jitsu should be a source of stress relief, not a cause of stress in your life.
Every practice, before I step on the mat, I take a moment and say a little mantra to myself:
“I am here to have fun tonight. I’m not here to get frustrated if the technique is difficult. I’m not here to care about “winning” or beating anyone. I’m not here to push my body past its physical limits. I’m here to spend time with a group of people I love, to work on building some difficult skills, and to move my body in ways that feel good. I’m here to have fun.”
If you embrace the process and enjoy the journey, you’ll have the endurance to keep going. The skills, fitness, competition success, and other goals will come with time.
Roxana Safipour is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach at Easton Arvada.