It’s approaching the end of a self-imposed one year exile from regular jiu-jitsu teaching duties, so it’s time for some reflection.
For those that don’t know, I took a break after ten years of weekly teaching duties. I wanted and enjoyed all of those years. I even took on more than I (and my family) could handle and had to scale it back at one point. The upshot was that I wanted a break and moving across the country was a good time to see what it’s like to be a black belt student.
Being “just a student” has always been enjoyable for me. Learning from other instructors and figuring out how to incorporate their knowledge into my jiu-jitsu is a fun puzzle. It challenges my knowledge and understanding, testing me as much as any sparring round does. There’s also a freedom that I don’t think everyone fully appreciates. I can’t possibly take advantage of every opportunity to learn, so picking and choosing when and where I learn lets me balance my education and the rest of my life. This has led to me training a modest amount, typically just twice a week and going to jiu-jitsu camps.
When you’re an instructor and people are depending on you, you show up when you’re tired, injured, unmotivated, stressed, buried in your day job, dealing with family issues, suffering . . . everything negative you can imagine, and you must turn it all off and give your students what they need. It’s precisely all those things that make it easy to call off a night of jiu-jitsu when you don’t have an obligation to show up for others. It’s too easy to make entirely reasonable excuses to skip class on a regular training day. It’s like the difference between a job and a hobby, no matter how you’re paid.
All of this has been swirling though my head lately. Yesterday, I met a lifelong Judoka my age at a car dealership. He told me about how his training ebbed and waned over his decades in the sport. Sometimes he’d take months off, other times he’d be training all week long. He was a serious competitor in the past and clearly Judo was an itch that was always right at the surface. No matter what, he always returned to his root truth of training Judo being an inseparable part of his life.
That is precisely what I’ve found with teaching. It’s a brain virus I can’t shake or cure. I would have to give up jiu-jitsu entirely to suppress my desire to be an instructor. It’s part of what I need out of jiu-jitsu. Making it an obligation is beneficial for me and those whom I’m teaching.
My observation in all this is that a bit of jiu-jitsu obligation is good for you, no matter what your role in jiu-jitsu is. Weekly goals have a positive and lasting impact on your jiu-jitsu if and only if they’re not affecting your life goals negatively. There’s nothing wrong with long experimental breaks from those obligations, but there ought to be a goal attached, as with any experiment. Yes, even taking a break should have goals. I desired a mental break, but I also wanted to learn about my natural inclinations as a student with no obligations. I can honestly say that there were times when I contemplated what life would be like if it were entirely without jiu-jitsu. I’d have a lot more time to pursue other hobbies in which I could become skilled. That’s appealing, but I can’t think of anything else that is as beneficial and enjoyable for my physical well-being. As a result of this break from teaching, I have better empathy for my students and fellow instructors, no matter their life circumstances and relationship with jiu-jitsu. I also know without doubt that my jiu-jitsu is better when I am teaching.
Feel free to run your own “no obligation” jiu-jitsu experiment and see what the results are. Taking a break is one way, but so is backing off of competition, or not caring about submitting to lower belts. Be creative with the “no obligations” experimental mindset. As long as you are honest in your evaluation, then what sounds like a potentially negative experiment can result in very positive outcomes and rekindled focus for jiu-jitsu. To keep yourself honest and accountable, seek advice from friends, family, and jiu-jitsu instructors. Through valid observations and lessons, your mental and physical relationship with jiu-jisu will surely be improved and better understood.