How Do You Navigate a Comeback?

By Joshua Rozenboom

Have you ever experienced a lapse in training? It’s not an uncommon story: student wanders into Jiu Jitsu, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They learn to tie their white belt, get their first kimura, and change their Instagram handle to “jitzloverXOXO”. They grind it out for a couple of years, adding stripes and competition medals, until that first huge milestone happens: the blue belt. They experience the feeling they’ve earned something that no one can take away, and they finalize their lifelong commitment to this art. Then, according to the whims of the universe, life happens…. and they are never seen again.

OK, that’s a little dramatic, but it happens. Jiu Jitsu is a long-term commitment. If a student wants to achieve a black belt, it’s an average 8-10 years of steady training. And if a student wants to excel, it means daily discipline. That doesn’t even count the fact that Jiu Jitsu is fun and addictive, so students tend to go all in early on in their career. This is fine for anyone who has the time to commit, but what about those who have families and jobs? Have you ever found yourself missing large chunks of training time, and becoming frustrated?

If you’ve ever missed a significant amount of training due to injury, family commitments, job requirements, or otherwise, you might find it hard to come back to Jiu Jitsu with the same enthusiasm that you felt before. Ask around your academy and you’ll find students have missed one, two, even ten years of training since first diving into Jiu Jitsu. Almost, but not all will be white or blue belts, and all of them share the same sort of regret about not “sticking with it”. If you’re returning to a school in your hometown, you’ll notice those who are left from your early days in Jiu Jitsu are getting purple, brown and black belts; everyone else got better, but you stayed the same.

You’ll notice your timing is different, and your conditioning. The techniques that once were easy to drill and easy to pull off in sparring are now foreign, and you can’t seem to put together a good roll. It’s incredibly frustrating to have a head full of Jiu Jitsu knowledge, but lack the experience to use it properly. You might spend the first few months back in training performing below your own expectations. At this point, some students consider quitting altogether. Why spend the next few years playing catch-up, when something else could happen to cause you to miss another year, and so on, and so on?

The key to this frustration is all a matter of perspective. First of all, everyone’s path is different. Nobody should be judging you for how long you’ve trained or not trained, or how you’re doing on the mat today. Your professor and your team are happy that you are back. And Jiu Jitsu should never make someone feel guilty for showing up for family or career; those things are clearly priorities, and Jiu Jitsu isn’t going anywhere.

This is a good opportunity to develop a “just for today” mindset. Remember all the time you wished you were still training. Remember seeing your unused gi hanging in the closet, or your teammates’ pictures of belt promotions and tournaments on social media. After missing any length of training, why not enjoy the fact that you get to show up to class again? Belts will come, and ability will come, but not if we stop showing up. To quote legendary black belt Chris Haueter, “…it’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left.”