A few days ago I wrote about how I’ve been coping with my gym workouts while dealing with my pain and discomfort [if you’re interested, more details in my health history]. Modifying my workouts at the gym has been helpful. With jiu-jitsu, however, it has been a bit more challenging.

At first I thought that drilling wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong! There were some moves that were ok, but since I’ve been experiencing most of my pain in the lower left and lower right sides of my abdomen, anything that involves bending, twisting, or even lying on my side has proven to be difficult — which basically covers most of my movements on the ground!

The thing is, I knew I’d have physical limitations, but it has been the mental struggle that has been harder. It was hard not to feel like I was losing my skill or that I was regressing. It was hard not to feel frustrated when a basic position such as closed guard felt impossible or a bit depressed realizing that there was no way I could lock up a triangle choke (it’s temporary, I know – but still). The list goes on. I can’t tell you hard it was to get myself out the door and to class when I knew how limited my movement would be. I knew it was important to go and I knew that learning occurred on many different levels, but still — going to class when feeling so awful was tough.

As frustrating it has been, I have been forcing myself to try and focus on the positives [it’s all about perspective]. I have been trying to look at my current (temporary, I hope) circumstances as an opportunity for me to approach my learning and practice from a different perspective. First of all, it made me aware of how much jiu-jitsu is a total body workout. I mean, I know that you use your body and the evidence of it being a full body workout definitely comes out during sparring, but I don’t think I ever focused on this as much during drilling. Whether you’re working from the top or the bottom or attacking arms, the neck, or legs – everything is connected. A sweep is not just about hooking the leg and pushing it over. It’s about having good grips, tightening your core, using just the right amount of energy to stay rigid for control but also relaxed for movement. Being limited with my mobility and having pain stop me from freely flowing was frustrating – but it was also informative and it reminded me of how everything needs to work together for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

I had practiced the balloon sweep before, but I had never managed to follow it up by ending in full mount. I totally surprised (and thrilled) myself when it finally all came together. It was moments like these – successfully managing a move I struggled with before – that reinforced the importance of coming to class and trying my best. I could have easily written this off as something I would try ‘when I get better’ — but being able to accomplish this in my current state was a great moment for me and gave me a much needed mood boost.

Being limited with my ‘usual’ movements also forced me to practice moves on the ‘other’ side. For example, being in Z guard with my left shin across my partner’s torso was difficult, but using my right shin was not. Suddenly switching sides forced me to rethink my moves. It made me realize how important it was to start practicing on both sides. I wouldn’t want to be caught in a situation where I needed to defend myself but wasn’t able to because I wasn’t ‘attacked on the right side’!

Even though I was struggling and even sitting down on the mat was getting to be difficult, I made a promise to myself to go to as many classes as possible. Knowing that my upcoming surgery will keep me off the mats for a couple of months meant I needed to make the most of the time I had. A light spar was better than no spar; a few reps was better than no reps; coming to class and watching was better than not coming to class at all. It has definitely been an adjustment, but I have been trying to take it all in stride.

drilling a few reps is better than no reps

a light spar is better than no spar

In class I have been selective with my training partners – going with those who can go light even when drilling – and I’ve been doing only as much as I can handle in terms of pain. I learned, the hard way of course, that even if I feel good on the mats and I decide to spar, the next day I will suffer the consequences! I have been trying to stay off pain killers as much as possible, which has meant that I have needed to be even more careful with my training.

testing my limits — closed, half, X, and Z guards were very tough — but open guard was doable

when doing ground techniques became too difficult, I switched my focus to practicing my standing techniques – from front grabs to back grabs to weapon defenses – it was a great way to make use of my time on the mats

Just like the modifications I’ve had to make at the gym, the adjustments on the mats have been informative. They’ve made me aware of things that I want to focus on once I am able to properly return. They’ve even given me an idea of how I want to use my recovery time in terms of not being out of touch with my practice.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried or anxious about how long I’ll be off the mats. However, I know I need to push those worries aside and focus on the fact that I will be back and I will continue. I guess my need to ‘pause’ my training can even be linked to what I learned at the Academy this past January — about the importance of pauses during movement. I know that if I continue to move right now without pausing, I will hurt myself more in the long-run. This is the time to take a step back and regain control of my health. Pausing now will allow me to come back stronger – at least that’s the hope. Besides, I know that when you’ve taken on a practice you plan to do forever, a few months off is not that long in the scheme of things. The important thing is to come back.