So, it’s been just over a month since we left the UK (give or take a couple of weeks, let’s call it “creative license” rather than “plain old laziness”).
We spent the beginning of November in Boston (more on that trip later) and the shift in location and temperature, along with some chunky moments holed up in a hotel room, gave me an ideal chance to look back and reflect on our metaphorical journey.
When we were planning the San Diego leg of our sabbatical, our ideas as to how it would be were mixed.
We were excited about training at an elite BJJ gym, and harboured fantasies where we would indulge in matplay on an almost 24/7 basis, soaking up information at warp speed.
On the flip-side, and given my six months or so of sporadic and psychologically troublesome training, I was also secretly terrified that I might rock up for my first class, get smashed about, cry pitifully and publically and then give up for good.
I’m not sure how well I kept this feeling under wraps – we did have a couple of roundabout discussions about how the trip might be a great chance for me to take up drawing.
As it happens, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the “let’s chuck everything we know out of the window and do something different and unplanned” nature of the trip, the reality of the first month has worked out, well, different from our predictions.
First up, and I’ve mentioned this before, the intensity of the Atos training came as a big shock.
This is a reflection on me rather than any of my UK teachers or clubs, but there are ways to use chitchat, loo breaks and brand new whitebelts with zero defence to cruise through a class. That doesn’t happen at Atos. After each session you will want nothing more than a four-hour bath, your body weight in carbs and hibernation.
If you’re on a whirlwind gym tour, or are ramping up for competition season, there might be logic in charging on through the physical destruction regardless and just clocking up the mat hours. But as I crashed straight into illness at the beginning of week two, and with a full eleven weeks ahead of us, I was forced to reassess.
So, one month later, what’s different?
Well, first up I’m training less.
I know some of you will see that as a step in the wrong direction, but I’ve realised that going into a session exhausted, sore and bitchy is a guarantee that I’ll forget the techniques, perform horribly in sparring and leave the class feeling frustrated. Jiu Jitsu is a sport where you ask people to bully you, there’s no room for a simultaneous “it’s so unfair” inner monologue. And whilst one or two off days might be par for the course, skipping the rest and then experiencing a 4:1 ratio of sh*t:passable was threatening to kill my love of the sport entirely.
It’s still a work in progress, but on those days where my gymwards journey is plagued with “Oh, the wind is too cold/my rucksack is too heavy/the bus driver is too rude” type commentary, I just turn around, head homewards and try and get back on form for the next session.
On the subject of unfairness, Atos is a place where pretty much everyone is likely to be bigger, stronger or more technical than you (more normally a combination of the above). There won’t be anyone you can tap for a quick ego boost and you will work your excuses all the way down from “they’re a world champion black belt,” through “they’re a world champion brown/purple/blue belt” to “they just won the kids section at the Worlds.”
Around the time I got schooled on the mats by a 17 year old, and out-Bulgarian bagged by a couple of 11 year olds, I learnt that a new definition of “a good training session” was necessary. These days I try, and again, it’s a work in progress, to give myself a pat on the back for smaller things (like movement, defence, stamina, attempting new techniques etc) and chuck the tap count in the bin.
It’s not the only comparison I’m giving up. My fallback position, and one which has threatened to ruin my BJJ path more than once, is to self-flagellate with the “you were better back in 2009” mantra. Despite being distinctly rose-tinted, and housing a very public burnout, I always envisioned the me of three years ago as fitter, faster and more invincible. And I used that belief to ruin pretty much any session I had since (the good old “well, it was ok, but you gotta work to get back to the pinnacle of yesteryear” defence).
In a rare talking (rather than shouting) moment, and after a particularly gruelling Saturday conditioning session, Coach Nave suggested that a start point of now might be a more helpful foundation for progress. I’m 39, I’ve got some injuries to work around, and my life outside the sport is incomparable (I have one for starters). For the coming months that’s the base material I’m working with.
So, that’s where I’m up to after the first month.
Because I’m only hitting the mats when I feel positive, training is a pleasant experience about 80% of the time (when it’s not, I look at factors that might have played a part before falling into the pit of despair). Thanks to the “no water, no breaks” regime, I’m getting used to challenging myself, and not just throwing in the towel. I’m starting to perform better, and to get my confidence back. And I’m noticing the wealth of new techniques on display at Atos (even if they’re used to kick my arse) and feeling inspired to get to grips with them.
The plan for month two involves a shift in schedule to focus on BJJ first, and conditioning second, and to take in more classes taught by the man himself (Andre Galvao). Along with that all important sofa time, of course…