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The Day I Quit Jiu-Jitsu

Tuesday was graduation day, my last scheduled session of physical therapy. That does not mean I am all better. I still have to continue doing the exercises on my own in order to make a full recovery, and more importantly to ensure that I do not re-injure myself. I just no longer need to do them in her office. 

In general I am a gym-hater, but I adored physical therapy! I loved the predictability of my twice a week appointments, which started with a bunch of neck and shoulder strengthening and ended with some spinal manipulation and a trigger point message. I loved chatting with my therapist, who is named Alyssa and is awesome! I even learned to love those stupid chin tucks.

At the end of my session yesterday, Alyssa showed me a model of the cervical spine and explained again exactly what a herniated disc is. (For more detail feel free to review my previous "jelly donut" post.) She told me what to do if I started to feel pain again. She signed off on my return to grappling, provided I promised to be careful. When she asked me how I felt about being done with her I stuck out my tongue like a pouty five year old.

"I feel like the minute I walk out of this gym my head is going to fall right off my shoulders."

I know that it is not Alyssa at Equinox that has made my neck improve. Or at least, it is not any kind of magic in her fingers; rather, it is simply her series of exercises (all of which I can do on my own) and time, that have helped me. But I still feel cut loose, afraid of my freedom, drifting around randomly in the ocean of neck cranks and triangle chokes. 

In other words, if it were free, I think I would go to PT forever.

I injured myself some time around early-April, right after my husband tore some rib cartilage. He was out of class for a week and a half.  I went back to BJJ last week. This comparison does not matter really; I am not competing with him for who can recover from injury faster. It is just one piece of the story.

Some time in early June, Matthew came home from BJJ all excited. He had had a great class, one where he really felt in control. All his movements felt smooth and strong. Oh, and there was that one tap he got on a black belt! That was kind of cool too.

About halfway through his story I realized that I was only half listening. The other half was stomping around, throwing a toddlerish tantrum that, if it were real, would have sounded something like this: "I WAAAAANT TO GOOOOOOO TO JIU-JIIIITSUUUUUU!"

Over the next week or so, whenever the subject of training came up, I would feel angry. I started making up reasons to hate my BJJ school. I complained that no one had called me to see how I was doing. (True, but there were multiple Facebook conversations.) I berated my teachers for not being more involved in the rolling part of class. (A fact which had nothing to do with me getting hurt.) I made fun of all the new spazzy white belts. (Well...yeah...some of them are kind of spazzy...) I worried that I would never be able to train without re-injuring my neck. I hated everyone who did jiu-jitsu and it was on the tip of my tongue to ask my husband to please stop telling me his BJJ success stories.

Then, I quit.

I do not mean that I called my school and told them I would not be returning. But in my mind, I went from being a BJJ student, to not being one. Now I did not care how many black belts Matthew tapped, I was done with all that. Clearly this martial art was not for me anymore.  And it was fine. I still had karate. Maybe I would find something else to do with my weekdays. Tai chi perhaps. Or Nia, whatever that is.

A week or two later, I had a dream. I dreamed I was rolling with this brown belt I know, and suddenly, in the middle of the round, I caught him in a cross collar choke and he tapped. I tapped a brown belt! 

I woke up feeling restless. It was a Thursday. My neck felt fine. In truth, it had been feeling much better in general. On Facebook, I chatted with two of my favorite training partners, our usual "Are you going to class today?" conversation. I stuck my gi in my bag. At 12:05 I was on the mats working on spider guard.

It was only some slow drills. But I woke up that Thursday morning with the sudden realization that if I did not go back very soon, I may be done with BJJ forever. And I guess, I was not ready to quit yet. So I went to class instead.

It is rare that a martial artist stops training all of the sudden, by throwing their belt on the ground and storming out the door. Usually, it goes something like this: Work gets busy, you miss class. Your kid gets sick, you miss class. You hurt yourself, you miss a few classes. Now you can't remember your new katas. You miss another class feeling embarrassed that you have forgotten everything. You have gained five pounds. You hate that. You miss a few more classes. You go on a mini vacation with the money you did not spend on classes that month. You eat too much on vacation and feel bad. You go to one class. Then you get busy with work again. A month has gone by. Then two. Before you know it, you have been gone so long that it feels weird to come back. So you don't. Slowly, without really meaning to, you have stopped training. 

I don't think most people are aware of a tipping point, a moment when they can either choose one road or the other. Often there isn't one. In fact, it is only in retrospect, that I realize how close I was to quitting jiu-jitsu. That does not mean I would not have returned to class in 6 months, after realizing how much I missed it. All I know is that I was on that ledge for awhile. And now I am not. For now, anyway.

I went to class twice this week, and yesterday I did my first round of careful rolling. It was awesome!  Scary, but awesome. Of course, there is always the possibility that I will hurt myself again. But there is also the possibility that I will discover a whole new rolling style, one that is fluid and smart and allows me to completely control every aspect of every round. It is most likely somewhere in the middle. But that is the nice thing about long term training; you can always evolve. You are always re-inventing yourself. 

For now, I am just happy to be on the mats again.

Happy 4th of July. 
Go eat some grass-fed, free range hot dogs.
And try not to blow up your fingers. You need them for cross-collar grips.


  1. Congratulations! Returning from an injury is so difficult!


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