Some time last month, I passed the 6-month mark of being back on the mat doing moderately intense martial arts — Brazilian jiu-jitsu — without major injury. Not that I’m superstitious…but there’s no need to state the exact date, and I refuse to acknowledge any protection conferred by my favorite Walking Dead t-shirt.
The more vigorous the activity and the longer your time away from it, the greater the risk of something going sproing! on your return.
While the specter of a sidelining injury is never far from my mind, uninterrupted training has allowed my focus to change. Like moving through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s become possible to look past Don’t get hurt towards broader and higher goals. What’s the next thing I can learn? I get abc, and the more advanced xyz sequence still seems like Martian dance choreography. But def suddenly makes sense. Fine-tuning is a thing. This goes here and that goes there, but here’s this little shift to smush and smear your partner ten times harder into the mat, like cream cheese spackled across a bagel by a pissed-off deli worker.
Significant details hidden in the so-called basics. Just waiting to be uncovered on a more patient, repeat go-around.
I’ve also been able to rethink what for me is the objective of martial arts training. Not inner peace or harmony with the universe — I’ve got those (kidding) — but rather, true self-defense preparedness. Ending each class with 15 minutes of sparring definitely helps (someone going all-out to defeat you — shocker no more).
In the modern martial arts, that’s often an oddly neglected goal of training. If your endgame isn’t a competition award, but surviving an altercation where someone is doing their darnedest to pound or shank you, the list of Things That Are Really Important To Know So You Don’t Die shortens drastically. Yet most martial arts training does not look like this:
- Gross motor movements that are preserved under extreme stress
- Actions that curb or eliminate most of an assailant’s attacks
It’s less about flashy moves to persuade folks to sign up for classes than basic drills to drive an assailant down a narrow, hard chute that you’ve become very familiar with. And most critically, including practice that eventually involves all-out efforts on both sides.
Like investing in infrastructure for health and wellness, it’s not John Wick sexy, but dollar cost averaging here is critical.
Sparring, regardless of the martial art, develops a critical quality: going at it with intensity. How many opportunities for physical intensity do most people have? How far from being comfortable with it are they? Having something not work, and powering through to the next option. Intensity and Tasmanian devil tenacity.
Technical instruction gives you the tools to be intense and tenacious with. Tool PROFICIENCY + intensity & tenacity = pretty good chance of prevailing.
Achieving the ultimate
All of the above has an underlying prerequisite.
Returning for regular training.
You get proficient at moves by drilling them repeatedly, aka regular training.
You become able to train at high intensity by careful prehabilitation and increasing your workout intensity, built-up through regular training.
Likewise, you become comfortable with people coming at you all-out, and you yourself going all-out, by incorporating dedicated, carefully designed all-out sessions into your classes. Again, through regular training.
The chance to develop these key attributes — or anything of consequence beyond the initial, Gee, this seems kinda cool — never happens if your training keeps stalling after a few weeks.
Your goals may be different, but whether or not you want to roll around on the mat in your 6th decade, it’s a great example of how consistency is key to achieving health and fitness goals. In the modern era’s return to Panem et circenses, being consistent is rare, and impulsivity is the more common norm.
Which is why, if you can dial it in, your results will be nothing short of extraordinary.