Archive for April, 2013


Up until this past Sunday, I was having a great run: out of the past 32 days, there were only five that I had not either gone to my BJJ academy or to the gym, and not once during that time had I taken two consecutive days off. But after a day of yardwork and landscaping on Saturday, I woke up completely fatigued on Sunday, did a (useless) workout at the gym anyway, did more yardwork, and crashed at 6:30PM. I (thankfully) was already scheduled to skip my Monday morning gym session and my Tuesday night BJJ class because of work commitments, but I also blew off the Tuesday morning gym workout I had been planning as a partial makeup. I think my body was telling me something, and I decided to listen.

I was back at BJJ Wednesday, but it wasn’t one of my better, high-energy nights, and my right shoulder was on fire at the end. There are still a few other nagging injuries as well, but I’ve listened to my body enough already this week.

Thursday is often a day off, but having not worked out today that’s now only one workout in the past four days, and two workouts in the past six – if I can even count Sunday’s pathetic showing.

The recovery time was needed. Age is no excuse not to train intensely, and “overtraining” is an overrated concern. But under-recovery is a more legitimate thing to worry about at 40+.

Still, I was hoping to keep the pace up for a few more weeks, knowing that a vacation/travel-related break is coming up and I can rest then. But with a huge workload at the office these next couple weeks before I leave, it looks like I will have to stop pretending I am a professional athlete until after I return.

Once the momentum stops, it’s hard to get it back. But that’s a topic for another day.

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A Microcosm Within A Microcosm

All serious practitioners of BJJ – or any martial art – appreciate the mental, spiritual and philosophical aspects of their chosen endeavor, and the life lessons it provides. As we all know, life on the mats in BJJ is a microcosm of life outside of the academy.

One of my favorite lessons is encapsulated in the following quote, which I have adopted as a motto of sorts: “Control your emotions and react to things that are actually happening, not what you fear is going to happen.” This quote comes from a blog post by John Thompson, which dealt with overcoming the anxiety of having to face an intimidating opponent in sparring.

Thompson’s post focuses on the initial mental preparation for a sparring match. As both an older (45) and smaller (155 lbs) grappler, I am not ashamed to admit to feeling anxiety in facing off with certain training partners that are larger and/or more skilled than me. But I look at each of these sparring rounds as an opportunity to get mentally stronger by confronting fear and controlling anxiety – valuable life skills that one is never beyond needing to develop, regardless of age. The battle to be won is with one’s self, not with his or her sparring partner.

This past week I was reminded by one of the advanced ranks that it is one thing to overcome the initial anxiety of beginning a challenging round of sparring, but quite another to remain calm and relaxed throughout the round. He called attention to my lack of breathing, and to the rigidity and tension in my grips and, really, my whole body, and explained that I needed to relax and feel what was happening. I was holding my breath, squeezing my grips for dear life, wasting energy and just not moving with any fluidity whatsoever. I explained (or, perhaps more accurately, made the excuse) that it was all the result of feeling that something bad could happen at any moment. His response: “Worry about it when it happens.”

That made perfect sense and is a logical extension of the motto I claim to follow but had clearly forgotten once the round began. My rigidity, tension and lack of breathing were signs I was turning Thompson’s quote on its head: I was reacting to what I feared was going to happen. I might have successfully faced my fear in initially squaring off with him in the first place, but that was not enough. I was not relaxed – not effectively controlling my emotions – during the round.

In life, people waste far too much energy worrying. I once heard a priest in a sermon at church talk about how the body’s physiological response to ruminating upon an imagined negative event is no different than its response to an actual negative event. In my sparring round, this type of physical response manifested itself in holding my breath and being tense and rigid, wasting energy and in fact making it more likely that something would go wrong for me.

It is not just the mental preparation for the round, or the overall outcome of the round, that is a microcosm of life. Every single moment in the round is a microcosm in its own right: a call to live only in the present, control your emotions, and avoid reacting out of fear for what may happen. Yes, bad things can and do happen on the mat, and in life. Worry about it when it happens.

I have built some solid momentum over the last couple weeks. After missing a full week of BJJ due to various work and personal commitments (but still hitting the gym a few mornings that week), I was able to go to four classes the week I returned, and five (including a private lesson this morning) the next. With a couple of visits to the gym thrown in the mix, I have had six workouts in each of the past two weeks and, looking back a little further, have actually worked out 15 of the last 18 days. (Note – I generally don’t count a BJJ class or private lesson as a “workout” if it is mostly technical without much sparring; if I throw this morning’s technical private back into the mix, I have actually done “something” workout and/or BJJ related for 16 of the past 18 days).

I know I won’t always be able to keep up this pace. Work, family and other personal/social commitments make it impractical. As much as I advocate “pushing the edge,” it is difficult to sustain such a regimen when it is a part-time endeavor, and sometimes the stress of trying to pack so much into a week can be counterproductive. I also need to be cognizant of the need for recovery time. “Over-training” is a misnomer; unless you are a professional athlete or an Olympian, chances are you are NOT doing enough to over-train. Even 40+ exercise enthusiasts like me can push themselves as hard as their younger counterparts. But “under-recovery” is a more appropriate term for a very real outcome. One thing older athletes do need is more recovery time.

I have been nursing a couple of minor injuries of late, in addition to my perpetual glass shoulders: jammed finger, hyperextended elbow, strained groin. Although it is hard to willingly give up a workout or BJJ class, the decision should always be compared to the longer absence that could result from injuries that become significant because they were not given a chance to heal. All of my current ailments (except my perpetual glass shoulders) seem to be enjoying some improvement, so I’m going to try to keep up the pace. My schedule during the upcoming week won’t be quite as flexible as the last two, but I should still be able to do something most days. Starting the week off with a Monday morning workout is the hardest part, but for me it’s one of the keys to keeping the momentum going.