Owning Your Training, Part 2: Setting Your Own Boundaries

How can you optimize your training while still juggling all the other balls you have in the air? Get clear about what you are and are not willing to do to improve – and own those decisions.

In my most recent article, Why a PhD and BJJ Aren’t So Different, I suggested Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu be studied the way academic disciplines are studied. I also suggested one of the similarities between BJJ and an academic discipline is in how the practitioners demonstrate autonomy. The demands of academe are endless; there is always another article to read, another page to write, another class or conference to attend. In BJJ, there are similar demands: drilling, training, conditioning, dialing in our diet, preparing for competition, and on and on. In both contexts, if we allowed ourselves to, we could spend every waking moment focusing on our chosen domain and still feel like we are falling far short of where we want to be.

Thus, it seems to me that both academics and grapplers might want to learn how to allocate scarce resources to multiple competing priorities. (Not all of us are cut out to be nerds, and that’s okay. That’s why we have to be nice to the ones we know.) In my experience, I am far more likely to progress if I develop realistic expectations about my own limits. To me, this means I must get clear about what I am and am not willing to do in the name of my passion – I must own my training.

This may be difficult, particularly if I am a newer, untested and unproven practitioner, and particularly since both academe and grappling are high-energy, high-performance contexts; it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. But if I let the context sway my decisions, I may end up on a path that is not optimal for me. Only I know what’s best for me; the goal is to develop the fortitude to strive for that.

Again, allow me to stress I’m not suggesting the typical academic or grappler ignore good advice from people who know far more than they do. To the contrary, we who are passionate should be soaking up as much from high-quality sources as we can. But we should also be filtering the information we receive through our own experiences, identifying what’s going to work for us given the tone and tempo of our lives, and what’s less likely to stick.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean. Here is a partial list of things I have discovered or decided I am and am not willing to do to succeed in BJJ. My list is different from other people’s, and I recognize that some of these choices may affect my progress. But I am fully aware of this – and I own it. And that helps me sleep at night! Here goes:

1. I am not willing to cut weight.

I know many grapplers who have cut significant percentages of their body weight to be able to compete in lighter weight classes. I respect the hell out of them and admire their resolve – and I’ll never do it myself. As a woman who lives in the United States, I have body image issues in spades, and these get triggered when I consider cutting weight. (TMI, maybe? My bad.) I have discovered that I am not willing to do what it takes to cut weight, and so when I compete, I fight at the weight I’m walking at. This isn’t ideal, especially if I’m at the bottom of a weight class, but I’m okay with it. The alternative is a lot of self-flagellation (no, not that kind).

2. I am not willing to take performance-enhancing drugs.

If performance-enhancing drugs didn’t work, people probably wouldn’t take them. And as I get older, it might seem like I’d develop more of an interest. But at this stage of the game, I am actually more interested in seeing how far I can go au naturel (no, not that kind). It’s not a philosophical or judgmental thing as much as it is a personal challenge; I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and, fingers crossed, that doesn’t seem to be deteriorating too quickly. So I want to continue to see what I can do, powered simply by Val.

3. I am willing to shape my professional life around BJJ.

One of my oldest, most treasured, and probably least funniest jokes about myself is that my career is grappling, but since I don’t make much money at my career, my hobby is making a living. I have been fortunate enough to be able to transition from a fairly high-powered 9-to-5-and-later career to a very flexible lifestyle that enables me to train multiple times a day and still pay the bills. I work before and after my training sessions, and all of my work is online, so I can work whenever, wherever, as long as I have my computer and Internet access.

Creating this lifestyle took some doing, both in terms of legwork and in terms of changing my beliefs about what constitutes an acceptable professional persona for me. But it turns out that this was a priority vis-à-vis my training, so I figured out how to make it happen. And I’m here to tell you that participating in conference calls and writing professional-sounding documents while in my jammies is a singular kind of awesome.

4. I am not willing to compromise family time for BJJ.

When my parents and my sister’s family get together, I’m there too. Without question. They do their best to work around my training schedule, but in the event there is a conflict, my family comes first. To me, BJJ will always be there, but time with my family is scarcer, and therefore more precious. And more importantly, if I’m not there, I may miss the latest poop joke, and then I’ll be out of the loop for months afterward.

(As an FYI, this has always been one of my stakes in the ground, but in the past, it was far more difficult to feel okay about it; I would feel anxious that BJJ was passing me by until I got back to a regular training schedule. So it isn’t always easy to adhere to our lines in the sand, and sometimes we may need to revisit them as our life circumstances change. We can always change our minds, as long as we understand and own the consequences.)

So these are just a few of my stakes in the ground when it comes to BJJ and the rest of my life. But I hope they help illustrate what I mean about demonstrating autonomy. Perhaps many of you would not be willing to adhere to these. And that’s okay, because I would hope for your sake that you would consider enumerating your own list, one more commensurate with your own life and your goals.

Give it some thought: What are your stakes in the ground vis-à-vis the intersection of your fitness practices and the rest of your life? The more clearly you understand these things, the more easily you are likely be able to make sound decisions about your life and your training.

Share your thoughts on what your rules are in the comments below.

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