The Dreaded Jiu Jitsu Burn Out

Published on by Erin Herle

I don't know about you, but there are times when I walk in to my academy and I'm not eager to learn. There are days when the decision to train or not to train is met with an "ehh if I make it in time then fine." If you've experienced bouts of less than normal enthusiasm or lack of motivation, you may be suffering from burn-out.

It can happen with anything we do. Work, school, hobbies, even meals. Have you tried eating egg whites and avocado every night for a weight cut and once you've made the weight you can't even look at that food? Imagine your mom makes you meatloaf every... single... night. It's only so good until it's not. Unless you don't even like meatloaf.

Everyone gets tired of training but it's important to note whether you've overtrained, you're experiencing lack of motivation due to outside sources, you're training in an unhealthy environment, or if you just need some change in scenery.

Much like eating meatloaf every night, going into a BJJ academy with the same routine every time and focusing on the same techniques, or training format can get old. And so you have to spice up your meatloaf. Add ingredients, attempt a new way to cook it, tell your mom that you want to try eating meatloaf made by someone else. Change it up.

I spoke with a few people who know a thing or two about training while burnt out, getting burnt out, and how to prevent it.

Abraham Marte, one of the best ultra-heavyweight black belts, lives and trains in the Dominican Republic. He regularly invites training partners from different countries and teams to help him get ready for big events/tournaments since he doesn't have access to many teams nearby like someone in the states or in Brazil. And in this way he keeps his training exciting, fun and a refreshing experience. When asked about burn out, he had this to say: "I believe the most important thing you can do to avoid getting burned out is to take care of your body and mind. Rest and nutrition are paramount. You can only train as hard as you rest (or recover). If you've reached the point of depression (burning out) then taking a small break and enjoying yourself with other activities, can be a good way to recharge. I just spent 3 days at the beach with my family this past weekend. I came back hungry to train and work on my jiu-jitsu. You need to be able to enjoy training. If you don't, you are really selling yourself short and setting yourself up for failure." 

Photo Credit: Alberto Marchetti

If you train for competition you might make the mistake of equating fun with recreation--that if you're having fun, you're not training hard enough. And that's not the case. Training hard will, no doubt, be tough but rewarding. If you're lacking the reward, you may be burnt out and should seek ways to make training more enjoyable, even if it means training less or taking a short break like Abraham. 

Keenan Cornelius is another person who knows a bit about burn-out and how to prevent it. Certainly his long winning streak at purple belt and brown belt was monotonous in that his results never changed but the challenges were still there in every tournament. At black belt, he was met with plenty new opportunities and challenges in the form of Pans and Worlds, the Pro League, Metamoris, Copa Podio and more. But he's felt his fair share of burn-out. He recommends a similar approach as Abraham: "If you are burnt out then take a break. For me usually a weekend of rest gets me back in the mood for training, but I would also suggest keeping it fresh on the mats, always playing new styles and trying new techniques. Sometimes I work from positions that I'm a white belt in, like half guard. That makes me feel great to learn from a fresh slate."

Making sure that your training still motivates you is essential. Try to mix up your training as much as you can. Drilling on the side gives you freedom to test out new things that you can try in training and looking up new ways to accomplish your favorite techniques can keep your training fresh. Edwin Najmi, purple belt open weight world champion and outstanding brown belt competitor, drills as he trains. You'll always know what he's working on as you roll with him because he repeatedly aims for one certain technique or position. And he switches it up often. He explains, "Everyone gets burnt out at some point while training jiu jitsu. It's normal when you do something routinely every single day. In my experience, the best way to prevent this is to try and learn a new technique whenever you can, whether it be from watching a video, going to a seminar, or going to train somewhere else with friends. Always evolving your jiujitsu will  definitely help you stay motivated to train everyday without getting burn out." 

Oli Geddes, black belt under Roger Gracie and BJJ traveler, literally changes his scenery regularly. A couch-surfing nomad, he travels to various countries and teams to teach and learn throughout the year. In a conversation with him, he reveals how he dealt with feeling burnt out in the past and what he continually does: "I just did something else. Sometimes you need to take breaks because you get burned out. I mean...culturally I've been burned out of BJJ for a while. The super enthusiastic white belts, the glorifying the lifestyle, all that. But for me, now...I'm trying to look at BJJ as a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. There's a snowboarding BJJ camp? Let's do that. Teach in Thailand, train, take a free holiday? Let's do that .At the same time, working on developing myself in other ways. Being the best BJJ guy can't always be the priority for me. I know maybe it should's too short, and I've spent too many years training, hanging in the academy and training again."

You may not always have the opportunity to up and leave the country but if a camp or seminar comes around, take it up. Not only will you be supporting the athletes or organizations that rely on hungry learners like you, but you'll also be reinvigorating your training, fueling yourself with new techniques and connections in the community.

The most important aspect of burn-out is recognizing it. You could just be tired physically but if you find it hard to enjoy your training and you feel you're no longer evolving, it's time to make a change. Either look up a new technique, attend a seminar, travel to another country, play a new position, or get to the beach. If you do leave the mats, don't stay away for too long. Always continue the journey.