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There Are Things Greater Than Jiu Jitsu

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It was the day of NAGA Chicago.

I had trained for a hard six weeks for this tournament.

I lifted, sprinted, rolled, drilled, and trained every spare moment.

I had dieted down and cut all of the weight.

Weighed in the night before and made the weight.

But I didn’t compete.

Because sometimes in life there are things greater than Jiu Jitsu….

I’ll warn you that this article is a bit long and while worth reading, if you want the best part, I highly suggest reading the last section. – Brendan

Tournament Prep

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I walked into the gym one day and my coach told me we were all going to compete in the next local tournament, which happened to be about 6 weeks away.

Even though I’m a purple belt and feel fairly confident in my abilities, I was admittedly nervous about this because I hadn’t competed in the past 2 years.  So I knew I had to be ready.

I contacted my Strength and Conditioning coach, William Wayland of Powering Through, and had him put together an extensive program for me to be in peak shape  the day of the tournament.  This would mean difficult endurance training and lots of explosive training leading up to the day of the event with a focus on making sure I peaked for the event and didn’t over-train (a chronic problem among BJJ athletes).

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I would get up daily at 4am just to make sure that I had enough time to wake up fully and then train before having to leave for work at 7 (okay, 7:30).  This meant many nights of a maximum of 5 to 6 hours of sleep as I was training in addition to teaching full time, plus running Ok! Kimonos and GiReviews.Net. More often than not it would be 4-5 hours of sleep which I know isn’t optimal, but that’s how I roll.  I don’t like to do anything halfway so that means trying to do it all at once!

Additionally, I spent hours and hours prepping at the academy.  Since I can only make it in twice per week, I would set up a lot of weekend drilling and rolling sessions just so that I could get more training in.  We worked so hard that it wasn’t uncommon to see the windows to the academy complete fogged over before practice was halfway over.

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I was watching my diet and supplements like a hawk in order to get down from 220lbs to 205lbs without losing all of my hard-earned muscle and strength.  This meant bugging the heck out of friends and family (especially my 8-month pregnant wife) who always made a face when I refused to eat whatever they were eating.

My gi was patched up and ready to go, my grappling spats and rashguard in tow. This meant that all I had left to do was make weight.

Making Weight

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I think that by purple belt, or 7 years in the art, most people have cut a decent amount of weight to compete.  While I managed to lose about 12lbs prior to the tournament, that still left me with 8lbs to cut before the tournament.  Having cut down from 200 to 190 in the past, I knew that 208 to 199 was going to be a beast.

But there I sat with my five-thousand layers on and the Joe Rogan podcast blaring in my ears riding the Airdyne at the gym.

I think that if you’ve ever cut weight before, a small voice starts to creep up telling you to go check your weight or that you should be done by now.  I’ve learned that for me, that voice comes after about 3 or 4 lbs and man is it hard to ignore.

Having not cut any weight in the past 2 years, this cut was awful.  Hours of riding the Airdyne isn’t something I’d wish on anybody.

I soldiered through and eventually weighed myself in at 200lbs even.  Just to be sure to make weight, I rode to the tournament with the head on and the windows up, still in my gear and would weigh in at 199.6.

I paid my $100 and was ready to go for the next day.  As we left I began the complicated process of refueling my body without giving in to gorging myself so that my performance the next day would be on par with my training.

Competition Day

I woke up on the day of the competition feeling fairly refreshed and focused on eating properly and moving around a lot during the morning, but a few hours before I was supposed to leave to coach my teammates, my wife told me that she hadn’t felt the baby move in a few days.

And she wanted to go to the hospital to make sure he was okay.

This meant that I would miss the tournament.

Please understand that I had fought tooth and nail many times during the tournament prep for training time. I had adjusted our entire schedule as a married couple including church, friends, visiting family, eating out, etc. around training times.  My wife had easily sacrificed as much, if not more, than I did to get ready for today.

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It was funny really.

After all of the time and effort spent preparing for the tournament, I had no hesitance in going with her to the hospital.  We spent a few hours there and we left exactly when my division would have been starting.  Both she and the baby were in perfect health.

And again, it was funny because I wasn’t upset at all. I felt more clarity in that time period that I’ve felt in a long time.

I could’ve been mad, or bitter, or upset. But I wasn’t.

I guess some things had happened a few days before that really set me up to make this decision…

Things Greater Than Jiu Jitsu

I feel that with one dedicating themselves as wholly as possible to the singular aim of competition victory, it becomes increasingly difficult to see outside of that goal.  The deeper that I got into my competition preparation, the less I could see the importance of things around me, including my wife, family, and career.

I mentioned earlier that while I was cutting weight, I was listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast.  What I didn’t mention was that I was listening to his interview with Dana White.

In that interview, Dana mentioned that one of the reasons he stopped boxing was because he was in the gym one day and a local boxing great came up to train, but was looking very “punchy.”  This meant that he looked a bit disoriented and unmotivated to train because of how beat up he was from years of training.

In addition, as I was riding the Airdyne, my friend told me that a day before, he blew out his knee and would likely never be able to compete again. At least not at the level he wanted.

I hadn’t mentioned to anybody that my knees were both severely injured from chronic use and this tournament prep had destroyed them (this is due to my BJJ training as my strength training actually helped alleviate and fix the problem).  I couldn’t put any real weight on either of them and to squat down past parallel caused severe pain.

Dana’s statement really hit home for me because I am such an advocate of training BJJ for life and because I want to be able to train BJJ with my son one day.  Not being able to train BJJ with my kids is my nightmare.

And all for what? A medal in a box? Some NAGA belt that they also  give out to kids in the 6 year old division?

No thanks.

We can hold beliefs all we want, but what really matter is is how we let those beliefs be shown through our actions.

When the medals are put away in a box, we’ll forget them.

What my wife and son will never forget is that I chose them over Jiu Jitsu.

I can believe in servant leadership for my family.

I can believe in training BJJ for health and vitality.

But I feel that choosing to compete instead of taking care of my wife and son would have been denying precisely what I stand for as a man, husband, and soon-to-be father.

I hope at least part of this essay has been relevant to you.

I hope that maybe you’ll be able to have a look at what’s really important to you.

And most importantly, I hope you’ll realize that while it’s an art that we all love and enjoy…

there are things greater than Jiu Jitsu.

About the author: Lover of Jesus, Bowties, and BJJ. Founder of Ok! Kimonos.

35 comments… add one
  • This is a beautiful post, full of insight and wisdom. Thank you for sharing it.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Kate. I’m really grateful to be able to share it with people. Hopefully it helps others as well.

  • Thanks for sharing. My goal is to find that perfect balance between family and self and training. Looks like you have a great balance in your life. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Debra! I really appreciate comments on the blog so thanks for taking the time. I think that balance is something that changes as needs change and while I think it’s (mostly) impossible for me to attain, I think it’s pursuing balance that is very worthwhile. Thanks again for the comment ^_^

  • Chris

    Standing up and taking care of your family is what it is to be a man. Great post truly highlighting what is really important in life.

    • Thanks, Chris! I really appreciate the comment. I hear a lot of guys at the academy complaining about their wives, families, work, etc. I’m glad there are other men our there who share my definition of what it means to be a man.

  • Raymond

    I feel you. A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. That’s what Don Corleone said in Godfather. Tournaments are always there. There are other things like family and health that are more important. I guess we can balance all of them but we should always be aware that family comes first.

    • First, thanks for the comment and the read! Great quote from the Godfather. Can you believe I’ve never seen any of them? Also, your blog is freaking awesome! Keep up the great work!

  • Fernando

    Great perspective. I feel we all follow the path of the Martial Arts for the betterment of ourselves and the protection of our loved ones. We just need to know when to adjust our practice. As a child I could train religiously 7 days a week. No job, no responsibilities. Now as a father, husband, and serviceman the time and sacrifices needed to train at the same level as before are impractical. Thank you for this article. It was a refreshing change to the BJJ is life moto so popular these days. Life is life. Love is life. Family is life. BJJ is merely a tool to enhance our lives, our loves and our relationships. It should always give more to our families in the way that it makes us better human beings. OSS!!!

    • Great comment, Fernando! I 10000% agree that martial arts enhance life, and should not ‘be’ life. I’m all for HARD training and not ‘keeping it playful,’ but I think that the whole ‘stfu and train’ idea shouldn’t be applied to most people and certainly shouldn’t be put above family.

  • Mitchell

    This is very well said. Thanks man, this was a good read that really made me consider a lot of important things.

    • Thanks a lot Mitchell. It was definitely one of those ‘Wake Up’ moments for me so I’m glad you got something from it as well. Thanks so much for the comment! 🙂

  • Annie

    Great post .I am learning to take it easy and heal (very bad broken toe). It is making me nuts, but I want to train for life so I need to learn to wait.

    • Injuries are the worst, but train what you can in the meantime! Train around the injury and definitely train for life! 🙂

  • Ciaran

    well said

  • RP

    Awesome Post… Glad to see that Family First is still an idea that is upheld!

    • They for the comment, RP! I have gotten a lot of feedback that so many people think this article is just common sense and I guess that’s a good thing. But I think you and I can agree that it seems like it needs a bit of a ‘refresher’ every now and then as people drift away from ‘true’ values 🙂

  • carlos

    Is your kid ok?

    • Oh goodness, Carlos! Sorry to leave you in suspense. He’s great! He still hasn’t arrived as I am writing this (41 weeks now) but he’s just chilling in there trying to wait us out. Like his father, he’s fashionably late 🙂

  • Alex

    great article about ‘perspectives’ and ‘priorities’.

    This can be applied to all interests and not just BJJ. I am new to BJJ but at 33 life has taught me that longevity is important in what you do. That means do the things you enjoy for as long as you enjoy them. When we get really into something we seem to go almost obsessive about thinking about it. I have spent the last 16 years obsessing about bodybuilding, soccer and fishing, but it all boils down to the same thing; live in the moment, when out of the gym, think about what is in front of you, when at work work, when at home spend time with you family and when at the gym train hard; over do one thing and you will likely ‘blow out’, you see it in all fields; the keen ones rush in, get all the gear and burn out quickly never to be seen again. As my grandad used to say to me, do everything in ‘moderation’ ; that is what I now try to apply to everything I do.

    • That’s an awesome point Alex. I’m all for pursuing excellence in what you’re doing. I feel like whatever you’re doing, you should absolutely crush it. I don’t have going ‘halfway’ in my blood, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see a tremendous amount of value in it. Moderation is more about doing the minimum effective dose versus going all out and ruining the quality of your life for something that doesn’t truly matter.

  • Tony

    Brendan, this is a fantastic post. As a husband, father & bjj practitioner, this was both relevant & refreshing to read. I believe that instructors can benefit from reading this post. Unfortunately, there are those who believe family is an “excuse” rather than a valid reason for bjj taking a backseat to familial duties, work, church, education, etc. I see bjj as a supplement to my well-being, but in no way does it take precedence over my life.

    Again, great post & all the best to you, your family & your training.


    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Tony! I’m a new father as well, as of 6pm on Thursday (2 days ago at the time of writing this) so it’s great to have a comment from another BJJ Parent 🙂
      I think your point about instructors teaching men that their families are standing in their way of BJJ excellence is a great point. You also chose great examples in family, faith, education, and work. My instructor doesn’t push it on everybody but does encourage us to go for the experience and personal growth. I think in my example, most of the pressure was self-inflicted.
      Thanks again for the awesome comment!

  • Bill

    First off, glad all is well with the family. Secondly, great blog on keeping things in perspective, somewhat motivating to me!

  • adam

    great post. family first. i didnt start bjj until a few years ago (my early 30s) and it has really changed me from top to bottom, but my focus on caring for and serving my family will never be reduced. in fact, i view bjj as a tool to INCREASE my focus on the family. preparing my mind and body for tough situations has made me a better father and husband.

    • thanks so much for reading and for the comment, Adam! Great perspective!

  • Grant

    Really good stuff here. People would be so much better off if they had a better handle on what really matters and looking at life through a filter. You have to have balance. You need a clear perspective. Then you set your priorities. Then adjust them as course changes. Thanks for putting this out.

  • alexander rascovar

    good for you. You are a real person. So funny how we prepare for life, but it happens weather we want it to or not. I admire your post. Too often people forget about real life. Jiu jitsu can be a form of fleeing rather then a healthy meditation and physical exercise. If it becomes that, it has defeated it’s purpose. Bravo…

  • Sam

    What a great post !!!…just finished reading it , yes they are greater things than jiu jitsu in this life .
    Been training 6 years now in no gi and 6 months ( lol) in gi ….and competed once recently …all bjj competitions are hold on Saturday .
    I’m a Seventh Day Adventist ….I never train compete Saturdays …God and family comes first . Your post really made touched me!

  • Patrick

    At a cross road with my Bjj journey would you email me privately. Thank you

  • Pete

    Wow man.

    That’ s exactly what I needed today.

    God bless you.

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