Burning Out

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“Sustainability” is a word that we use to describe optimal martial arts practice.  It has to do both with the external environment that we’re a part as well as the internal terrain that we navigate for ourselves. And a lot of this internal work has to do with the stories that we tell ourselves. 

There’s one story that many of us in the martial arts tell ourselves. It says that we can drive really hard, that we can put the engine into the red all the time, and that that is a good model for success. The notion is that we can overcome whatever our deficits are, whether they’re speed or talent or ability or strength or flexibility, by working hard. Then we credit that with our success. 

It works quite well in the short-term but not so well in the long-term.  If you are a brute force type of person, that will certainly work…up to a point. If you are a strong person, that too will work up to a point. But after that point, whatever it is, the returns start to diminish. We find ourselves moving towards burnout, mainly because the practice of always striving at maximum capacity is just not sustainable. 

So we need a different story, one that has less to do with working out and more to do with working in. Focusing on our patience can help. So can stepping out of the “win/lose” mindset, and moving into technique rather than strength. Each of these gives us an alternative thought model, and provides an approach to practice that doesn’t include the sort of over-exertion that leads to fatigue, depletion or breakdown. 

It’s built into the training we do, after all. Part of the work of randori is staying open to what happens in the moment. Inside of that work, we can change the story we’re telling ourselves. We can reduce these types of constricting thoughts and instead allow the expanding thoughts to flow. And once we turn away from a very rigid, short-term, very high-output approach, we get out of needing to be “ahead of” and can start to be “right here”.

So we encourage everyone to do an internal checkup on your stories. Many of us do a fine job with the external environment, with the physical training, but we also have to consider the internal terrain. We want sustainability, not human sacrifice. You can have a sustainable external environment, but if the internal one is is pushing you to burn out, you’ll break before you ever reach wherever you’re going. 


For more about our larger project of collaborative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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