The current spread of COVID-19 is causing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym owners across the country to close their doors. Gym owners have to choose between keeping their gyms open and risk spreading the virus, or closing their gyms and risk losing members and revenue. Owners are overwhelmingly deciding to temporarily shut their doors. With as much body contact as their is in BJJ, it’s easy to see how COVID-19 could be an issue. If you’re dismissive about the possibility of the virus spreading through your gym, just consider how nervous we all get when one member of the gym has a case of staph or ringworm, or how readily the seasonal flu can ravage your team. Remember that while BJJ practitioners are healthy and hearty folk, the truly vulnerable are our parents and grandparents. We may survive an infection, but our older relatives may be much more at risk.
This article is not meant to be a guide or provide insight for gym owners to help them make a decision on whether or not to close their gym. This article is to help BJJ practitioners use their time effectively if/when their gym decides to temporarily close. My coach made the hard decision to close his gym for at least one week, so rest assured I’ll be using the advice given below.
Rest up and heal
A lot of us Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players pride ourselves in having a “nose to the grindstone” mentality. We train tired. We train sore. We train injured. When we go on vacation we find a gym to train at - much to the consternation of our loved ones.
A gym closure due to COVID-19 may be the opportunity to finally listen to your aching muscles and screaming joints. Take this opportunity to rest up and heal. Every gym has a group of teammates who are injured, but still in the game. Scott has tendonitis in his elbow from being armbar’d and Omoplata’d too much. Matt’s back is sore. Nick got straight-ankled and now his ankle pops every day. The list goes on. If your gym closes, you can use that time to finally recover from your nagging injuries or chronic overuse issues. Take a look at your nutrition. Get your diet in order. Keep your head in the game by all means, but take this opportunity to recover.
Work on your flexibility and mobility
As BJJ players we spend a lot of time in positions of compression (being stacked during a pass, X-Guard), contraction (pulling our opponent into our guard, griping and pulling on collars) or in positions that compromise our posture (inverted, or bending over for a sloppy takedown). These positions can all lead to muscle imbalances. Everyone knows the guy who loves to play guard, but his hips are so tight he taps at any pass that stretches him out.
If your gym closes this is the perfect time to work on these imbalances. A simple Google search for “BJJ” and “yoga”, or just “yoga”, will result in multiple results that the home bound BJJ practitioner can use to begin to address their structural issues. Our favorites come from the Yoga For BJJ crew. Beyond the free content, there are several pay services that cater directly to the BJJ and sports communities. There's also plenty of time to just lay on your floor and stretch.
Work on your cardio and agility
The CDC and other health organizations are recommending we all give this brand new hobby called "Social Distancing" a try. It's supposed to be great for your health and even better for your social life. All jokes aside, isolating ourselves for a short time is a small price to pay to hopefully slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. In the meantime, there's less people outside clogging your favorite trails. No reason not to take advantage of the space and go for a run out in the sunshine. In addition to improving your cardio, the extra Vitamin D from sunlight and fresh outside air will help keep your spirits up and boost your immune system.
While we’re talking about Rocky level road work, let’s also consider footwork. Simple ladder drills can improve your footwork and coordination. It'll help make you more agile and improve your response time when standing. Even if you're a guard puller, it'll help your coordination. If you have an agility ladder these drills can be performed almost anywhere. If not, you can find an agility ladder for cheap on Amazon or you can use your belt as a centerline to perform the drills on. Just don't step on it - that's bad ju-ju.
Work on the fundamentals
Some BJJ players are lucky enough to have mats, grappling dummies, and heavy bags at home. If you are one of these lucky individuals you can take the time away from classes and rolling to work on your fundamentals. Simple line drills, shrimping, bag drills, and dummy work can be used to work through any issues you may have had before classes closed. Having issues with the armbar from mount? Work on it with the grappling dummy. Are you a white belt and coach showed you a complex drill on cardio day? Figure it out with the heavy bag. There are several Instagram and YouTube accounts dedicated to solo drills to improve your BJJ. Again, Google is your friend.
Reconnect with your loved ones
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a demanding sport. As practitioners we spend a lot of time away from our loved ones, at practice and in competition. Our family puts up with our weird hygiene, our obsessive fixation on our sport, diet practices, and the fact that we’re usually the one clogging up the washing machine with oversized heavy pajamas. With any luck the COVID-19 issue will be over soon and your gym will reopen soon. Some forecasts predict a month to 6 weeks, some even longer. One of the best uses for this time may be to reconnect with your loved ones. Watch that movie with your wife. Help your mom with her yard work. Have a nice homemade dinner with your husband that you cooked together. Our family supports us and our BJJ exploits. Now's a great time to return the favor.
If your gym owner decides to close their gym please realize they have made one of the hardest decisions, both personally and professionally, they’ve ever had to make. Now is the time to return the loyalty and trust your coach and team have shown to you. Your coach has been there for you, now is your time to be there for them.
This post is written by contributing author Scott Barker. Scott is a BJJ white belt who takes his coffee how he takes his whiskey: straight up. He supports his BJJ and coffee habits through his work as a program manager for a military manufacturer.