If, like me, you find yourself suddenly unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, permit me to offer some advice. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been here before, and it nearly destroyed me. Jiujitsu is one of the things that helped me keep going, and this time around – a bit older and wiser, both on and off the mat - I’m confident that jiujitsu as a martial art can help me through this again. Not to be flippant about the seriousness of the situation that you may be facing, but here a few tips that you can apply from your jiujitsu practice to help you through this challenging time.
1. It’s not your fault! COVID-19 is the D1 wrestler of viruses, and it’s double-legged the world. Now you’re sprawled on your back and wondering what just happened. You’re down, but not out. It’s time to establish your favourite defensive guard and buy some time to think.
So, you’ve lost your job. It doesn’t devalue you, because your job doesn’t define you. We know this from the many professions we encounter on the mat. Nobody really cares what you do outside of the mat: it’s how we act on the mat that defines us.
2. Keep physically active. This is especially important if your (now defunct) job was a physical one. Not only will this give you something to do, you should actually get stronger and fitter than you’ve been able to without the time and energy requirements of a job. And thanks to jiujitsu, you should already have a decent level of fitness to be able to make the most of your new fitness regime – and without the usual aches and pains!
Though gyms may be closed there is still plenty you can do, either at home or in a park. Perhaps now is the time to explore calisthenics or other jiujitsu-relevant movement patterns. At the very least, try to work on your mobility – every older grappler will tell you they wished they’d focused on it sooner (before they had to!).
3. Stay mentally active. This is the real battle. Take up that old hobby you’ve neglected after jiujitsu pushed it aside, or learn that skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Read, if that’s your thing (see the book reviews on this blog for suggestions). Engage in new ideas to stimulate your mind. Of course, you can still think about jiujitsu – even ‘mental drilling’ has shown to have benefits to actual physical drilling.
4. Stick to a routine. We know that routine is the key to jiujitsu progress. If you’ve already beaten the ‘blue belt blues’, then you understand this. Simply turning up – in anything – is often one half of success. Resist the temptation to sleep in until midday every day. Get up at your usual time, keep to your usual diet (though be mindful of potentially reduced caloric requirements). It’s all about maintaining some sort of normality. At the very least, make your bed in the morning: you will at least have achieved something for the day, and early on at that (and you will be less likely to want to crawl back into it).
5. Have a focus. This goes hand in hand with points two, three and four above. Having a focus in our jiujitsu training can help us to moderate the ups and downs of the mat. You might not be needed at work, but you’re still needed as a partner, parent, sibling, child or friend. Make your dependents your focus. Set moderate, reachable goals: do the household chores; meal prep like a boss. At the end of every day – as on the mat – you will be able to look back and say that you achieved something, however small.
6. Ask for help! Now is not the time for false pride. This is perhaps the best advice I received – though conversely this can be very difficult to accept, especially for many men used to ‘providing’ and/or defining themselves by their job. In jiujitsu when we get caught in a bad position, we don’t (or shouldn’t) hesitate to ask for advice on what we did wrong/how not to get caught in the future. Well, you’re in a bad position now. But the means of an escape is potentially there, if you would only ask.
Finally, for those of you on the other side, please reach out to those you know are struggling. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being unemployed is watching people going about their regular working day, and feeling left out of society. Please keep them in mind and reach out to them. Don’t be shy: as a fellow warrior you’ve earned the right. Be aware that you may not always get a straight answer of how they’re feeling, however the mat is such a true indicator of character that you should be able to discern their true mood.
This WILL pass and you WILL come out if it stronger, wiser and more empathetic. That’s good for you, your club and society as a whole.