I looked across the cafe in disbelief.

My old BJJ training partner, we’ll call him “John,” was sitting there in a booth with one of his kids.

The last time I had seen him was at his blue belt promotion, close to a year before– he had obviously fallen prey to the “blue belt curse,” the infamous tendency that blues have to quit shortly after attaining said belt.

Maybe it happens as a product of putting that first big accomplishment on too much of a pedestal, so that once it happens, it feels like they got what they came for, or maybe, as so many have said to me later, “life got in the way.

Whatever that means.

That wasn’t what had me in a state of shock in this case, or even that John hadn’t so much as reached out on social media since dropping off from our usual 3 a week meet-ups at our old Jiu Jitsu spot.

It was that he had probably blown up by about 40 pounds  since I’d seen him last, and I’m not talking about “lean mass.”

He looked bad. Bloated, out of breath, uncomfortable and stressed out.

I evaluated my next move, and thought, screw it, I’ll go talk to him.

Maybe I can give him a nudge in the right direction- after all, he’d been my training partner for almost two years, and I liked the guy; he had been a great person to learn with and we’d shared some good times.

I approached his table, and I could tell as soon as we made eye contact he wasn’t stoked.

That nervous, shifty, embarrassed vibe put off by those who know they’ve bailed, and changed, and not for the better.

Happens every time.

“What’s up, John,” I said, affecting a relaxed manner to hopefully put him at ease. “Long time no see.”

I nodded to his kid, who looked to be about 12 or 13.

“Hey man,” he said, uneasily, and we shook hands for the first time since the usual pre-roll slap and bump somewhere around 10 months prior.

I asked how he’d been, and he gave that usual shrug, and answered something to the effect of “just…doing, ya know.”

We made a little small talk about family and work and that sort of thing, and then I hit him with it:

“Where ya been, man? Haven’t seen you since you got your blue.”

“I know,” he said, with a defeated tone. His shoulders slumped a little.

“It’s just between work and the kids, and all that stuff, it just got hard to juggle it all. I had to put some stuff on the back burner.”

“I get that,” I said smoothly, even though I didn’t.

I knew and he knew, and he knew that *I knew* damn well that half the guys training at our spot had wives, jobs, kids, the same as everyone else. They just prioritized.

“Plus,” he went on, “now I’ve gotta get back in shape before I can come back on the mats.”

I raised my eyebrows at that one, finished the conversation and left.

Two hours later I was on the mats for my 6pm Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class.

Let me tell you about something I’ve seen over and over in the last 8 years I’ve been training.

I’ve heard the phrases “Life happened,” and “I need to get in shape first” more times than I can say without feeling ill.

Both of them are nonsense.

The first one is just someone saying “it honestly just wasn’t important to me,” which is what they would say if they were actually being honest with themselves, and that I would respect a lot more.

Cool- there was a bunch of other stuff that was way more important.

I get it. Not everyone loves  Jiu Jitsu- that’s fine. Not everyone has to.

But just call it like it is.

For the second, the “I need to get in shape before I start training” crowd- this is kind of like saying “I need to get fluent in German before starting my German class.”

Guess what- getting on the mats will solve the “out of shape” problem all on its own.

You’ll be doing cardio. You’ll more than likely start making healthier nutrition choices.

Maybe you’ll supplement your Jiu Jitsu with some strength and conditioning work (it’s certainly benefitted mine).

You’ll be developing discipline, and creating a structure of positive habits.

These are all the things you need to be in good shape:

exercise, good nutrition, discipline.

Jiu Jitsu can create a framework for all of those things- there’s absolutely no reason to wait to already have them before you get on the mats the first time, or if you’re coming back from a hiatus. Just do it, as they say.

I promise- it’ll work itself out from there.

My friend John?

I saw him again, back in the gymsigning his kid up for classes.

He never made eye contact and I haven’t seen him since.

His kid, though…he’s in great shape now.


By Paul Winter