It’s been over two months since my gym had to close down. No income, no in-person contact with the students and of course no training.
The gym I teach at in The Netherlands hires me as an instructor to teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, which means I’m not the one paying rent. It’s a different situation compared to some gym owners, like my coaches in Brazil, who are struggling to pay rent and retain members.
I’ve been trying to do my best to stay in contact with my students and provide them with the tools to study jiu jitsu and stay fit. In this article I will share my personal story of dealing with the gym shutdown.
Learning how to learn
One of the first things I did when the gym closed, was provide my students with tools to help them improve their skills off the mats. By teaching my students to learn from home instead of giving them technique videos each week I think they will be better prepared for a long time of training off the mats.
One of my favorite ways of learning is by studying competition video, and I know many high-level athletes use this method as well.
For beginners it’s hard to look at a match in a way that’s productive. It requires a different perspective than watching a match for entertainment purposes. To help with that, I created a video explaining how to learn from studying matches.
Studying matches is useful on every level. Beginners start to grasp the general idea of how competition matches unfold, and advanced students are able to pick-up smaller details that make moves work.
Besides studying matches, instructional videos is another way to gain knowledge. Within the jiu jitsu community, many instructionals are now provided for free during the pandemic – Free downloads of instructional videos, or free memberships to online training websites.
Even though this content is useful, all that information can be quite overwhelming, and especially for beginners. That’s why the second tool I provided to my students was a video explaining them the best way to learn from instructional videos.
That took care of the technical and tactical aspect of training. But what about the physical aspect?
I know I need at least one physical activity a day to retain my sanity, and I think many people share that sentiment. I was lucky enough to buy myself a kettlebell right before the shortage hit, but many of my students were not as lucky.
Even though having a kettlebell is great, it’s by no means a necessity for a good at-home work-out. There are dozens (by now probably hundreds) of great bodyweight, at-home fitness programs. You can also do aerobic activities such as running, cycling or any other cardio you can think of. With regards to at home training I usually recommend Pavel Tsatsouline’s programs, they require very little equipment, are simple and effective.
The social connection
People train in martial arts for many reasons: self-defense, to get in shape, to confront and deal with a fight situation. But one aspect that can’t be overlooked is the social aspect. It’s one of the things that I’ve been missing the most since the gym closed.
I try to stay in touch with many of my students through social media. My team has a closed Facebook group where I post updates regularly. Whenever the government or the sports center comes out with news that applies to gyms, I make sure to let my students know. I also share these updates through our Instagram account.
Besides general updates, I do my best to stay in touch with my individual students as well. Messaging apps and social media like Facebook and Instagram are useful with that. Sharing new jiu jitsu videos, asking how their home training is going, what kind of instructional videos they have been watching, that kind of stuff.
During the heat of the pandemic I’ve been focusing on putting out educational jiu jitsu material without having to get into contact with other people. I used my own competition footage to explain some concepts and techniques, and how they work in practice.
I think this is actually a very useful way to learn. Instructionals can be quite dry and unrealistic, since the uke (demonstration partner) is always cooperating. By using competition footage to explain techniques, the explanation becomes a lot more realistic.
In this video for example, I explain how to defend heel hooks. By showing actual competition footage, the students will be able to see how the move looks at full speed and against full resistance.
Those videos are mainly for my advanced students. For beginners I’ve started recording an introduction course to jiu jitsu. Explaining the goal, history, rules and main positions within jiu jitsu. This is useful both for beginners that just got into the sport, but also for people that are looking to start a martial art when the gyms open again. I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from that group.
As a student
I’m not just an instructor, but a student of the art as well. I have been following how my coaches are dealing with the crisis attentively. They do have to pay rent and have several hundred students that are looking for their guidance.
They’ve been putting out live interviews with some of the bigger names in the sport – Buchecha, Leo Vieira, Thiago Sa were some of the guests. They also taught live classes on Instagram. They would show a few moves from a certain position, and then take questions from the viewers.
After that initial phase the schedule went almost back to normal. The only difference being that classes were taught through Zoom instead of on the mats. They created a weekly schedule to provide classes for all their audiences, from kids to advanced adults.
Preparing for eventual re-opening
Preparing for getting back on the mats varies a lot between countries and states.
In Brazil, the government created a 6-phase plan for businesses to re-open. This gave gym owners the opportunity to create a protocol for each of these phases. For example, phase 1 means that gyms have to stay closed, so online classes are the only option. In phase 4 teaching groups of 4 to 6 people becomes possible if they haven’t tested positive and social distancing is possible. In phase 6 everything goes back to normal.
In the Netherlands we don’t have a protocol to return to normal yet. All gyms are to remain closed until the 1st of September. Only after that date they will open again, and contact sports will be allowed.
Some of the organizations representing martial arts instructors and gym owners are doing their best to make it possible to open up earlier. Whether this will be possible, and if so, under which conditions, is totally unclear for now. That makes it hard to prepare. Only when those conditions become known, we’ll be able to prepare to open again.
For now, I plan on using the playbook for re-opening created by Martial Arts on Rails’ founder, Eran.
Even doing all that, my schedule is way emptier than I’m used to, meaning I have a lot of time to invest in things outside of teaching jiu jitsu. Like I mentioned before, physically I’ve been working a lot with kettlebells and bodyweight exercises. I’ve been studying plenty of tape and instructional content myself.
I’ve also been reading up on the business side of martial arts. Marketing, coaching, sales, all the good stuff. I’m also investing time in making my business plan, as I plan on opening my own academy when everything goes back to normal.
Making the best of the current situation
When dealing with the gym shutdown I tried to provide my students with as much of the things they would have found in jiu jitsu classes: technical and tactical challenges, problem solving, a workout and social contacts.
I’ve also made an investment in myself through studying and putting out content, and in the team by creating technique videos and filming an introduction to BJJ course. My country doesn’t have any protocol for re-opening gyms as of yet, but when they create one, I’ll be ready to do whatever it takes to get my team back to training.
How did you deal with the lockdown? Let us know in the comments!