As the global response to Covid19 continues it seems that no one remains unaffected, even if they haven’t been directly exposed to the virus.
From Europe, to Australia, to America and everywhere in between; martial arts gyms, competitions and athletes are feeling the crunch as governments universally mandate the closure of gyms or any activities involving gatherings of people.
With no end in sight, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community in particular, hangs in limbo—holding its breath for positive changes in the forecast. For the hobbyist and professional alike, being told that it is illegal to train is a gut punch that has the community reeling.
To a BJJ practitioner, a permanent gym closure has far greater consequences than simply being unable to train—It’s more like losing a second family. For many, people will spend just as much time with their training partners as their significant others; sweating, working and improving together on a regular basis. For many, these are the main reasons to train and create a void that online classes or “home training” simply cannot fill.
This is what makes Covid’s impacts on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community and it’s gyms especially unique. Aside from the fact that BJJ is a full contact sport that is an absolute contrast to what we call “social distancing”; the ‘new normals’ of Covid don’t really apply to people who consider it ‘normal’ to strangle and maim their best friends!
The unfortunate reality is that some gyms may never recover or open their doors again.
Most instructors and gym owners operate on such small margins that any extended period of closure can have catastrophic financial implications. After grasping the depth of loyalty and devotion embedded within the construct of BJJ academies, you might assume that members would be inclined to continue to pay for their membership to keep their gyms afloat.
And you would be right with such an assumption, but the thing is, the inclination is not the issue. With many gym members entering periods of financial hardship, facing job loss, and simply being unable to keep up with membership fees, it’s not a case of being compelled to support your gym by continuing to pay your membership—it’s a case of not having the money to do so.
It’s the hobbyists that keep a gym in business, and the reality is that in a time of crisis people find themselves financially prioritizing essentials instead of indulging their hobbies. Competitors and professionals on the other hand, make up a negligible percentage of any gym’s membership, they often form the body of instructors at the gym and likely aren’t the ones paying to keep the gym’s doors open.
These are some of the reasons why online classes aren’t cutting it, and BJJ gyms are closing left and right. The socialization and community element is lost in online classes, members are facing financial hardship, and people have diverted focus to essentials instead of indulging their hobbies.
Many practitioners build their lifestyle around their training, Covid 19 has all but taken that away from many.
For many practitioners, their training is closely tied to their physical and mental health. We connect with our friends and training partners, we get fitter, we get our much needed dopamine fix and generally find happiness on the mat.
The unfortunate reality of a pandemic is that communities and gatherings of people will be hard hit. Community no longer represents belonging & safety, it represents risk. Granted, the likelihood of contracting Covid 19 may be low, but there’s no denying that this shift in thinking has still occurred.
As someone who trains every day, competes regularly and places such a central value on my martial arts training in my life, there are still some positives I’ve found in a time of Covid. I’ve spent more time with my significant other, our relationship is stronger than ever as a result.
It’s crucial that we can find ways to stay productive and positive in a time like this. It’s so easy to indulge despair and doom.
I’ve spent more time exploring my other interests such as reading, music, art and video games. My body also doesn’t feel like it’s been put through a meat grinder, a rare respite from my intense daily training regime. I had to find creative new ways to train and I even embraced the dark, forbidden art of running. As a result, over a 6 week lockdown I actually lost 20 pounds and improved my cardio.
We can only do our best to weather the storm.
The picture isn’t all doom and gloom, in places where the virus has been somewhat controlled, BJJ has also returned in some capacity. We see a number of U.S based promotions finding innovative ways to run events; and we’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of phenomenal superfights being booked on promotions like Fight 2 Win, Third Coast Grappling, Who’s Number One and The Submission Underground.
The first sign of the resurgence in grappling is building the spectator’s ability to watch the sport. With added eyes and enthusiasm we will hopefully see a return to the mats and regular training sooner rather than later.
As grapplers, we understand the concept of being comfortable in bad positions, finding a way to survive and even thrive against seemingly insurmountable odds. This situation is no different. Find a way to win, never stop fighting.
Thanks for reading.