While visiting South Korea recently, I met a new friend, one of whose many passions is training, talking, and writing about Jiu-Jitsu. She has an excellent Jiu-jitsu blog that I enjoyed reading before I even went to Korea, so it was awesome to get to hang out with her in person.
While taking me for my very first Jjimjilbang (Korean naked spa) experience, we started talking about Jiu-jitsu, Jiu-jitsu boys, sweaty muscles, hooking up, relationships, etc, as one does when naked in Korea with a new friend. Long story short, I mentioned some of the difficulties I’ve found training with my boyfriend, and she asked if I might be interested in writing a post about it. After some delay, I finally got down to it. I’ve actually gotten this question a few times now: does training Jiu-jitsu together help your relationship? For my particular relationship, theanswer is yes, absolutely. But then there’s the question of whether being in a relationship with a training partner helps your Jiu-jitsu, and that is one that I’ve been struggling to answer for a while now.
A bit about us…
I met my boyfriend through training a little over five years ago, and we started dating soon after. I was in college, and the place we were training was one of the few Jiu-jitsu gyms in the area. Mike was a blue belt at the time, and he got his purple belt a month or so after we met. We’ve spent a lot of time training together at the same gym, and we’ve also spent a lot of time training as individuals at different gyms when I moved across the country to be at home for a year. We’re now living and training together on Long Island while Mike is studying to get his doctorate in physical therapy. We’ve been in a long-term relationship with each other for over half a decade now, and we each have a long-term relationship with Jiu-jitsu that goes even farther back.
Pros of training with your boyfriend
On the plus side, our relationship has had some real positive impacts on our training, and likewise, our training has benefited our relationship in some very definite ways. There are the obvious benefits of having a common interest, with the added element of it being an active, physical sport as well as a cerebral interest. Not only do we get to spend time together doing Jiu-jitsu during class, we also think about it, talk about it, and occasionally drill together in our spare time. When I’m having trouble with a particular move, I’ll vent my frustration to Mike and ask if he has any advice or an alternative I could try. It helps just to talk about it, and to be able to bounce your ideas off someone who understands Jiu-jitsu. You can’t ask a friend who doesn’t train what they think an effective passing strategy against someone with a flexible open guard would be, for example. Mike is really good at picking something to focus on every class ahead of time, and he encourages me to do the same. He’ll usually tell me during the twenty minute drive to training what move he wants to work on that day. Mike is definitely a source of Jiu-jitsu knowledge for me, and while it can be a slippery slope, we do our best to motivate each other.
Understanding the obsession
Another plus both to training and to our relationship is that I have a good understanding of my boyfriend’s borderline obsession with Jiu-jitsu and having competed myself, I know (and have great admiration for the way he handles) what he goes through when gearing up for a competition and cutting weight. I’ve heard from Mike as well as from a number of other guys how much strain Jiu-jitsu can put on a relationship when one partner doesn’t train, and doesn’t understand why the other has to spend so much time away from them doing Jiu-jitsu. It’s very hard to describe to someone who doesn’t train how Jiu-jitsu sucks you in, how much you think about it, and how good you feel after a hard training session. Jiu-jitsu is and will always be a huge part of my boyfriend’s life. Luckily, I understand that and share it.
Another positive impact my relationship has on my Jiu-jitsu is the knowledge that there’s someone at training who has my back (not literally…well, sometimes literally). Especially being one of the only girls most classes, it feels good to know that I have a go-to partner, someone there who doesn’t mind rolling light with me, and who is looking out for me (and who people know they will be pissing off if they hurt me). I learned early on to avoid big new white belts; if I’m wondering if someone is safe to roll with, I usually ask Mike and he’ll tell me if someone is technical and controlled or if they’re a total spaz. Even better, I know he wants me to succeed and is personally invested in helping me improve my Jiu-jitsu.
Plus! Both of us have a free dummy at home to try weird new chokes on and practice berimbolos. Neither of us really take advantage of this as much as we could, but Mike will sometimes ask to try weird stuff on me that he sees on youtube, and occasionally I’ll ask him to show me things or help me with moves I’ve been having trouble with. We also have common friends we’ve made through training Jiu-jitsu, which makes hanging out with Jiu-jitsu people and watching UFC that much more enjoyable. And then of course, there’s the sex question. Does Jiu-jitsu make sex better? Yes. But that’s a different post.
Cons of training with a boyfriend
When I first started doing Jiu-jitsu, I was completely crazy in love with it. I think most people are like that. I would train seven days a week if I could, and because the summer recreation class I was taking at UCLA only met a few times a week, I quickly signed up at a Jiu-jitsu gym near my house to train on the other days. By the end of the summer I had fractured a rib, but I still wanted to train. I finally went to the doctor when I could barely get out of bed and found myself hip-escaping down the hall to determine how much pain I was in and then comparing it to my desire to go to training that night. When the doctor showed me my x-rays and told me I couldn’t train until it healed because I might puncture a lung, I cried. A lot. Fast-forward through my junior year studying abroad in Ireland and Australia, and I’m back for the start of my senior year of college in upstate New York, where I don’t have a car. Via the marvel of convenience that is the internet, I found someone who trained at a Jiu-jitsu gym near my school and who also happened to work at the alumnae/i department of my college as well. He became my ride to training after class every day, and a few months later, he became my boyfriend.
One big downside to training Jiu-jitsu with my boyfriend is that I’m definitely seen less as a distinct individual at the gym and more as….Mike’s girlfriend. A guy I frequently train with and talk to after training joked that he didn’t know my name. I’m sure he had no idea how much that pissed me off. I know there are girls that start training Jiu-jitsu because their boyfriends do, and a lot of people assume that I’m one of them. I’m not. But I don’t think the reason you start doing Jiu-jitsu determines how dedicated you are or how hard you train, regardless. Hey, I didn’t even know what Jiu-jitsu was when I signed up for my first class. Boyfriend or not, for whatever reason, some guys just assume the girls they train with are less serious about Jiu-jitsu than they are. My experience is that training with a boyfriend exacerbates that misconception.
Logistics, compromise, and losing motivation
Logistics are another disadvantage of training with a boyfriend. Out of necessity, it has become a mutual decision about whether we go to training on a particular day or not. During the week when we’re only home together for a few hours in the evening and at night, time together is precious. So of course, we try to train when we both want to train and take days off when we both need a day off. More often than not, one of us ends up compromising. If one of us really wants to train but the other feels ambivalent about it, usually we will both go to training. If one of us really needs a day off but the other wants to train, we’ll both usually take off. More often than not, it’s me agreeing to train on a particular day when I feel ambivalent about it. Which means that a lot of the time when I’m at training, I don’t particularly want to be there. I’m just there because Mike wanted to train. As he does most days. More and more it seems like he’s the one that wants to train, and the more I go on my ambivalent days, the more I lose touch with the feeling of wanting to train for myself. I usually end up training hard when I’m there anyways, but sometimes it can be really difficult to remember that sometimes I do want to train, and that once upon a time I actually enjoyed it.
Suggestions for training with a boyfriend
For those of you who train and are wondering if it’s a good idea to invite your significant other to train with you, you know what? It probably is. I’m glad I train, I’m glad my boyfriend trains, and it’s definitely been a positive thing for our relationship. We’re now engaged, so clearly it isn’t all bad. We still train together; at the moment, the positives for our relationship outweigh the negatives for our training. We’ve talked about training at different gyms or at different times, and I’ve thought about quitting Jiu-jitsu altogether, but none of those options have really seemed viable for us. Just be aware that whatever the issues/downside/things that sometimes stress you out in your particular relationship may be, those are going to show up in training. If Jiu-jitsu was your break from all that, your time to do something just for you, then say goodbye to your you-time. It won’t just be your thing anymore. And in the end, that may weigh out as a good thing for you, your partner, and your Jiu-jitsu, or it may not.