Trial Lessons

Rocks, Gravel, Sand, Water

Ryan Young of Kama Jiu-Jitsu often gets asked if competing is necessary. Obviously, it depends, but he recently responded to a question from someone who is a 39-year-old purple belt with a wife, three kids, and a full-time job, who specifically asked about getting back into training later in life. As the guy explains to Ryan in the below video, he’s been training on and off for several years and has not seriously competed in a while, and he’s concerned that getting back into good enough shape to seriously compete could be too time-consuming for someone with so many responsibilities.

In other words: Do you need to choose between competition and family life?

Competing Interests

The simple answer to the above question is no. There are a lot of people who can do both. While Ryan recommends that everyone compete at least once to see if it’s something they enjoy, he will be the first to tell you that jiu-jitsu should never come before family or your job. Jiu-jitsu is important, but it is not that important, and if the choice ever comes down to competition or family life, you should always choose family first. The same is true when it comes to your career. Jiu-jitsu is not as important as making a living and supporting yourself and your family.

“There are other priorities in life ahead of jiu-jitsu,” Ryan says.

These aren’t the only factors affecting how realistic it is to start competing. Two additional ones concern your level of experience and how much conditioning you’ll need to get into fighting shape. If you haven’t been to a jiu-jitsu class at all in several years and rarely hit the gym, it’s going to take way more time to prepare for competition than if you still in occasionally train jiu-jitsu and have remained in good shape even though you haven’t seriously competed in years.

For those who have the support of their family, flexibility with work, and realistic goals, getting into good enough shape to compete really becomes just a question of time management.

Rocks, Gravel, Sand, Water

Imagine there’s an empty gallon jar sitting on a table, and next to the jar are four buckets: one filled with rocks, another with gravel, another with sand, and one with water. How would you go about fitting everything into the gallon jar?

Just like jiu-jitsu, the key to success is efficiency: You want to insert everything in such a way that it does not leave any empty space. To do so, this means putting the biggest things in the jar first. You start with the rocks. This is followed by the gravel, which fills in the space left by the rocks. The space between the rocks and gravel can then be filled in by sand. The water then fills in the microscopic gaps left by the sand.

What’s the Lesson?

The above is a metaphor about successful time management. In this case, the rocks are the things that you absolutely need—like family, sleep, and work. They take up the majority of your day, since you should be getting 8 hours of sleep, you likely need to work for 8 hours each day, and family time usually takes up a sizable chunk of that remaining hours each day. There’s also your commute and the time you need to get ready for work. These are rock-level (or bedrock) priorities.

Gravel-level priorities are the kinds of activities that you and your family need to do to support yourselves. These are things like doctor’s appointments, food shopping, and getting the kids to their extracurricular activities. One could make the case that working out is a gravel-level priority because it keeps you healthy.

For people who have a family, jiu-jitsu should be considered a sand-level priority. If it can fit into your life, that is great, but you should not rearrange your life so that you can train. This can mean finding a few hour-long windows throughout the week where you can go to train, and then calling around to different gyms to see if they have classes at that time. If that doesn’t work, you can find a friend or neighbor who trains jiu-jitsu, buy some mats, and then train in one of your garages whenever you both have time. You may be able to train a little bit nearly every day if you stay flexible and supplement time at the gym with these kinds of garage sessions.

For Ryan, competition is a step that is even lower. It is a water-level priority.

The Bottom Line

Competition is not just a young person’s activity. If you can tend to all the other priorities in your life and have the ability to be flexible when it comes to finding time to get back into fighting shape, you can definitely train to a level where competition becomes a reality. However, if you don’t have that flexibility because of other priorities in your life, don’t try to force competition into it. As Ryan says, “Competing you do when everything else has been done and you’ve earned that time to go compete.”



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