Feel Hooked: How To Handle Getting Emotional During Training

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As much as we may wish they were easier to suppress, our raw emotions sometimes make an appearance during competition or everyday training in jiu-jitsu. Everyone expresses them differently, and while some people manage to contain what they’re going through, others might have a sudden, possibly inexplicable urge to cry.

Look, no one wants to be That Person who cries on the mats. It’s a combat sport, right? We’re supposed to be Tough Alpha People who post wolf memes to express our dominance as apex predators and eat pain for breakfast without milk.

But, you know, we’re only human.

I’ve seen plenty of my own teammates and friends get teary on the mats. Heck, I’ve been That Person a few times myself. Sometimes it happens out of frustration, sometimes it’s exhaustion, sometimes you get submitted and it’s just the last straw after a terrible week at work and at home. It’s even less surprising when it happens in competition. We see tears of joy spilling from the eyes of victorious athletes all the time, but hearing a less fortunate competitor sniffling in the bathroom after a hard-fought loss or career-stalling injury isn’t uncommon either.

Jiu-jitsu attracts plenty of macho people who still hold onto the idea that “There’s no crying in pajama wrestling” (A League of Their Own, 1992), but there are plenty of other people who prefer not to burst a blood vessel holding back tears over the fact that they’ve had three hours of sleep and are getting smashed by everyone they roll with. And really, it’s fine. We’re all human. We all have bad days, and even the toughest teammates in the gym have moments where life and jiu-jitsu just get too heavy.

If you feel yourself getting a lump in your throat during training, just excuse yourself to the bathroom and get rid of it however you see fit. Some people just need a few minutes to take some deep breaths and let it pass, while others may need a five-minute sob session before splashing cold water on their face and returning to the mats. If you have a great team, they’ll get it. In fact, they’ve probably been in your position before, or if they aren’t the crying type, they can at least understand the emotional overload that led you to it.

If you feel yourself getting emotional during training on a regular basis, it may be time to ask yourself some harder questions. Are you happy at your gym? Do you need to take less on at work? Do you need to hire a sitter so you can have a night off from taking care of your kids? Jiu-jitsu can leave us so mentally and physically exhausted that there may not be a lot of energy left to contain our feelings, and habitually breaking down at the academy may be a symptom of a larger life problem.

Above all, remember that no matter how much you want to be an emotionless machine of destruction, you’re still just a meat-covered skeleton with a very complicated brain. As long as you’re not hurting anyone or causing repeated unnecessary disruptions in class, there’s no shame in needing to “let it out” if your emotions get the better of you. Best of all, you can get free (aggressive) hugs to make you feel better once you’re ready for them.


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