From Strength to Struggles: How to Keep Going

This is a picture of triumph. Standing atop a podium is satisfying. It is a just acknowledgement of the work it took to get there. And it all makes sense when you get to call yourself the champion.

It is also a picture of pain.

It was from a routine, dominant position in the final that I’d heard a long, audible tear in my right shoulder. 

Under the influence of the natural narcotic, I hadn’t felt a thing. Slowly, but surely, the adrenaline wore off, I realised that this was one of those injuries that wouldn’t go away. 

The MRI report justified the fears. In that one very swift moment of force, I’d managed to totally destroy my shoulder to shreds.

That tearing sensation I had heard was precious, shock absorbing cartilage peeling off my bones.

 The surgeon gave no choice. Surgery was the only option. My first question was typical. ‘How long will I be out of training for?’ 'You’ll never train jiu jitsu again.’ He said, as a matter of fact.  He advised me to leave my job and find a new one. Laborious work was no longer an option while carrying this shoulder. Lift weights? Forget about that too. 

I smiled politely, and thanked him for his advice. The operation was swiftly pencilled in, and off I went to contemplate what 6 months of rehab, no jiu jitsu, and a lifelong bummy shoulder would be like.

I left the centre, and I laughed. Then I got mad. Then I wept. Then I swore. Then I laughed again.

 The surgery came and went.

A shoulder immobiliser ensured I lost any chance to move my right side, and so jiu jitsu was out of the question. I went to the gym and tried to back squat using one arm.  I even attempted hill sprints for the cardio.

It all hurt. It all sucked. I felt helpless, and I hated it. I reminisced those good old’ days when I had two healthy shoulders. I longed for that freedom to do as I pleased. Instead I was left to sit still, with one arm, and ponder what could have been.


It’s now been four years since the surgery. The journey has continued. It was always going to. Only now it’s just pivoted. Both by necessity, and by nature.

 Bruce Lee says to be like water. Conor McGregor says you must ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome’. Whatever. Change is happening. Sometimes you like it, and sometimes you don’t.

Strength is said to come through struggle. Strength also comes through structure. And leverage. And the awareness to know when to move forward and when to bend, twist, pull, push, stick, and move. 

Einstein told us that “the only source of knowledge is experience”.

I’ve learned, through experience, that quality trumps willpower.

Efficient movement isn’t easy. It requires a willingness to slow down, the readiness to listen, and the ability to constantly refine.

Precise jiu jitsu is a lifetime of study. The path of least resistance is no longer a choice, but a necessity. My shoulder demands it.

Now I’m all ears when The Professor Pedro Sauer talks passionately about mechanics, finesse, and the playful rolls.  

This is jiu jitsu, and it’s for a lifetime. Thank you Steve Maxwell.

Just like these legends, I also want to play the long game. Rally, not race. And so, as a coach, I listen. And I hear that sustainable training isn’t just advisable. It’s essential.

 Winning is fun. Medals along the way are great. And when all is said and done, it is the freedom of movement, the subtleties of the art, and the joy of the process that hooks me most.     

Amongst the many highs and lows of this winding road, I remember that I am forever lucky for the ability to don my gi, and tie my belt. I am honoured to step on the mats and bow in to each class amongst a tribe of fellow comrades.

And I am privileged to keep working, in search of Higher Jiu Jitsu, on the path to quality of life.