I went to teach English in Japan after university, and the first week in country was an orientation week. (Haha, see what I did there!? Tip your waitress.) Seriously though, it was spent at the company house with all the other new teachers and we got brought up to speed on the ins and outs of teaching, the curriculum, etc. But primarily, it was an orientation about living in Japan. They went over things that were daily logistics (bank accounts, phones, etc.), things we’d have to deal with that may seem odd, cultural difference we should abide by (Americans found the no-shoes-inside bit novel/weird, Canadians… did not). Anywho, the one point of discussion that sticks out to me all these years later is the “trough”.
Basically, the trough is that period where all the novelty and excitement has worn off and you start to notice all the little challenges and difference about your daily life. And that’s when you start to feel enormously homesick. What was once new and interesting becomes overbearing, awkward and frustrating. Stoic Japanese personalities become frustratingly enigmatic and hard to read. The energy and buzz of one of the world’s mega-cities becomes a raging, endless sea of humanity that feels like it’s drowning you. The cute little apartment (mine was 350 sq/ft) with cute little toy-like appliances starts to feel like prison. Put another way, the trough is the transition period between the initial excitement of beginning a journey and settling in to finish out the journey.
Our instructors warned us of this phenomenon, and relayed that based on their own HR stats of foreign teachers they’ve hired, most new foreign teachers quit and go home at about the 2 to 3 month mark. Basically, you just get overwhelmed with all the new stimuli you have to deal with on a daily basis. I think everyone’s reaction when you hear of this is “makes sense, but won’t happen to me” and then adding some reasoning why it won’t. It happened to me (the trough, not the leaving for home bit) even though I thought it wouldn’t. I think the key piece to making it through the trough is trying to keep in mind that this new “low” you’re feeling is just feels low relative to the high you felt in the early days/weeks/months.
At this point I’ll segue into my BJJ class… which was tough. Tough, because I sucked. At first I thought of a number of reasons (read: excuses); tired, not a great sleep, not a great lunch, moon phase. But it was really a mental thing. There are a few guys (including our professor) competing this weekend, so this week’s classes are aimed at being a little lighter. In this class, we actually just rolled for the entire time. Since there was no warm-up the instruction was to start light and flow from position to position, gradually going a little harder as we warmed up. As he was explaining the purpose he spent time detailing how this is actually pretty difficult, as it’s a natural reaction to, say, try to stop someone from passing your guard rather than to let it happen and flow from one position to the next.
I’m not going to dwell on the details, but I basically choked (figuratively, as well as literally later on). For whatever reason, the first thought that entered my mind at the start of class was “uh oh, I don’t know any techniques, so how can I flow roll?”, and that basically was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had a near-total mental block about this. I just couldn’t remember anything and felt really awkward. It was all very cooperative, like a grappling dance, but I was that partner that couldn’t remember any of the steps and couldn’t find the rhythm.
At some point, we switched to tag rolling (I think that’s what it was called) where the odd-man out would stroll over to another roll and just grab one of the guys, essentially “cutting in” on their roll. Then the new odd-man out would follow suit with another pair. This was just more of the same for me. I was even more conscious of not knowing what I was doing, which in turn, made me more awkward and out of sync. On top of my frustration with myself, I was frustrated about how frustrating & awkward I must be to roll with.
To try to wrap this melodramatic little babble up and tie the two stories together, I’m (likely) not actually getting worse at BJJ, it just feels like it relative to the initial burst of growth upon starting. I imagine the trough phenomenon to be pretty universal in any journey, and it’s important to try to maintain some perspective about the path you’ve undertaken. This time it caught me off guard (again) and I think this is a normal process. That’s not to belittle the feeling of the trough, as I’ve been through it a few times in my life so far and probably will again. Even though I’m conscious of it, it’s still really deflating. Soon enough the up-swing will come and I can get back to enjoying getting beat up every class without the existential crisis.