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How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Saved My Life

bjj saved my life

This is going to sound extremely cliché, but here it goes.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu saved my life.

As a person who has dealt with many traumas throughout life that have led to other problems like depression, anxiety and PTSD, I can tell you that those few hours I spend on the mat each week does wonders for me for a multitude of reasons.

We’ve all heard the main ones: Hard work, Discipline, etc. . . but I feel that it goes so much deeper than that.

To me, that is where the magic of BJJ lies.

To heck with belts, gold medals, etc.

The mental aspect of BJJ is more important than any of it.

The attitude fixer

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu develops a never quit attitude that is translated to many other, if not all other, aspects of life. How many times have we all been in side control of a higher belt or bigger opponent and thought to ourselves “I’m getting out of this!” Whether the escape happens or not is immaterial. What matters is the thought.

What also matters is the never quit attitude. As long as that attitude is present, that escape will manifest itself, and there is no sweeter feeling. This is applicable in so many ways in our day to day: A coworker gets on your nerves. You say to yourself “I’m not going to let this bother me!” Of course it bothers you, but after enough times of repping this technique, you will get it down and it will no longer bother you. Just like BJJ. Get the reps in and the rest will become second nature. Buckle down and do it. Because that is what we’re taught day in and day out on the mat.

“There is no losing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. . . You win or you learn”

Failure becomes okay

We’ve all heard this quote. It’s okay to fail. Failure is essentially what breeds success. Nobody stepped into the gym on their first day and starting submitting Black Belts. And anybody that tells you that they have will not stay in the sport very much longer. Trial and error. . . then success.

For the longest time I could not finish a triangle. I’d lock it up, pull the head, raise the stomach. . . nothing. With the help of my instructor, we tweaked my personal technique and although it’s not my go to, I am confident in it. Without that constant failing it would not have driven me to figure out what will work for me personally, and I would still be doing something ineffectively.

Decision making becomes easier

I have yet to meet a BJJ practitioner that has trouble making a decision. That is what we do. We quickly look for the best course of action, and decisively take that route. There is not much second guessing going on in our lives. We set ourselves on a course and see it through. If something goes wrong, we adapt and keep moving.

Armbar doesn’t work? Triangle. How many of us only know one guard pass? We have our favorite, money pass. Chances are that is where we are going. But our training partner knows how to defend it from seeing it every day. Heck, they probably know our next three in order. So we adapt. We figure something out that will work because that is what we are trained to do. Very rarely does something go as planned. That does not mean that particular thing should be abandoned. You adapt. Make it yours.

Making friends becomes natural

Many youngsters get into sports like this to learn self defense, and some may even be getting bullied or picked on. BJJ develops amazing social skills in our younger athletes without very much effort. Number one is communication. Submitting is a very important part of BJJ. Tap early and often to avoid injuries. You communicate this submission to your opponent by either tapping or saying tap tap tap . . . Boom. One of the most important skills a person can learn at a young age is to communicate their needs clearly and properly. This translates to us older folk too. Hurt shoulder? “Hey man, watch my shoulder”

How often do we make new friends at competitions? I cannot remember the last time I came away from a competition without at least one new FB friend. Pictures, staying in touch, it’s all part of this lifestyle. BJJ is, in fact, a jerk filter (some paraphrasing from the one and only Eddie Bravo).

Respect is grown

Respect and love is another important lesson taught through BJJ. Handslap, fistbump, try to choke each other, followed by a hand raise and a hug. There is no sport that develops this particular quality in our society better than BJJ. We are warriors, but we are also partners going down the same path. Some may be further along, but we all remember what it was to be a new white belt and not know anybody. That is why we take new guys under our wing. Show them the same patience that was shown us.

This is essential in the development of confidence and abolishment of ego in new students. If I get my butt kicked by a purple belt on my first day, am I going to come back? Probably not. There is the flip side however, where a 6’4 300lbs newbie needs to realize that he knows nothing, and will get submitted by the skinny twenty two year old who’s been doing this for 6 years. There have been many times where I’ve had to tell some newbie to slow down and trust the technique. It’s our job as more experienced practitioners to pass these “unwritten rules” along.

Positive reinforcement is everywhere

I can think of no other part of my life where I can get tangible, real, positive reinforcement for all the work I have put in that equals BJJ. And I’m not talking about gold medals, beating guys, etc. I’m talking about a nod from an upper belt, or hitting that sweep you’ve been working on for months. Hearing someone say “I actually have to try against you now” or just a plain and simple “good job” goes miles in this business. I personally love when a lower belt has a good round against me. Seeing the look of accomplishment mixed with satisfaction mixed with confidence is such a wonderful thing. And that translates into just a little more swagger on the mat. Which is important.

Family is everything

My team is my family. They have been for years. I have never not felt welcome or like an outsider. Sure, I’ve been upset at my teammates and they’ve been upset at me, but we talk about it and move on like a regular family. There is no better bond or better way to get to know someone than to go through this same struggle with them on a regular basis. I have developed closer bonds with my teammates than with friends I have had for twenty years. We see each other at our most vulnerable. We see each other’s frustration and pain and desire and drive. We cover each other in our blood, sweat and tears week in and week out. Not only does that strengthen us mentally and physically, but it strengthens our relationships. I feel closer with my teammates than almost any other relationship I have.

Mental and spiritual refreshment

Finally, and what I personally feel is the most important mental aspect of BJJ is the meditative, spiritual side of it. For those hours, nothing else matters. Problems at work, home, school, nothing. Everything is put on the back burner and the mind is able to reset itself so we can take a fresh stab at those issues tomorrow. The complete erasure of all the BS that has built up since the last training session is more effective than any medication, substance, drug, therapy I have ever experienced. Being able to lose yourself in as many 5 minute rounds as you can before reality has to set back in.

For me, this is the magic. This is where all the other lessons I talked about manifest themselves. The reps and reps and reps become a reality here. They become involuntary. And all that is left is us, in our purest, rawest form. The beauty of the sport is most visible here. Everything is forgotten.

And we wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

Did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Save Your Life?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

About the author: Carlson Gracie Team. Corrections Officer. Love Chicago Bears and pork products. Ultra Heavy.

3 comments… add one
  • “what I personally feel is the most important mental aspect of BJJ is the meditative, spiritual side of it.”
    That is exactly what did it for me as well… as a Zen practitioner, to me this is the most important aspect as well…. to be HERE-NOW… and go beyond ordinary mind. thank you !

  • Mike wall

    I train at stc.MMA in st Charles Missouri.
    I was a lost soul after blowing my contract with the army for a 11x option 40 ( chance at 75th ranger regiment pending completion). 3 days after enlistment i got blackout drunk with some friends and on the way home I robbed a car for +\- $300
    And got picked up by cops two houses from my home(deserveingly) . Lost my contract went through a few years of deep depression contemplating suicide real seriously getting so close as to load my gun and have it at my head. But I always knew I wanted to live and become ever better and would pull through and decide to fight another day.
    Finally after poorly imitating dos santos’ spinning back kick and cracking my heal on a copper water pipe. I knew right then when I thought my foot was broken I want to be properly trained.
    I found stc mma the next day and I felt like I belonged.
    Since starting bjj I have indescribably gratitude towards that gym.
    My goal now is to dedicate at least 4 nights a week and I want to complete the rodrigo vaghi blue belt test by July of 2017. I will also start training as if it’s a real fight. I will fight out of submissions as often as possible and as if tapping is not a option.
    Happy hunting!
    -I respect you!

    • Thank you Mike for the really deep and personal explanation. I’m so glad that you found BJJ and it gave you all of this

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