Why Train Jiu Jitsu?
Why Train Jiu Jitsu? It is a fair question to ask whether you are thinking about starting or have been involved in BJJ for years. It is hard; it takes physical and mental energy. It costs money, and, time. It can be rough on your ego since there is probably no one practicing who hasn’t been beaten. When you do experience defeat in Brazilian jiu jitsu it happens in a more immediate, intimate, and personal dimension than most other experiences. With this in mind what brings people who have families, successful careers, and limited time onto the mats on a regular basis? What makes the young guy who isn’t going to make his rent payment at the end of the month give up all the cash in in wallet for a new gi? Why does such a tough sport attract enough new competitor each year to make it one of the fastest growing sports worldwide?
In order to try to answer this question I have to first come back to my story and look at why I started Jiu Jitsu. I got into jiu jitsu because I realized after finishing my collegiate wrestling career how much I enjoyed wrestling. One thing I enjoyed about wrestling was learning the techniques and testing them out to see if I could really execute them on someone. It is something like the joy some get from video games. It is a fun challenge to see if I can execute the right techniques. Jiu jitsu seemed like a whole new technical world to explore and my learning curve was steep when I began. Everything I saw was something new. Although wrestling is a very technical sport and anyone could spend a lifetime studying it, I believe jiu jitsu presents even more technical possibilities to explore. Jiu jitsu has almost all the positions of wrestling with the addition of submission holds. Add because gi and “no-gi jiu jitsu” have distinct technical modifications and it creates a rich field of possibilities to learn. Some have likened it to the game of chess with more dimensions, or, to an infinite series.
Another reason I started was that, like many people in my generation, I travelled from place to place relatively more often than most people have in the past. Work and a desire to see the world keep me moving often. In jiu jitsu I found a community in each place I moved to. As jiu jitsu continues to grow worldwide I know that anywhere I go I have a group of friends already, before I arrive at a new place.
Learning to fight was another bonus for me. Notice that I don’t use the term “self-defense”. Self-defense is a perfectly legitimate goal and learning to fight certainly can be an asset in a self defense situation. I believe they are two different things. Self defense is about using appropraite force and strategy to save your life or someone else’s in an unexpected violent situation. Fighting is a contest between two or more people (on the street, in a cage, ect). It may not be politically correct, but, I think there is intrinsic value in knowing I can win a physical fight. This makes some people uncomfortable and may be a masculine sentiment. I could write an entire post about this and having this knowledge definitely changes my outlook on the world and other people. I know Jiu jitsu has taught me how to fight because I have fought MMA and been in a couple of fight situations outside of a sport setting. I also know that I possess real skill because of the daily feedback I get when training. Recent studies quoted by noble prize winning author, Dr. Kahneman, in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” , point to the necessity of training our automatic response by repeated immediate feedback, such as live jiu jitsu training gives, is the only way to learn skills. Jiu Jitsu effectively teaches fighting skills. It teaches them in a relatively safe way unlike striking arts where to get the feeback that develops skill you must subject yourself to being hit, which can do damage the body and brain.
What has keep me going in jiu jitsu? An interesting thing about jiu jitsu (and any form of grappling) is that you have immediate and real feedback if your work has paid off. Many efforts in life produce results that are ambiguous. For example, working at my job or other jobs in the past, I understand that doing the job a certain way is good and having certain habits like promptness are necessary. I don’t get immediate feedback though at to whether doing A works versus doing B. In jiu jitsu you get that feedback. If you execute a sweep it means that you had the correct grips and timing, for example. You know this immediately even on a subconscious or, to use Kahneman’s terminology, “system one” level. This quick feedback, telling me that my that effort produces results has had a very positive impact on how I live my life and how I feel about the world. It constantly SHOWS ME that I can affect my outcomes. I’ve not found any other education method, mental or physical that reinforce this idea like jiu jitsu. Unlike often times in school/academia and even non-contact martial arts, my understanding of my progress doesn’t rely on external approval from a teacher. I believe this personal experience makes it more powerful as a self development method.
The lessons that jiu jitsu teaches are very unequivocal. There are no teammate to blame mistakes on. If someone beats you it is on you alone. If I drank too much beer and am feeling exhausted as a consequence, a jiu jitsu training session will bring that to my attention like nothing else. Joe Rogan, UFC commentator, says: “I think in life we can distort our perception of things in order to make ourselves more comfortable, in order to make ourselves accept where we are, and there are alot of people that are running around full of shit. When you do jiu jitsu it is impossible to be full of shit because reality comes at you in the purest form possible.” Mr. Rogan makes an important point; that is, it is very easy to trick yourself. Scientific research by behavior psychologists, decision theorists, and economists have proven this. In order to grow I have to have see my limitations and then push my comfort zones. Jiu jitsu is a tool to do this. Another lesson I believe jiu jitsu teaches is how to tolerate discomfort and endure uncertainty. It is not a coincidence that Renzo Gracie’s motto is ‘through endurance we will conquer.’ When you begin a live jiu jitsu training session or competition you don’t know how it will develop. If you are caught in side control and you can’t breath because your training partners weight is pressing your lungs, the patience to wait for him to move out out of position so you can escape. It is one thing to understand that you need endurance and perseverance but quite another to PRACTICE it. The great Samurai and philosopher Musahsi ended every section of his “Book of Five Rings” with the statement: “you must practice every day.” Knowledge doesn’t become vital and useful until it is practiced.
Another reason I practice brazilian jiu jitsu is for the health benefits. I love the way my body feels because of the training. After a hard training session what some call runners high sets in. Because jiu jitsu develops flexibility and balance through movement it makes me feel good just moving around when I’m not in class. Jiu jitsu gives me an extra incentive to diet correctly (I know I feel better in training when I eat correctly). It gives me functional strength. It cleanses my body through sweat (think soaking wet gi). It develops awareness. Once I was mountain biking and crashed. I broke just about everything in my pack and my camera I was carrying but roll through the crash and was fine. Jiu jitsu is the most efficient way to get all my fitness bases covered including strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular and lung health, cleansing, and coordination. In order to get these benefits form other activities I would have to do yoga, lift weights, surf, kettlebells, rock climb, run, and sauna for example. I like and do many of these activities because of their own merits, and, they can supplement jiu jitsu. They aren’t as efficient a way to get fit if you are pressed for time. Brazilian jiu jitsu is less hard on the body than other grappling arts such as judo, wrestling, and sambo. This is because there are less high amplitude throws and, in general movements are smaller and less athletically inclined.
Those are the main reason’s I do jiu jitsu. I’m sure there are others, some good and some not as positive. Recently one of my main jiu jitsu teachers Rolles Gracie said to a group of Renzo Gracie Association school owner (my paraphrase); “What if someone offered you $10,000 for your black belt, but not just the belt, all the experiences, friends, fun, and other benefits that you had along the way, would you do it?” Everyone emphatically said no, some aloud and some to themselves. Rolles then said: “I wouldn’t sell mine for one million dollars, or, ten million, not any amount.” I believe most things/people have a price (an uncomfortable thought) but I found myself thinking I agreed with Rolles and felt the same way. If you train jiu jitsu, stop and think about why you do it. If you have not tried it you at least owe it to yourself to look into starting and giving it a try.