Mental Health Benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)?
In brief, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a ground fighting combat sport which was created back in the 1920s by the Gracie family when it combined Judo, from Mitsuyo Maeda and traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ focuses on the skill of taking an opponent to the ground, controlling one's opponent, gaining a dominant position, and using a number of techniques to force them into submission via joint locks or chokeholds.
BJJ became popular back in UFC 1 when Royce Gracie dominated all his larger opponents and untrained grapplers. Today, it is one of the most popular combat sports in the world.
Anyone can train BJJ, but to be an exceptional athlete, you need almost perfect technique, lots of coordination, and have notable strength and condition.
The Benefits of BJJ
If you do a Google search, you’ll find lists of common benefits of BJJ. Most of them will have these:
improved mental health
Better flexibility and range of motion
Improved problem-solving skills
Joining a community
For the purpose of this article, we will only discuss how BJJ helps with mental health and problem solving.
There is a bottom line to BJJ, it is not easy, everything in your mind and body will tell you to stop. But at the same time, once that short lived moment of pure struggle is over, you push on and you keep going. Single moments of what your body considers fight or flight cause the brain to release dopamine chemicals which makes you want to do it all over again. That constant struggle will make you want to improve, no matter if that only means gaining an inch of space every time you grapple.
All this occurs in what BJJ grapplers call rolling. It’s a block of time during or after a regular class that lasts anywhere from 4 minutes to 10 minutes per round, or sometimes even more. Every gym is different but the block of time goes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, endurance is key.
By now, you're probably asking how does all this help with mental health? Remember that dopamine effect? That chemical reaction that occurs in your brain causes a slight addiction to grappling, but it’s weird to what happens. 90% of people who come back after that first day want to know how not to get beaten again. That “want to know” creates a problem solving aspect to BJJ. It’s not about how you can choke a person out, it’s more about how one creates a particular set of movements that are set in motion from the very beginning of a match, which in turn lead to victory or defeat. The grappler's brain is in a constant battle, like a mind game within the self, while at the same time grappling his or her opponent. It’s a mental chess game with the possibility of a potential dire consequence. Most matches are lost more due to an internal mental struggle rather than a physical defeat.
While at the same time, other grapplers engage in a match free of thoughts and emotions. During their match, these grapplers react to their opponents movements without thinking about their next move, they rely on their natural instincts in what is called a flow state.
Grapplers disconnect themselves from their mind. They are free of all of the emotions that existed before they walked through the gym's door. While in that match, for those few seconds in time, those grapplers will have forgotten all of the problems and challenges that exist outside the gym doors.
The majority of people who practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu find inner peace and calmness in what non practitioners would consider violence.
It is almost a 100% guarantee that BJJ reduces the risk of depression and stress, and makes us happier and more optimistic in regular life.
My name is Leonardo Crespo, purple belt BJJ practitioner. It is hard to find a proper way to express in written words how BJJ is good for mental health, so this could be an introduction to a series of articles on the benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I may include short instructional videos and other media as well. You can direct message me via our Facebook or contact form if you have any specific questions about the mental health benefits of BJJ.