Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jiu Jitsu Therapy

Recently I rolled with one of my favorite training partners (FTP). I love rolling with him because whenever we finish, he compliments me and then points out part of my game that I could work on. Usually he gives a small piece of constructive criticism that might change my game completely. He is a natural teacher, and he rolls with people with an eye to improve their game. How nice of him!

We had a great session and it was only the ticking of the clock and the fear of  Husband's "Where the hell were you, you were supposed to be home a half hour ago," that pulled me off the mat. When we finished, FTP made one of those observations that, well, seem more like therapy than jiu jitsu.

I don't know if anyone else experiences this. But sometimes where I need to go to improve my jiu jitsu game isn't about jiu jitsu at all, but more about my own mental state. Its more about those bad habits that I have to change. More about the comfortable places I retreat to no matter how much I know they aren't working for me. It's about letting go of things that feel so right but are actually not in my favor. It's like therapy.

Sometimes critique isn't like that at all. Sometimes critique is more, "Holy cow! I never saw that before! That's a total game changer. How do I incorporate that into my repertoire?"

But the real, deep observations make me feel like I am talking to a mental health professional. "Yes, I know I shouldn't do that, " I say. "But I can't help myself. I don't know how to stop."
Sometimes when I explore the critique, I realize it is rooted not only in bad jiu jitsu habits, but also in some personal tendency that I have in real life. For example, why do I always stay in guard and not try to escape? Is it because I would rather react to someone in real life than take charge and lead? Because I am more of an introvert? Because I feel that to successfully defend a challenge is better than to make a challenge and have it defeated?

This when jiu jitsu for me becomes very personal, a spiritual journey if you will. One that is best taken with kind, generous, and gentle training partners who are willing to talk, not just about moves and youtube videos, but also about intent and motivation, growth and challenge, success and failure, and all those other things that make jiu jitsu more than just exercise or a sport. Or, we could just smash our way through our day-to-day drills and open mats. But then we miss the real power of jiu jitsu, the one that bring us face to face with who we really are and asks us to decide whether we want to be the same, or whether we want to change, with the help and support of all our FTPs.


  1. Good post; your specific example about staying in guard and what that might mean helps crystallize the concept of how BJJ reflects our personalities. I had been vaguely aware of this but you clarified it with your example. Only after recognizing what our BJJ says about us can we then use BJJ to change those aspects of ourselves we might like to change...

    Jim Caruso

    1. It's weird, isn't it? I've never encountered any other sport that has so much . . . depth . . . to it. I've been a runner for most of my life and running long distances has made me healthier and fitter and taught me about patience and determination. But jiu jitsu seems to open up one's soul, if you let it! Thanks for reading.


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