You might be surprised to learn that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) can be meditative in many ways.
By definition alone, it seems farfetched to think that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can provide some of the same benefits that come from “formal” meditation, but it’s entirely possible that the many thousands of students who are practicing BJJ often are enjoying the benefits of meditation without even realising it.
Students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu frequently report feeling a deeper understanding of their body, mind, and spirit by simply training and practicing the martial art. Furthermore, BJJ helps to identify physical and mental strengths, limitations, opportunities and also enables an improved state of peacefulness.
If any of this sounds unbelievable, one just needs to study the reasons why the renowned Gracie family was attracted to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the first place. Overwhelmed by the intensely positive feeling that is gained by practicing BJJ, the Gracies developed a system of BJJ that has grown into a widely popular martial art today. Today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not just an extremely useful and highly-effective martial art in self-defence situations, it is also used in high-level sporting competitions such as mixed martial arts and competitive BJJ tournaments around the world.
Essentially, those who are practicing BJJ are improving, healing, and adapting their minds while also learning world-class self-defence strategy, techniques, and mindset.
We believe that BJJ is not just an effective and enjoyable martial art but also a brilliant way to practice mental awareness.
Drawing From The East
Martial arts is perceived differently by people around the world.
To some, martial arts is the toe-to-toe competition between high-level mixed martial artists in promotions such as the UFC. And to others, martial arts leads to thinking of traditional martial arts that first originated in Eastern culture. Although both of these concepts are true to the term of martial arts, there are significant differences between the two.
Arguably the most noticeable difference is the tremendous respect and values that were established in the Eastern version of martial arts and have continued to be the main focus to this day. Rather than simply resorting to “fighting”, martial arts in the East also considers the mind to be treated equally to the body.
One particular mental state that students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu may have experienced is “Mushin”. Mushin is a pillar of Zen Buddhist tradition and literally translates to “mind without mind.” This doesn’t glorify an ‘empty’ mind, but rather one that is completely aware and present.
Mushin is a mental state that seasoned practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might enter frequently. Described as “no-mindedness”, Mushin mind sees martial artists engage in combat free of thoughts and emotions – removed from emotions such as fear, anger, and ego. While in combat, these martial artists will not be actively thinking about their next move, but flowing and relying on their natural instincts and reactions.
In a way, you have separated yourself from your mind.
And if you have separated yourself from your mind, you are now free of all of the emotions that existed once you walked in the door. Now, for a brief moment, you will have forgotten all of the problems and challenges that exist outside the gym doors.
Is this why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is so addicting to many students?
Is it possible that we have all been meditating during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practice without ever knowing?
Perhaps the joy that we experience from releasing ourselves from our daily troubles and challenges is the reason why we keep coming back to training.
Not Just Physical Benefits
There are countless reasons why people from all over the world are flocking to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools on a daily basis. First and foremost, the self-defence aspect of learning this martial art is above all other reasons. The ability to defend yourself or others in a critical scenario leads to improved confidence and an ability to calmly diffuse a troubling situation.
This doesn’t mean you need to resort to physical violence to manage conflict, though. By simply knowing that you can handle yourself in a time of potential danger, a person can manage the conflict without ever needing to use the skills or techniques that they have learned from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
However, unexpected conflict is unexpected for a reason – and it’s very difficult to manage. If it comes down to it, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student will be able to apply his realistic martial arts techniques to manage the situation by controlling the attacker and negating potential damage.
So, of course, the ability to defend yourself is always going to be a primary reason why many start learning BJJ.
However, we often forget that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu provides major psychological benefits that are arguably even more important than the physical benefits. These benefits are not just realised in a time of self-defence, but they can lead to major benefits in the workplace and in relationships.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu almost immediately produces positive psychological benefits for every student. The release of endorphins and dopamine is responsible for improved overall mental well-being. In particular, this release can boost motivation and energy, and increase cognitive function.
As students complete their training with a session of sparring (rolling), there is a feeling of connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Suddenly, the mind is able to think clearly and there is a level of focus that was not there previously.
So, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helps to develop and free our minds while we are practicing on the mats, the positive effects are often realised during the time we are not inside the BJJ gym.
As the Eastern version of martial arts realised many, many years ago, there is much more to martial arts than just the combat. It’s important that we don’t forget that the mind is equal to the body and we are adequately training our minds and bodies at the same time whenever we are practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
This article, “The Surprising Psychological And Meditative Benefits Of BJJ”, originally appeared on Evolve MMA, Asia’s No. 1 martial arts organisation.