About the author: Sam Joseph is a 2nd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atalanta.
Brazilian jiu jitsu has greatly enriched my life and the lives of many of my friends and students. That said, I often find myself in conversations with non-BJJers who are thinking about trying something out that will give them the same sort of satisfaction and fulfillment I enjoy. Sometimes they ask me why I started, or the more direct question of why someone else should give BJJ a try.
Here are a couple of things that I love most about the sport and culture that also double as reasons why I believe BJJ would be a GREAT sport for anyone to give a look!
We never have to stop
BJJ is something that we can enjoy today and for the rest of our lives. The technical nature of it, even as a combat sport, means that we can make adjustments to our rolling styles and level of intensity as we train and continue to train at a very high level. A popular recent video making the rounds shows the 50 year old GFT team head coach, Julio Cesar, sparring with a 20-year old student who happens to be a nogi mundial and Pan Am champion. The beauty of this is that it illustrates how age does not rob us of the many benefits that BJJ has to offer.
Megaton Dias is another wonderful example of this as he continues to be one of the most active competitors in the IBJJF circuit. Megaton is also 50 years old and has been competing for over twenty years. He is an inspiration to a couple of BJJ generations showing all that BJJ is its own version of the fountain of youth!
We can share BJJ with our families
Megaton’s daughter is Mackenzie Dern – a world-class black belt competitor in her own right. Mackenzie often talks about how she “grew up” around the mat and in the sport. Her life and relationship with Megaton show that BJJ can be a “family affair”. Bearing witness to her development over the years in tournaments and watching her now at the pinnacle of the sport and knowing that she and her father have been able to share BJJ over the years is inspiring to anyone who shares the mat with family.
Former UFC champion, Benson Henderson, is not only a BJJ black belt and active competitor, but his wife and mother also train regularly. His wife, Maria, is a nogi purple belt world champion showing that high-level grappling runs in the family. In the busy world that we live in, being able to enjoy training and share it with our loved ones allows us to maximise our already limited time and can bring even more joy to our lives.
We meet great people
The BJJ mat is a melting pot. You find all kinds of people with diverse backgrounds culturally, ethnically and socio-economically. What is neat about the mat is that it often shows us what we have in common rather than how we are different. Whatever our goals when we first step on the mat, it is VERY difficult to consistently step on the mat without putting aside some ego and being open to learning. That subversion of ego and common quest for improvement and knowledge is a tremendous starting point and breeding ground for long-lasting friendships between practitioners.
On the mat, we also must show TRUST in each other constantly. When we tap, we trust our partners to let go of the submission. When we spar with higher-level practitioners, we have to believe that they are not there to hurt us but to train and even to help us grow in the sport. The free exchange of trust is another very powerful stimulant when talking about developing friendships.
Training BJJ introduces us to people who are actively putting their egos aside to improve and engaging in acts of trust. It also brings out and magnifies those characteristics in us as we spend more time on the mat.
We learn to control ourselves
As we participate in the process of getting better in BJJ, we learn to control ourselves both emotionally and physically. Training and putting aside our egos trains us to hone our emotional control when we have a goal in mind. The more we do it well the better we get at it and the easier it is to do. In that way, BJJ helps us develop emotional control and clears the path for us to advance our jiu jitsu.
People commonly accept that mat time also improves our physical skills and control. We develop greater kinesthetic sense, strength, and flexibility, as well as make cardiovascular gains. BJJ is like chess, as it exercises us mentally and physically. There are constantly changing variables, so even regular training partners can present different problems that have to be solved in sparring.
We learn to control others!
There is a long running “sport vs. self-defense” BJJ debate. Whichever side you are on, what cannot be denied is that practicing BJJ regularly gives us the skills to physically control bigger, stronger opponents. I remember the first time I “rolled around/wrestled” with non-BJJers after I had started my formal training. I had been training for about 2 months and was asked to spar by some friends who were strikers. When I took them down, I was shocked at how much of an advantage I had, especially since I was still getting regularly smashed in my BJJ classes by almost all the white belts. It was a real eye-opener for me in regards to the value of the skills I was just beginning to learn.
When looking at BJJ as a form of self-defense, people often make the mistake of thinking that the average person is training like a modern, world-class mixed martial artist. The fact of the matter is that most hand to hand “street fights” look a lot more like the early days of “style vs style” mixed martial arts and very basic BJJ gives us a HUGE advantage. When asked about BJJ and self-defense, I almost always just direct people to the first few editions of the UFC (where an average looking Royce Gracie dominated) and to YouTube to look up “BJJ vs…”. The opportunity to learn how to control a struggling opponent, combined with regular chances putting that methodology into practice, are great reasons to give BJJ a try.
Also underestimated when considering “BJJ for self-defense” is the ability to avoid conflict altogether via the self-assuredness and confidence that BJJ gives us. As a combat sport, every class usually ends with sparring of some kind. That constant “proving of the techniques” and practice vs. live opposition takes away a lot of the need to “prove” how tough we are by fighting in the streets against what is most often an unskilled person. It is self-defense by not even participating in the petty altercations that often result in fights in bars, social events, etc.
Again, these are just a few reasons why I think Brazilian jiu jitsu is worthwhile for anyone to give a try. There is a multitude of other ways in which BJJ can improve quality of life and, as anyone who trains can attest to, some of the benefits of BJJ have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. That said, I hope to see many of you on the mat with some new friends soon!
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