How Does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Help?

The Mental, the Physical, and the Spiritual

The first team photo I was a part of... you can see me on the far left kinda grimacing...

A couple of days ago, I published a blog detailing my struggle with mental health and how BJJ saved me from myself. Now at the time I thought it was more important to focus on getting across the fact, that through training BJJ I was able to help myself and get much better mentally and physically, as well as spiritually to a certain extent. After publishing that blog, I immediately wanted to follow it up but focus more on HOW BJJ helped me, and has helped others. I have gone through my proverbial rolodex of the BJJ community that I know have been in similar situations to myself mentally, to get their thoughts too.

I myself have found from a physical standpoint, I feel healthier than I ever have. I used to be a complete gym rat, always in the gym lifting weights. Physically getting stronger was always great, but I not only feel strong but healthy through practicing BJJ. I feel very much alive when I am training, there is no "going through the motions," you are very much either there, or you are not. There is no middle ground. But BJJ does not just help me physically, but emotionally. It has helped me to become emotionally healthier. I used to get angry and upset a lot by things going wrong in life, I dealt with confrontation badly... I was a mess in most emotional circumstances. Since finding BJJ, I now approach any situation in my regular life, much like I would a BJJ match or an MMA fight. It's systematic. It's precise. There are many right moves and many wrong moves that you can make, and in that moment you have to make the most appropriate right move. You have to remain calm and focused to do so. Calm and focus are two more things I have gained recently from training BJJ, that ability to remain clear headed, to make a logical decision based on the information or obstacle in front of you. In BJJ, there is no room for emotional or rash decisions. That one wrong turn made out of emotion, can lead you straight into a trap, a choke or joint lock, just as in life one wrong turn can lead you down the wrong route and to path of self-destruction. I have found that BJJ is almost a spiritual experience for me, or at least as close to one as I can get (being someone who is an atheist and not a big believer in the religious or spiritual). It allows me to open myself up to my training partners, and for them to see me for who I truly am, and more importantly, accept me for who I am, both as BJJ practitioner and competitor, but also as a human being.

BJJ has had a massively positive effect on my life, the largest part of that was my mental health. I have been plagued for a long time with depressive thoughts of anxiety concerning my life as whole. I was never able to sort my thoughts out because they all swirled together as a mirky whirlpool, slowly drowning me. The constant stress and worry about if my friends were really my friends, or what I was doing with my life, what if this happens, what if that happens, that is also a thing and that is also a thing oh my god, what about that thing too... I really was drowning in my own mind. BJJ was the helping hand that pulled me from the waters, and not just BJJ itself as a martial art, but BJJ as a community.

There is a reason I included the photo at the top of this blog. That is the very first "team" photo that was taken at Scramble Academy Leeds that I appeared in. Now many photos have been taken since then, some faces have been added and some have left, but one constant has remained the same. The support system created by this small community of people. I have never in my life encountered such kind hearted people, which is strange to some considering the nature of what we practice. But it is a fact. They have shown me nothing but love, and support, and kindness. Every single person that I have met through BJJ has taught me a lesson of some variety, whether it is applicable to BJJ, life or both. 

Which brings me to the next part of this blog... because the BJJ community is such a wonderful place, I sent out the bat signal for more points of view, more perspectives than just my own for this blog, and my word did I get some good answers. 

I received the thoughts from several friends and training partners in the BJJ community. Maia Holmes, from 5 Rings Grappling in Sheffield, told me; "the flow state it puts me in gives me a break from the stress that piles up from the rest of life. It gives me structure and tangible goals that I can work towards. I love the problem solving and the whole journey of ups, downs, plateaus and breakthroughs. The freedom and expression it allows. When I’m injured and can’t train, my mental health suffers immensely." I love this response. It is another point I love about BJJ. The openness, the honesty.  The ability to put yourself out there and say without BJJ, my mental health suffers. And I know for certain that she is not the only one who that happens to. I would encourage people to follow Maia's lead in being open and honest about how you feel, and in using BJJ as a way to express yourself.

One of my training partners at Scramble Academy Leeds, and one of the organisers of MindMats (MindMats is an informative mental health campaign encouraging all to train a martial art), Aimee Stevens said, "Training BJJ has helped build confidence in myself over the years, mostly my ability to speak up a lot more, as it forces you to interact with people. It's helped curb my anxiety when I feel like I don't want to/can't leave the house as I know the session I'm going to will be fun and beneficial for me. It also gave me a lot of purpose (through learning in training sessions and teaching classes for children) and providing me with a community of people for support when I had a rare shoulder condition PTS (Parsonage Turner Syndrome), which physically disabled me and put me in a mentally awful place. On the days I was able to train BJJ, the fluid movements in the sessions helped my physical ability and the community aspects of just talking to people helped me mentally deal with what was going on. Again it forced me to be honest about what was going on to others and not 'bottle up' all my feelings. It sort of provided me with an escape from my condition that later with years of hard work helped me to rehabilitate myself." An open and honest account from Aimee, that honestly blew my mind when she first told me. But through BJJ she found a community, a support system. She found confidence. She found resolve. She found the ability to carry on when her body and her mind both told her no. She used BJJ not as a tool to fight people, but to fight her own anxieties, and to fix herself physically.

I can honestly say for myself that since training BJJ, I have never been happier or confident in myself. I discovered who I am through BJJ, and I started to fix my mental health. From one, often brash, overwhelmingly annoying and sometimes scared young man, to every person out there who feels like they don't belong, or they are having a hard time, they need support, they need guidance or just simply need a friend... there is a place for you in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The latest team photo I was part of, taken at the Craig Jones seminar... spot the difference between me in this one and the first photo... (photo credit: Stephen McBriarty)

James Gough
James Gough

The youngest old person you will ever meet, my life revolves around Martial Arts, Comedy (trying), singing when nobody can hear me and trying to help those who are going though hard times

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