Does Jiu-Jitsu Make You a Better Person?
If you train long enough, you will often here jiu-jitsu referred to as something along the lines of “mat therapy.” You will also see Instagram posts about how jiu-jitsu “saved” someone’s life or how it made someone a better friend or spouse.
Jiu-jitsu has undoubtedly affected thousands of lives, and I’m one of those people who has written about how much jiu-jitsu has changed me and how much of my identity has become.
I have to admit, though, that I was wrong on some fronts, and that as I continue to train and to interact with teachers and students, I see that we need to take a more nuanced perspective with the idea of jiu-jitsu being a force for good in our individual lives.
Can jiu-jitsu play a part in helping you through a difficult time or in helping you to realize a better version of yourself? Yes, it can play a part, but jiu-jitsu alone is not the answer.
Jiu-jitsu alone will not make you a better person.
Jiu-jitsu alone will not help you cope with a low point in your life.
Jiu-jitsu alone will not improve your relationships or your work.
I emphasize these points because I have at various points in my life used jiu-jitsu as a means to better myself, and I have also used jiu-jitsu as a way to hide from my problems or to put off addressing the more important aspects of an adult life. Having a hobby that you enjoy can be a healthy way to relieve stress, to make new friends, to challenge yourself, and to new adventures and experiences. At the same time, a hobby can be an excuse to not do any of those things. You can hide in the bubble of a jiu-jitsu gym in the same way that you can hide in the bubble of World of Warcraft or a week-long binge of New Girl on Netflix.
There is nothing wrong with playing World of Warcraft or watching Netflix, but it’s much easier for us to see where the line between healthy and unhealthy might be in those contexts than in the context of jiu-jitsu because how biased we might be toward pajama fighting.
If there is an unhealthy way to approach jiu-jitsu--using it as a tool to ignore areas of your life that need your attention or perhaps using progress in jiu-jitsu as a replacement for progress in character development--are there healthy ways to leverage the benefits of jiu-jitsu so that you can improve on and off the mat?
I think so, but remember that this is just one guy’s opinion who has written and thought a lot about jiu-jitsu. I’m not particularly good at grappling, and I’m also not a guru of any kind, so don’t take these conclusions as gospel. Instead, use them to think more deeply about your relationship to jiu-jitsu and how it is improving (or not improving) the rest of your life.
I have found that jiu-jitsu has a positive impact on the rest of my life when I do the following:
- Train with people I respect on and off the mat. Yes, I want to train with talented grapplers, but I also want to train with well-rounded human beings. When spending time on jiu-jitsu means spending time with people who are also good parents, successful professionals, and active members of their community, I often learn a lot more than jiu-jitsu.
- Consider my jiu-jitsu goals alongside my other goals. Yes, I want to continue making progress in the sport, but I also have goals for my career and my family. When I think about what I need to reach my jiu-jitsu goals, I force myself to look at them in the context of all of my other priorities. Yes, it would be great to be in the gym two hours a day each day, but that would mean tanking my career and probably my marriage.
- Jiu-jitsu will not fix non-jitsu problems. If you have a problem at work or have a disagreement with your spouse, training is unlikely to resolve those issues. Yes, stepping away to clear your head can be a good thing, but be honest with yourself. Is that really what you’re doing? Sometimes you need to not train and do a date night instead.
- Apply the methodical dedication that serves you in jiu-jitsu to the rest of your life. Yes, many jiu-jiteiros pay lipservice to this idea, but few actually do it. If you’re okay with grinding for months to figure out that one de la Riva sweep, could you also do that with your work? How about with that home improvement project? Maybe you could use that same dedication to pick up another skill?
Jiu-jitsu is an incredible art and a fantastically rewarding hobby, but it is not a shortcut to solving life problems or to becoming a better person. Solving problems and growing as people still takes work, and it takes deliberate, focused attention.