The “gentle art” is way more than just a tool for strangling people, but also a great tool to shape your mind and spirit.
Now that I can get back on the mat, I am reminded once again about how amazing the “gentle art” is and how much of a positive impact it had on my life.
I have been socially anxious for as long as I can remember. I was always the quiet guy in the room; as soon as someone entered, I did not know. I could barely keep up a conversation because my mind seemed to be preoccupied with scanning for potential dangers every time I was talking to someone.
Finding Jiu-Jitsu was one of the most meaningful discoveries of my life. It was more valuable in my fight against social anxiety than multiple years of therapy were.
So, even though I’m still a white belt and still barely know any submissions, I feel like the positive impact the sport had on my life made it worthwhile to write an article about it and maybe even motivate others out there to leave their comfort zone and check out this amazing sport.
My introduction into the world of martial arts
When it comes to martial arts, I was always skeptical. The brutality going with it always kept me off it. Even though I trained Karate for roughly 6 years. For me, it was no great experience.
My parents got me into Karate to get my self-esteem up and because it seemed like a healthy and fun way to stay in shape. My father was a taekwondo brown belt and probably hoped for me to develop a similar love for the martial arts.
Unfortunately, in my Karate practice, I did not learn to fight at all. In fact, myself, with about 3 months of Jiu-Jitsu practice, would have probably beaten me with my 6 years of Karate experience in a real fight.
I’m not trying to denigrate Karate or argue that Jiu-Jitsu is generally better for self-defense. In my specific case, though, the only thing we did in Karate training was to go through dance-like Kata sequences and learn those.
Our teacher was very hesitant to allow any real force or fight because his teacher back in the day was relying on full-contact way too much and was straight-up abusive towards his students in that way. So my teacher overcompensated to the exact opposite.
So the Karate did not do what it was supposed to do for me, namely improving my self-esteem and helping me get out of shyness.
Trying to cope with anxiety
Fast forward about 5 years. I’m still socially anxious and unhappy. I’m working out regularly but do not enjoy it at all. I know that to get better, I have to get out of my comfort zone. When you are socially anxious, it is tough to do that. And every time you back out of a situation you are scared of, you make it worse.
So I knew I had to do something. Something that scared me. In the meantime, I had developed an interest in MMA and the UFC through some friends. I watched the fights every once in a while and got somewhat desensitized to the brutality of them.
While watching the Joe Rogan podcast, I discovered the UFC fighter Sugar Sean O´Malley. He was a slim dude of my stature (a thing that always made me self-conscious) but kicked ass in the UFC. He also was a heavy stoner and vegan at this point.
So naturally, that sparked my interest. Wouldn´t it be amazing if I truly learned how to fight? Wouldnt that be a great way to get out of my comfort zone?
Actually, in the beginning, it was tough. Going to training made my stomach ache. That unwell feeling before training vanished after a while, fortunately. What made me push through it was that I immediately got hooked on the sport. I was amazed by how hard it was and about how my trainer was able to tap me out easily without breaking a sweat or me being able to do anything about it.
So, long story short, I got hooked on Jiu-Jitsu. I did kickboxing for a while but was more drawn to Jiu-Jitsu for multiple reasons: Firstly, I am not really technically gifted and therefore need to rely on my brain to make me a living somehow. Having it punched really often in sparring did not seem like a good idea, especially when starting in your 20s.
Secondly, there is another great benefit to BJJ. You can pretty much spar or “roll” with almost full intensity every time you train. Since you “tap out,” meaning signal your surrender once you are caught in a submission, there is not much damage happening, unlike in kickboxing, for example. Sparring really hurts, and you can’t do it as often.
That brings with it another major benefit. Once you have been tapped, there are no excuses. If you are sparring in Kickboxing and you are not coming out on top, you can always say: “Well, that was only sparring; I did not put my everything into it. In a real fight, I would have won.” In Jiu-Jitsu, that’s not the case.
While “real fights” in Jiu-Jitsu, for example, in a competition, are even more exhausting than regular rolling, the difference between the two is not as big as between sparring and a real fight in other martial arts.
The people who do BJJ
Another major benefit to Jiu-Jitsu are the people doing it. After I got hooked on BJJ and the two training days per week at the gym in my hometown didn´t satisfy my hunger, I joined a nearby gym in a bigger town. My first “real gym.”
Let me tell you, in my two years of practice; I’ve been to quite a few gyms in Germany and Vietnam. And 99 percent of people I met on the mats were generally great human beings.
Of course, there are assholes everywhere, and I met a few, even in Jiu-Jitsu. People trying to hurt you with their submissions or going in way too hard in practice.
But in my experience, those people are scarce and probably won´t make it to the black belt.
It takes a special kind of grit to go through the ten years of pain it takes to get one of those.
Every blackbelt started as a white belt at some point. Every blackbelt was submitted probably a few thousand times until he even got his blue belt. But for some odd reason, that person stuck to the sport. That person did not search for any excuses to quit.
That’s why I made some of the best friendships of my life on the mats and met the most amazing people imaginable. All the people you share the mats with are pushing through the pain and joy of winning and losing.
Of working on a submission for multiple months but still not being able to pull it off. Of finally, tapping that one guy who always got the best of you. Of the amazing feeling of hitting your first submission in a live roll. Let me tell you, I tried quite a few substances in my life, but nothing comes close to the feeling when I hit my first, very hard-earned submission in rolling.
Rolling with someone tells you more about that person than probably an hour-long conversation would. It’s like playing weird, 4D live chess and trying to anticipate your training partners‘ moves and counter them. Getting destroyed by someone on the mat tells you that you still got a long way to go. And no matter how good you are, there is probably a 10-year-old Gracie somewhere that´ll tap you out in a matter of seconds.
Amongst all the amazing people you meet on the mat, there are people of all ages and all walks of life. Professors, Labour Workers, Students …
But on the mat, only two things matter your dedication and skillset. I have been tapped a thousand times by people that were way smaller or way younger than I am. Getting defeated in that kind of way makes your ego want to jump in and definitely doesn’t feel right.
But it teaches you one thing, that´s an important life lesson: Don’t judge people by their outer appearance. I have rolled with tattooed and really scaring looking guys that I tapped. I have rolled with harmless-looking nerds and got destroyed. You´ll never know how good someone is until you get to rolling.
So all in all, those are a few of the many reasons the “gentle art” made a great benefit not only on my fitness but also on my state of mind. My social anxiety is pretty much gone, which I attribute greatly to BJJ, making me leave my comfort zone multiple times a week.
Even though it was really hard, in the beginning, to do so, at this point, it just feels as natural as breathing air. So in case you are stuck with social anxiety or are just simply looking for a fun and worthwhile new activity to do, I´d suggest you check out the nearest BJJ gym. You won´t be disappointed! See you on the mat!