“BJJ Is My Therapy,” Says Student Who Is The Reason Teammates Need Therapy

Flickr/Creative Commons: IpponKumite

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt has become the latest practitioner of the sport to proclaim that participating in a grappling session is equivalent to speaking with a qualified mental health professional.

“This is the padded room I choose. My coach is my therapist. My teammates are my support group. Adrenaline is my medication,” said brown belt Mike Barnett. “BJJ,” he added, “is my therapy.”

Barnett, who confirmed that he has never been to a therapy session and acknowledged that he doesn’t know what it might entail, told the Jiu-Jitsu Times that his sport of choice has helped him through the “dark” times in his life.

“I was a bad dude,” he says. “I had anger issues. I drank too much. I was a bit handsy with the ladies. Never to the point of abuse or sexual harassment or whatever other PC terms the social justice warriors are using these days, but still. It was enough to destroy my relationships with a lot of people I care about. My actions affected me a lot. And I knew that if I wanted to avoid hurting people close to me, I had to start training in hand-to-hand combat.”

Since he began training in jiu-jitsu, Barnett says that he has seen massive improvements in his mental health. “It used to be when I’d have a bad day at work, I’d go home, have a drink or four, and take it all out on my wife and kids. After she left me and took the kids to the other side of the country with her, I realized, ‘I can’t do that anymore.’ Now, when I have a rough day, I get to take it out on my teammates instead,” he says with a chuckle. “They’ve really changed my life. And I bet if you ask them, they’ll say I did the same for them.”

Barnett’s teammates confirmed his suspicions. “Mike has completely changed the way I see jiu-jitsu,” said blue belt Cam Lee. “I used to think this was just a sport, or a hobby at most. Now I know it can be a place where I can contemplate the fragility of human life. When I roll with Mike, I stop worrying about the little things and start asking myself the big questions: ‘Will my health insurance cover this?’ ‘How will I support myself with a broken spine?’ ‘If I die here and now, would I be satisfied by what I’ve accomplished in my life?'”

Purple belt Iliana Montalban says that Barnett has also solidified her perspective on just how much jiu-jitsu can improve a person. “When Mike first came to the gym seven-ish years ago, he was an angry man who didn’t respect boundaries and just flailed all over the mats for an hour straight,” she told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “You look at him now, and he’s a completely different person. He’s still an angry man who doesn’t respect boundaries, but now he’s way better at positional control and submissions. Plus, he’s an assistant coach now, so rather than taking all that out on a few teammates, it gets distributed among all of us in smaller quantities. Which is a relief for some of us.”

Barnett also says that, while he still has some room to grow, jiu-jitsu has helped give him the confidence to carry him through until he becomes the man he wants to be. “I used to say some weird things to the girls mid-roll, then deny it when they told me about it. Really sh*tty of me, real cowardly, especially because a lot of them have been through some rough stuff before they started training. But I didn’t know any better. I was just trying to flirt, and that was the only way I knew how,” he says. “Now, I’m confident. I’m a gentleman. I ask them out, and when they say no, it’s no worries. I don’t let it ruin my training session. I just ask again the next day, then the day after that if I need to. And you know what? I think that confidence comes from jiu-jitsu, too. I’m a brown belt now, so in my heart, I’m like, ‘They can reject me all they want. They’re hotter than me, and they know it. But I go home knowing that I’m bigger, stronger, and better at choking than they are, and I’m sure they know it, too.’ And that helps me sleep at night.”

Barnett’s coach, black belt Paul Rose, says that he does give himself “some” credit for his student’s transformation. “Before Mike came here, he had no accountability. Now, he can directly see how his actions impact people. When he loses his temper and hurts someone, there’s real consequences for that: the teammate he hurt goes to the hospital and can’t train for a few months. Maybe the teammate is too traumatized to ever come back. And Mike has to sit with that and feel bad about it for a few hours. Eventually, that guilt is going to catch up to him, and he’ll probably stop being a bully for a while,” he says. “He wouldn’t have gotten that with yoga or tai chi or by ‘talking it out.’ A guy like this needs to be around real people with real feelings.”

Lee and Montalban, however, are open about the fact that they’ve lined up appointments with therapists. “It’s a six-month waiting list to see mine, so until then, I’m going to push forward and keep training,” said Lee. “That way, when I finally step in those doors, I know I’ll be getting my money’s worth.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here