Does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Save Lives? Probably Not, And Here’s Why

If you have been around a BJJ gym for longer than a week, I am positive you have heard the phrase “BJJ saves lives”. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to discredit anyone who has used jiu-jitsu as a tool to make necessary changes in their lives. However, I want to have a look at the reason why people claim BJJ saves lives.

A little bit about me. Long story short, nine years ago I was 24 years old, 152 kilograms, and supremely unfit. Jump forward to the current time, I am 33 years old, 94 kilograms, and as fit as I have ever been. Now, as much as I would love to say that it was the martial art that I have come to know and love that was responsible for this change, to be perfectly honest, it had nothing to do with it. I was told by a doctor that if I didn’t make some significant changes in my life, I would be heading for an early grave. The only person who was responsible for making the changes would be me. It took me a little while to get in the swing of things, but having someone tell you that you won’t see 30 if you continue down this path really gave me a kick in the ass and motivated me to make it stick.

If we have a look a little deeper into the various cases of people who claim BJJ saved their lives we will see a little bit of a trend: people with anxiety, people with various forms of depression, people who feel like they simply don’t have a place in society (once again not a dig at these people, I also have some PTSD from my time in the military) — these types of people all say BJJ saved their lives. I could be here all day writing about the different things I have seen in YouTube videos and online articles.

So, what is it that makes these people feel like BJJ was their savior? A lot of them have tried gyms and working out in various types of forms. What happens when you go into a group fitness class? You go in with a group of people you don’t know, you jump around like a maniac for 45 minutes, cool down, and leave, right? Pretty simple. What about if you were to adopt a weight program? A similar thing happens: go into the gym, headphones on, lift for an hour and leave.

Now this is where it gets interesting. What happens when you go into a BJJ gym for the first time? Most experiences are pretty welcoming. You walk into the new gym nervously, speak to the person at the front desk who directs you toward a group of people with cauliflower ears sitting around in pajamas. You walk over and linger just within earshot when you hear, “Hey come sit with us!” You go over, sit down, and start to talk. These new strangers talk to you, they ask questions, they genuinely try to get to know you in the period of time before you step on to the mats. When you finally do start to train, you look as coordinated as a baby elephant, so these new strangers will come over and help you out, giving you guidance on how you can improve.

After class has finished you don’t just get your gear and leave, you take a drink of water and try to remember what the hell it was you just did for the past hour and a half, while the same people come over and tell you about themselves and press for more information about you. You had a nice experience, so you go back, again and again and again, until the new strangers become new friends. Then, like the circle of life, you are calling the new guy/girl over, “Hey, come sit with us”.

Now it’s not just BJJ that has this atmosphere. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at CrossFit boxes, football teams, any other martial arts, you will notice a bit of a trend. Even surfing has the same atmosphere. What is it that makes these people become so close to one another? Is it they all enjoy what they are doing? Sure. However the biggest thing is the sense of community each one of the above build and nurture. We are all there doing the same thing because we want to be. We all have different reasons for doing what we do, but at the end of the day, we want to be there. Have you ever been to a gym to train or tried to join a football team that wasn’t so welcoming, or even gone for a surf in a local spot where the locals weren’t so friendly? Well there is an exception to the rule and that exception is people. As with everything in life, there can be some absolute jerks, and if you encounter them on your first visit to a new place, it is fair to say you won’t go back. You may even go next door to find the CrossFit gym has a better vibe.

So I go back to my original question: does BJJ save lives? I still say no. I would be more inclined to say that people save lives. We make decisions all through our lives that we don’t even give a second thought to. One of those is how we act toward others. Another is to taking control of our health and wellness.

I made the decision to take up BJJ five years after I started my fitness journey, and I am glad that those in the gym I walked into made the decision to welcome me on my first night.


  1. BJJ saves lives. Not only in a sense that it helps you get in shape if you’re so fat you’re gonna die, but if you are ever in a self defense situation, you have trained the most high-percentage techniques to help you protect yourself. Yoga, crossfit, and boxing, while great for your fitness and even some combat situations are not nearly as effective at preserving your well being in a self defense situation.


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