Does Jiu-Jitsu Make Us Better People?

The traditional martial arts have a mythology that one’s character is improved by training, and that a bad apple can be set on a more virtuous path by sweating it out in the dojo. It is a very attractive idea, but is it true?

After all, weren’t the bad guys from Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid movie also training martial arts?

I recall a BJJ podcast from a few years back where a university psychology student ran some personality tests measuring certain positive and negative aspects of personality. The researcher was looking for any measurable increase in positive aspects of personality that could be attributed to training BJJ. Disappointed, he found no conclusive cause and effect relationship after reviewing his data. His findings were that he could not say that training jiu-jitsu improved people’s personalities.

Perhaps we have been influenced too much by kung fu movies? The archetypal juvenile delinquent who, through horse stances and hitting a makiwara, transforms into a well mannered, role model student.

I’ve never been in a jiu-jitsu gym where the students gathered around a master to absorb lessons about spirituality and higher levels of human consciousness. But there are benefits to our personalities that do extend beyond the walls of the BJJ academy.

I believe that some who are timid can build some self-confidence by confronting their private, inner fears on the mats.

I believe that having jiu-jitsu as a healthy way of venting our stress from the pressures of our jobs, school, and relationships is far better for our mental health than alcohol and drugs (prescription or otherwise). I think we become easier to get along with after we are relaxed and happy after a BJJ class. Our problems seem smaller.

The way I personally benefited from BJJ was it helped me learn other, unrelated career skills. Starting to learn a new set of IT skills was very daunting, daunting in the same way that learning BJJ was at one time. Little by little, as I showed up to class, I improved and eventually received my black belt.

Why couldn’t I apply that same mind set and approach to my next career challenge? Many, many times frustrated at trying to wrap my brain around a difficult programming concept, I paused and remembered how confused I was at one time by the triangle choke. But after many repetitions I could now do a triangle with my eyes closed. I just needed to work through it.

The model for learning a complex task that got me through jiu-jitsu was able to apply to a completely different area of my life.

How has jiu-jitsu improved you outside of the academy?


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