What Has Jiu-Jitsu Taught You About Life?

Jiu-jitsu has been touted by many as a martial art/sport that endows its practitioners with knowledge and character traits that make them better human beings. Now, I’m not saying that jiu-jitsu will make someone a better person, but it certainly provides us with opportunities to practice valuable life skills and to learn about the human psyche. Here are five skills jiu-jitsu teaches us that are also broad reaching metaphors for moments in life off the mat:

1. Understanding when to let go. I remember when I was still a white belt drilling a guard with a blue belt. During this drilling exercise, I was retaining a grip for too long which left me vulnerable to a sweep. The blue belt told me matter of frankly, “If you hold on for too long, it won’t matter if you let go or not, you’ll still be screwed.” This was profound because while it was 100% relevant to the drill, it was also relevant to friendships/relationships, job situations, and many other things. Knowing when to let go is a crucial skill that jiu-jitsu reinforces every day.
2. Understanding how to hold on. Similar to item #1, but in some ways different, understanding how to see things through is a skill that jiu-jitsu deeply reinforces. This ranges from dealing with the frustration of being a beginner to sticking things through in order to reap the reward of developing higher level techniques. This also applies in competition; mental toughness is directly correlated with the ability to hold on.
3. Understanding that there are very few true “enemies.” Competing has taught me to appreciate my opponents as they force me to grow. Similarly, in any field, if my competition is thriving, I have a greater potential to thrive. Conflict is therefore in the eye of the beholder. I want my opponents to be good; I want them to be a challenge for me,; hell, I even want there to be a good chance that I’ll lose because there’s no honor or reward in beating people who suck. Same thing goes in business as well as other areas in life.
4. Work smarter, not harder. Jiu-jitsu teaches us to combine technique with our natural abilities. It teaches us to focus more heavily on doing things the right way, rather than simply trying to force them to happen with brute strength. Saulo Ribeiro famously said, “If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. If you tire, you die.” This applies in all areas of life. Work on being prepared so that you don’t have to think in critical situations. Work on not having to force things to happen, but rather knowing how to make them happen without straining yourself.
5. Nothing is more important than the basics. You can’t run before you can walk, and you can’t write a novel before you know the alphabet. Many skills in life start with basic building blocks that seem simple enough, but they are actually quite difficult to master. The beauty of jiu-jitsu is that it is similar to learning to walk again as an adult. You are teaching your body to move in a way that you have never moved before and that process will open your eyes to the importance of basics.

What are some ways that you’ve noticed that jiu-jitsu mirrors the human experience?


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