I’m addressing this question to the legions of BJJ addicts that are growing all over the globe. Surely you have paused after an intense training session and asked, “Why am I doing this?”
Hanging around a gym with a group of people with cauliflower ears, taped up fingers, and massive personality flaws, wearing various colored pajamas, and rolling around on the ground trying to strangle and armlock one another — outsiders peering in and catching a glimpse of this bizarre subculture must scratch their heads and wonder why any sane person would submit (yes, pun intended) to such treatment voluntarily?
One black belt put it this way, “Have you ever thought about the idea that if you have been involved in jiu-jitsu long enough that nearly all of your friends have tried to choke you?”
There are the obvious answers for why people train martial arts, like for physical fitness and self-defense. But purchasing pepper spray or a legal firearm for personal protection is also an option. Physical fitness has many methods that do not require you to ice your joints afterwards.
To answer my own question, I have a few ideas that I will share.
1) War is in our DNA.
We humans have prepared to defend our own tribes against outsiders with ill intents for millennia. We see the instinct to defend our territory and social group among many different primates and other organisms. Without that instinct, we may well have perished long ago in history.
One martial artist explained to me that he felt that aggression was a human drive. We don’t need to learn to be aggressive like we don’t need to learn to be hungry: it is a drive and needs to be satisfied… or perhaps more accurately, “vented”.
How many times have you ever left work frustrated with your boss or coworkers, and seething and vowing to tear them a new page the next time they pulled their sh*t, but after BJJ class, your anger seems to evaporate and it hardly seems like such a big deal at all? In jiu-jitsu you can find a socially acceptable (and legal!) way to release accumulated stress and aggression.
Joking with friends about teaching jiu-jitsu for a profession, I say, “How many times have you ever felt like strangling someone at work? Well, I get paid to do it!”
2) We need challenges.
In a world of convenience and technology that makes our lives easier than those of our hunter-gatherer and agrarian ancestors, we ironically struggle without physical challenges. Lives without challenge are unsatisfying. When life is too easy we feel like something is missing. We need those challenges to feel mentally healthy.
Many of us idealize the image of sitting on a beach with a coconut or Dos Equis in our hand and gazing out at the blue ocean while doing absolutely nothing. Truth is, I can be lazy like that for a few days and then I start to feel anxious, restless, bored, and uneasy.
We need to challenge ourselves. We need to push against something to satisfy some internal drive. We wish that we would have brought that kimono and searched Google to see if there was a BJJ school in the place we were vacationing.
For BJJ addicts, jiu-jitsu becomes an itch that needs to be scratched several times per week, or they just don’t feel quite right. Guys feel crazy when work or family commitments keep them away for several days. Is there a better feeling than sitting on the mats after a vigorous roll, laughing as you regain your breath, and feeling your pent-up aggression disappear?
So, let me ask you: why do you do this crazy thing called Brazilian jiu-jitsu?