Five Lessons About Mental Health Taught by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Many Americans have fallen in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from watching UFC matches over the years, but parents of children struggling with mental health issues have discovered a whole other reason to invest in the sport. Martial arts have always been a valuable resource for overcoming issues such as bullying and low self-esteem, but BJJ has risen to the ever-increasing challenges presented by anxiety and depression, especially dire consequences like self-harm and suicide. However, the basic lessons of BJJ, like other martial arts, are non-violent.
These are five simple lessons, regarding mental health, any child or teenager can learn from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:
How to think practical
Anxiety is a close relative of anger and aggression. There is no kicking or striking in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rather, the art is about controlling your opponent. That can translate to learning how to cope, with depression or anxiety as the “opponent”. In the literal sense, a child who is a victim of bullying can learn how to hold and control larger, stronger bullies, until help arrives.
How to think strategically
Have you always taught your child to solve problems with his or her mind? Training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no different. It is a game of strategy, with an emphasis of thinking ahead. A BJJ fighter is always planning the next move, like a chess player. Setting measurable goals is of great importance when it comes to fighting anxiety and depression.
How to communicate
Thanks to an increase in mental health awareness, children are more capable of communicating their needs. BJJ classes encourage expression, between students, with instructors, and as part of a larger group. Learning new physical skills is the perfect way to keep your child from isolating or retreating into his or her mind, not to mention provide the necessary amount of exercise.
How to focus
Grit, determination, and focus are formidable allies in the struggle against mental illness. Preparing for advancement and competitions requires considerable focus, especially since BJJ belts are notoriously hard to come by. Being in the present moment is where any good fighter needs to be.
How to make friends
Isolation, again, can be the result of mental illness. In this case, we are not talking about emotional isolation, rather than physical. It is difficult to feel close to others, or to make friends. BJJ is a community, an entire network of brother and sister practitioners, ready to support one another. So much security stems from being around like-minded people with common goals.
Practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often parallels other mental health challenges. For example, practitioners are constantly fighting out of tight spaces, which can help with claustrophobia. Bullying can be traumatic for a young person, especially if they do not learn how to deal with anger or respond properly. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches students to de-escalate and equips them with the knowledge and confidence needed to react appropriately.