Fighting is not a physical thing, it is a spiritual thing – Rickson Gracie
Another fun fact about me: I love to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Rickson Gracie is regarded by many as the greatest practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ever. Although some argue that there is no spiritual dimension to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (at least not in the way that other forms of marital arts teach spiritual content) every practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu understands Rickson’s claim that fighting is more spiritual than physical. Whenever I have told my club-mates that when I train “I see the face of God,” although many of these guys would not call themselves “religious,” my comment is usually met with a silent nod conveying understanding of an inexpressible reality.
I thought that in this post I might explore why so many have found Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so helpful in a spiritual sense. By the way, for those who are not familiar with what I mean when I talk about “spirituality,” for me spirituality is an integral part of everyday life. When I talk about spirituality I’m not necessarily talking about something that happens in a church or on a yoga retreat, but more so of those moments of spiritual connection that we experience in our everyday lives.
With that in mind, here are five things about Jiu Jitsu that I think help nurture our spiritual wellbeing:
- Jiu Jitsu provides a powerpoint of spiritual connection for those who prefer not to talk or think about spirituality. As I mentioned above, Jiu Jitsu creates a space in which many, even those who don’t consider themselves “religious,” can experience something truly spiritual without the usual trappings of religious communities. I have heard others talk about “being in the zone” as a spiritual experience, something which I have written about elsewhere. All I know is that I enjoy training, and when I come home I am filled with a sense of joy and gratitude that wasn’t there before.
- My Jiu Jitsu club is a diverse community of people; a tribe in which many find a place to belong. Again, although this is something many of us would rather not talk about, there is something about intense training coupled with close physical contact that seems to bind people together. People are communal beings, and thus the communal aspect of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is extremely helpful to our personal wellbeing.
- I’ve heard many say that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has helped them in their everyday lives. Some say their confidence has improved. Others report that Jiu Jitsu has helped them to remain calm under pressure in their everyday life. For others Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has taught them the valuable virtue of humility. Personally, I have found Jiu Jitsu has improved my physical, mental, and emotional health. For me, spirituality is integrally connected with everyday life, and therefore any valuable spiritual practice should transform the rest of your life. A quick google search for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu testimonies will testify to the positive impact that the sport has had on the lives of many people.
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a form of Combat. I think men in particular are hardwired for combat. After all, that’s why sports exist. By providing a space for people to engage in combat in a way that is safe and legal, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu meets an important human need. Through continual training and testing comes a certain satisfaction as certain techniques are mastered and one’s skill level progresses.
- In the midst of combat Brazilian Jiu Jitsu makes room for a childlike playfulness which is an essential part of experiencing true spiritual life. Our head coach often reminds us to “be playful.” By this I think he means that we should experiment with new techniques, while allowing our opponents the necessary space to do the same, and enjoy the experience as opposed to taking it all too seriously. Ok, I admit it. I don’t have any idea what he means! But I do think he has tapped into some deep spiritual value by acknowledging the value of childlike play in the practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as in the rest of life.
I could write so much more, but these are, I guess, my top 5 guesses as to what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu such a spiritual experience.