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Wellness / June 15, 2017

8 Life lessons Jiu Jitsu teaches

Written by: Mike Powers

1. Pain is your friend

Pain is inevitable. Those of us who choose the hard road of self-discipline incur physical, mental, and emotional pain on a regular basis. But being undisciplined hurts, too—and the psychic wounds caused by apathy and disappointment are slow to heal.

The practice of Jiu Jitsu channels life’s pain and frustrations into avenues for growth. In addition to physical pains of the sport, Jiu Jitsu athletes experience the frustration of trying and failing, the fear of trying new and difficult techniques, and the angst of wanting to smash some arrogant idiot but being mature and humble instead.

Enduring these pains over and over again is not easy. But doing so produces champions. Nothing good comes easy, and Jiu Jitsu is not easy.


2. Losing is learning

Every leader in every field began as a loser with a dream. Whether it comes in the form of a failed relationship, a bad business deal, or a Jiu Jitsu submission, each loss is an education.

This idea is embodied in the physical process of a Jiu Jitsu bout. Successful fighters rarely go for an armbar or choke right out of the gate. They most often cede ground (or “lose” some of the initial grappling) in order to position themselves to properly execute their submission.

Likewise, life often demands that we take one step backward before taking two forward. Jiu Jitsu teaches students that process. It’s not a gentle lesson, but it’s an effective one.


3. Fears are meant to be faced

Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to move forward despite fear.

This is essential for success in Jiu Jitsu. The sport’s champions put themselves in frightening and painful situation over and over again until they win. In many ways, they are just frightened losers who refuse to stop.

Each time a Jiu Jistu practitioner steps on the mat, they experience the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassment, and the fear of death. But they are not held back by these fears. They understand that each of us will surely fail, suffer humiliation, and die—so they face their fears and embrace the lessons these experiences have to teach.


4. Talent is overrated.

Talent can be your enemy if you’re not careful. It can breed ego and laziness.

I’ve seen many talented fighters fail to reach their potential or receive their black belts because they quit early. And I’ve seen just as many nonathletic nerds receive their black belts after years of hard training and endurance.

Studies have shown that on average it takes about 12 1/2 years to get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So while innate talent is certainly an asset, endurance is the true secret to success.


5. Good teachers matter

The secret to growth in life is finding good teachers. This is true for fighters, doctors, CEOs, and custodians alike.

Good teachers don’t just share wisdom. They exude confidence and enthusiasm, and those traits are contagious.

So to succeed in Jiu Jitsu (and in life), it’s important to avoid being the smartest person in the room. Instead, find the field’s champions and study what they do.


6. Sometimes, it’s time to tap out

To survive in the world of Jiu Jitsu, a fighter must know when to fight and when to give up.

Sometimes that means persisting despite fear and discomfort to go for the submission and win the match. But sometimes the right move is to be humble and tap out, saving yourself from injury. It’s important for a fighter to stretch and test their strengths, but also to understand their limitations.

This wisdom, learned in the dojo, can be applied to all areas of life. Too many of us apologize or “tap out” when we should fight for what we want… but we also sometimes fight when we should really walk away.


7. Health = happiness

Jiu Jitsu serves as rehab for the body, mind and soul. Across the world, academies serve clients who struggled with addiction, anger management issues, social isolation, egomania, or a host of other issues.

Clients often come in the front door broken, but they leave years later as disciplined, confident, humble warriors. That’s due in part to the practice of Jiu Jistu itself, but it’s also because the training demands that fighters eat right, stay fit, stretch, and maintain a positive attitude.

Jiu Jitsu is popular among recovering addicts, at least partly because Jiu Jitsu is an addiction.


8. GReat things are often unseen

The higher level you get in Jiu Jitsu, the more important the small and unseen techniques become. Spar with a top-level athlete, and you’ll lose again and again… but you probably won’t be able to tell why.

Jiu Jitsu is perfected with minor adjustments. The master uses a slightly different hand position for his grab or an imperceptibly different way to use leverage. Until he shares his secrets with you, they’re invisible.

Life is the same way. That friend of yours with the great job, beautiful partner, or perfect body? Odds are their secrets to success are in the “invisible” details.

Do you have questions or comments about this piece? Email them to [email protected] 


about the author

Mike Powers

Mike Powers is a 2nd degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, under Rodrigo Medreiros in San Diego, CA. He now lives in Hong Kong teaching Jiu Jitsu and MMA with hundreds of students.

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