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Jiu Jitsu Is Not Meditation…But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Good for You
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Jiu Jitsu Is Not Meditation…But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Good for You

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We have a tendency to view things in an all-or-nothing fashion—especially when we’re dealing with something new.  

Either it’s all good or all bad. There is no in-between. A good example of this is the current craze over CBD. It’s new; it’s popular, and now CBD enthusiasts are claiming it can do everything from relieving stress (somewhat likely) to serving as a new rocket fuel (not at all likely).

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is no exception to this tendency.  BJJ enthusiasts are eager to attribute every possible benefit to their training.  Any possible advantage that they can imagine suddenly becomes a reality. In fact, a popular BJJ patch goes so far as to make the claim that “BJJ saved my life.”

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Did it?  

Possibly.  

In the case of a dangerously overweight guy who finally gets off the couch and engages in physical activity for the first time in decades, yes, BJJ may have saved his life.

In the case of a woman who finds herself pursued by a stalker in a deserted parking garage and successfully fends off an attack, yes, BJJ may have saved her life.

But I’m a ruthlessly honest person and I don’t like exaggerations.  In most cases, the answer is No. Jiu Jitsu did not save a life. It may have made your life dramatically better.  It may have helped you get in shape, or it may have become a hobby that gives your life more meaning than you can find in your 9-to-5 grind.  

One of the claims that comes up over and over is that BJJ is a form of meditation.  People arrive before class with all the troubles of the world weighing them down, but they leave class feeling refreshed because their training is so intense that they’ve forgotten about those troubles for a while.

However, just because you feel refreshed, that doesn’t mean you’ve been meditating.  I don’t want to discount that feeling of elation that comes when we have a chance to let go of our troubles for a while.  It’s a great feeling, and, personally, I love it. I even believe it is necessary.

But it’s not meditation.  I practice meditation, too, and the sensation I get from BJJ is not the same.

Meditation is about learning to follow the thought progressions of the mind and, by recognizing how fluid our thoughts are, to understand how our thoughts color the physical reality of our lives.  As an example, we might recognize how our aversion to change makes us dread the arrival of a houseguest, even though that houseguest is an old and dear friend. In this case, our thoughts make us interpret reality in a pessimistic way.

As one introduction to meditation puts it, “the practice involves paying close attention to the present moment — especially our own thoughts, emotions and sensations — whatever it is that’s happening.”*  Because meditation involves paying close attention to the movements of our own mind, it can sometimes be rather unpleasant, as we confront our darker thoughts.

Essentially, meditation is about learning to deal with our careening thoughts.

What happens in Jiu Jitsu is quite different.  It’s more like what happens when we engage in a hobby.  When we enter the dojo, we’re forced to drop everything else.  The complexity of the techniques and the constant demand on our attention when rolling give us no other choice; we simply don’t have the time to think about work.  If we don’t focus on our Jiu Jitsu, we get submitted.

This is a good thing.  This is the reason why people used to engage in hobbies.  Whether it’s stamp collecting, playing music, adult coloring books, or Jiu Jitsu, hobbies used to be viewed as a necessary part of life.  We used to feel that it was our right to take some time for ourselves and to disengage from the rest of the world so that we could engage instead in something that helped define our own individuality.

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Somewhere along the way, things have changed.  Some of us have let work worm its way into our free time.  Others are so insecure that they can’t imagine doing something without the approval of their friends.  For whichever reason, hobbies and all of their healthy advantages have practically disappeared. And we’re worse off for it.

Jiu Jiteros have discovered the advantages that a hobby can bring to their lives.  They realize how their hobby allows them to grow as individuals as they pursue an interest that helps them to understand who they are—apart from their family or friends or co-workers.  They feel refreshed because they’ve found a space where they can put away their other concerns—at least temporarily. And they’ve made new friends—people that they would have never met if they were working late at the office or scrolling through their Facebook feed.

All of these things are signs of growth.  And growth is healthy.

It’s an unusual feeling, though.  Our lives have grown more and more stagnant—and unhealthy.  But when we train or engage in a hobby, we feel pride in our ability to become something more than we were.  

So, no, training BJJ is not a form of meditation.  But that’s okay. It is good for our mental health, and better mental health is something that we all sorely need.

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