Veterans and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Veterans and Jiu Jitsu
Many veterans, myself included, find themselves struggling to reintegrate into civilian life. We very quickly go from an incredibly systematic life surrounded by people you have to trust your life with to a fairly unstructured life with people that are barely acquaintances. This culture shock is incredibly difficult to deal with no matter who you are. Jiu Jitsu has been a very helpful tool for myself and others for making the transition into civilian life much more manageable.
How Can Jiu Jitsu Help Vets?
Military life is extremely regimented with almost all aspects of your day planned out beforehand, and you have very well defined goals that you are expected to accomplish each day. After you transition out, many vets find themselves with too much freedom and struggle without the clear goals for each day or for life in general.
This is where Jiu Jitsu can help, the structure of having regular training is a great start to aid in the transition. And besides that, Jiu Jitsu in itself is a pretty structured system and you will quickly find where your weaknesses are, giving you defined goals you need to accomplish if you want to succeed. And the belt structure is exactly like our rank structure, showing us where we are in the hierarchy and giving us an objective of where we want to be.
And as you get more and more into Jiu Jitsu, the structure will start to overflow into your daily life. You’ll be more likely to think about the food you eat, how much you drink, and your sleep and how it will affect your time on the mat. Jiu Jitsu can seriously become a lifestyle instead of just a hobby.
Kurt Osiander is one of those NO BS grapplers that just speaks to "men". His approach to Jiu Jitsu is simplestitc yet highly dangerous.
This was the big one for me personally. In the military you develop incredibly strong bonds with those around you, you need to. You have no other choice than to be able to trust everyone with your life. Once you become a civilian you lose all that, and that is very difficult to deal with. For many vets it is extremely difficult to go from having this amazing esprit de corps to having coworkers who don’t give a shit about you and friends who are really more just acquaintances, from seeing your friends every single day and doing most things with them to barely seeing some of your best friends. It’s freaking tough.
And again Jiu Jitsu is amazing for this struggle. The camaraderie you develop on the mats is the closest thing I’ve found to what you get in the military. Every single person on the mats is struggling together to reach the same goals. I have yet to find anything that makes stronger bonds than mutual suffering. If for nothing else, I would recommend Jiu Jitsu for all vets just for the brotherhood we sorely miss.
Shared and Well Defined Mission:
This one ties in with the previous struggle. Not only are we often left without a support system after we get off active duty, we often do not have a well-defined mission for the rest of our lives. We go from having a clear cut mission for each day and having the larger overarching goal of moving up the rank structure and becoming a leader, to having none of that. We can feel like a ship without a navigator after we leave active duty.
Jiu Jitsu helps with this structure as well. After little time on the mats, your weaknesses in the sport are quickly revealed, giving you an objective of what you need to accomplish. And with more time on the mats it stops only being goals about improving your techniques, it becomes about making yourself better as a whole each and every day. And every person with you is striving for the same goals and sharing that helps improve camaraderie.
In the military you exercise a lot. And I mean a lot. Besides your normal Physical Training 3 times a week you are almost constantly moving. I was a vehicle mechanic during my time in, so I was always climbing up and down the vehicles, lifting and moving heavy parts and tools, and practicing recovery operations. And that was on top of maintaining swim qual standards and road marches. And depending on what your MOS was, you could have been doing much more physical activities
So naturally going from that much physical activity to none in some cases, will leave vets with too much energy with no outlets for it. There have been countless studies about the benefits of regular exercise and Jiu Jitsu can be one hell of a workout. One of my favorite stories from my instructor is how when he was a lower belt a guy came in who was a marathon runner. Cardio for days and could just go and go…well after a few minutes of hard grappling he was sucking wind and totally dead. The explosive nature of grappling is an entirely different type of workout than people are used to. And it’s fun as hell.
Civilian life is freaking boring. We have been in two simultaneous wars for the past 17 years, so all modern vets have lived with under the shadow that all their training is life or death. We have been trained to always be on alert and being constantly aware of our surroundings and various scenarios that may arise at any time. Civilian life has none of this. Personally I am extremely bored most days and am pleading for any type of action. I am never fulfilled, until I step on the mats. Nothing gets the blood pumping and making you feel alive like another human being trying to choke you unconscious or break a limb. Fighting can be such a good substitute for that excitement that many vets crave.
Jiu Jitsu and PTSD
I am not a mental health expert and I personally do not struggle with PTSD, but there has been numerous stories and evidence about martial arts helping those that struggle with PTSD. If you do suffer from PTSD, contacting your local VA or a mental health expert. There is always a 24 hour Veterans Crisis Line if you are experiencing a crisis, it can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
We’ll look at the ways the VA helps those with PTSD and how Jiu Jitsu can tie in with that.
The VA’s Steps In PTSD Treatment For Veterans- US Department of Veterans Affairs
Make contact with a counselor as soon as possible.
Talking to a qualified therapist can help keep the issues from adding up and leading to disaster. They will help you create a plan of action to begin coping. The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) says that there are two core types of therapy they help provide.
Cognitive Therapy – This is talking through everything with a qualified professional who can help you come to terms with your trauma and its aftermath. You will be given tools to deal with your emotions and feelings in an ongoing basis.
Exposure Therapy – Sometimes, the events that lead to PTSD can feel overwhelming. One way counselors help some people is to have them repeat stories or situations that bring up those traumatic feelings to help desensitize the subject to the effects. You will be given tools to remain calmer and maintain your breathing under stressful emotional scenarios.
Medication – You and your counselor may decide that medications can help alleviate the symptoms of your PTSD as you are processing the treatments.
Most vets wait a very long time before they seek out help. I completely understand this. We are taught to be tough, and to fix problems ourselves, and that the good of the team always comes first. Many vets think they can fix their struggles themselves and asking for help is a sign of weakness. As I said, I personally do not have PTSD, but I understand that feeling all too well. We can’t show weakness, we can do it ourselves. We are strong and self-reliant. Asking for help isn’t showing weakness even though we feel it is. And if you do struggle with PTSD, please seek out help. We lose too many vets to their demons. I have lost too many friends to this and we need to do better for each other. But once a vet seeks out help and begins the cognitive therapy, Jiu Jitsu can be a great supplement to the exposure therapy.
Jiu Jitsu and fighting in general can be an extremely stressful situation, you are literally simulating a life or death situation. But on the mats is a very controlled and safe environment so you can safely learn to stay calm during stress. During long tough rolls, staying composed is key. If you constantly are in that fight or flight mode, you are going to burn out extremely quickly and helpless. So by doing this in a safe environment can help with stress management.
“The central teachings of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) are based on relaxing and settling down when confronted with the most uncomfortable situations. Also, the martial art provides and efficient form of exercise with an extraordinarily friendly and relaxed social atmosphere that incorporate people from different diversities. By so doing, the martial art does not only provide the much-needed depression outlet for the PTSD sufferers but also eases anger and frustration thus eliciting rehabilitation and recovery images”
-Military-and sports-related mild traumatic brain injury: clinical presentation, management, and long-term consequences. From The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
If you are a veteran struggling with PTSD or just trying to find your place in life, Jiu Jitsu can be an amazing tool to help you overcome. It has been so important for me since I left active duty 10 years ago. And besides my personal experiences with Jiu Jitsu, there are numerous articles and YouTube videos about how Jiu Jitsu has helped others. The camaraderie alone is the closest thing to what you would have had in the military. It is definitely worth looking in to. Hope to see some of you on the mats. Ooh Rah