Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teaches us more than merely self defense. Imagine, if you will, you are driving down the highway at 55 mph when suddenly, your tire blows out. Your car immediately begins to pull hard to the right into other lanes of traffic, and right away you feel your heart jump into your throat. Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it. Now let’s think about a far less dangerous situation. Let’s say it’s Friday morning, you just arrived to the office, and your boss assigns you an enormous task that they say MUST be done by the end of the day! Could martial arts or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training possibly have any benefit in these situations? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes!

But how, you may ask! “I can’t safely bring an out of control car to a stop by shrimping or postpone a deadline with a Rear Naked Choke.” And you are correct in saying this. However, BJJ not only trains your physical self defense and martial arts skills, but it also trains you mentally. Allow me to explain.

Last night in my class at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu St. Paul, I was teaching a defense to the guillotine choke when you are stuck inside someone’s closed guard. This is a horrible position to be in. While inside someone’s closed guard, you are stuck. You can’t move left or right, forward or back. Not only are you unable to move, but your opponent has your head and neck wrapped up with their arm, your head is stuck underneath their armpit, and you can feel the choking pressure being applied on your neck. This kind of situation is absolute hell for the average person. You can’t move, you start to feel claustrophobic, and finally you lose your ability to breath. I’m not sure if you know this, but most people (and living beings in general) begin to panic when you take away their oxygen. I think it has something to do with our survival instinct, but I’m no doctor.

Due to their lack of training, people who are new to the sport of BJJ will begin to panic when they can’t breathe in the same way that your average person would.  They will claw at the hands of their opponent, they will try to pull backward, forward, and side to side, but go nowhere. Sometimes they even tip over and give up the top position because they begin flopping around with no real plan. They go into panic mode and lose all cognitive and reasoning abilities. Due to my law enforcement training and learned vocabulary, I call this kind of panicking “code black.” The person draws an absolute blank when trying to think about how to get out of this position, and of course you normally can’t panic and thrash your way out of a choke. The person inevitably taps out, submitting to their opponent’s choke, and joyfully suck on their first breath of regained oxygen.

How does this apply to the out of control vehicle or the swamped employee with a deadline? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu trains us to remain calm in very unnerving situations. It’s not only guillotine chokes, but any number of positions that cause an untrained person to feel claustrophobic and panicked. As Jiu Jitsu practitioners, we find ourselves in these kinds of predicaments constantly. Over time, BJJ trains us to remain calm in these situations and to think of a solution before we succumb to the lack of oxygen and pass out or before our tendons are stretched to the point of causing injury. We get caught in a guillotine and instead of going “code black” we think, “OK, now how do I deal with this again? I have to reach over my opponent’s shoulder and tripod up. I want to drive my shoulder pressure down on my opponent’s neck. Next I need to push the opponent’s legs down below my hips, etc. etc….”  The average person cannot remain calm enough to do this when in a situation that physiologically or mentally overwhelms us. The person spinning out in a car is likely to not remember they need to “Keep a firm grip on the wheel, refrain from the urge to make hard sudden steers or braking, keep looking toward the horizon, etc.” The office worker may completely shut down and not regain enough composure to develop a plan of action for accomplishing the overwhelming task they had been assigned. Gaining this ability to remain composed to calmly think out our steps for a solution and act on them makes us more ready to adapt to frightening and rapid changes regardless of whether the situation is actually physically dangerous and possibly life threatening or if it’s just a feeling of being overwhelmed and anxiety ridden due to stress.

This is just one of the many vast abilities that we learn by training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Many people think that they are tough, but you can’t truly know that until you’ve had your feet put to the fire. Only then can you see really know what you are made of, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu does just that. Every day in training you will have your feet put the fire one way or another, and it’s not necessary whether or not you can pull away from the flames that makes you a tough person who thrives under pressure; It’s about how you handle the heat.  I’ve known this for a long time (and most upper-belts do): BJJ is far more than just a martial art and means of self-defense; it’s a life changing experience!