The Benefits of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for Recovery

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When Combined with a Program of Recovery, Martial Arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Can Change Lives.

If you are in recovery, and thinking about finding a way to get fit, make clean and sober friends, expand your mind, build confidence, and learn an invaluable skill, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Make no mistake Jiu-Jitsu is hard and it is challenging, but with that challenge comes growth.

As a therapist and BJJ coach, I can say from experience that in combination with a program of recovery, nothing will support your life and help keep you grounded and operating in reality better than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In learning about yourself and your teammates (aka your bffs, frenemies, bros and brahs, BJJ family, arch enemies) you will build the capacity to overcome life’s obstacles in ways you simply were not capable of before. That is a great fact of martial arts: in building the capacity to meet the discipline’s challenges, you build the discipline to meet life’s challenges. But enough of the abstract benefits, let’s talk about stuff you can measure.  But enough of the abstract, let’s talk about the benefits we’ve learned from running our MMA recovery group at Gracie Barra Vancouver. 

  1. BJJ will get you physically fit and strong. If you’re looking for a workout, there’s nothing like rolling around on the ground in stiff pajamas, wrestling a bunch of other adults. This is especially true when you first start (even the first few years) because you just don’t have much technique, and without that all you have is strength and power. You WILL get tired and your muscles will be sore, and that is how strength is built.

  2. There are some profound parallels between the 12-Steps and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. many of the same principles that the “anonymouses” are trying to teach you are lessons you will also learn in your Jiu-Jitsu journey, but in a very physical way. Powerlessness? Yup, you’ve got it. An inventory of your strengths and weaknesses? Check, if you want to get better you need to identify weaknesses before you can improve them. A higher power? You bet, Jiu-jitsu is the higher power of martial arts and if you stop relying on your natural attributes and start using the techniques and mindsets of Jiu-Jitsu you will soon be doing things that you could not have done on your own power. This is true on the mats, but anyone who trains hard will tell you that this extends into your life off the mats as well.

  3. BJJ builds lifelong community. There are few, if any, activities that require people to be so intimate with each other’s bodies, minds, and (yes, I’m going to say it) “spirits.” The people you train with will become your very best friends, and it’s common to hear people talking about their BJJ families. While this close contact can seem discouraging for some, I encourage you to try and put aside any hesitations you have and try it out—the ugly truth is that modern society isolates people from each other, and like Johann Hari says, it is connection that will relieve us from addiction. BJJ builds connections and friendships like nothing else can.

  4. BJJ builds healthy lifestyles. Most Jiu-jitsu fighters are athletes, and very few people who drink excessively or take drugs train Jiu-Jitsu consistently enough to last long in the art. When your fitness and health help determine the success of your Jiu-Jitsu training, making unhealthy choices around food, sleep, and alcohol and drugs makes a lot less sense. People who train together in Jiu-Jitsu are much more likely to get together for sashimi and salad than for martinis and cocaine.

  5. You will learn to deal with the human stress response in a new and extremely valuable way. Whether you tend toward fight or flight, the pressure that training BJJ puts you under forces you to stay calm during times of crisis and stress. You will quickly become used to adrenaline flooding your body, and you will learn to control your reactions to this—all in a safe environment that encourages teamwork and personal growth. I cannot overstate the importance of this: for addicted people, reacting to stressors and triggers more effectively is often literally the difference between life and death. In this way alone, BJJ can save your life.

  6. You will gain confidence, especially women. Jiu-jitsu is a great lifestyle but at its core it is an extremely efficient style of self-defence and fighting. Knowing that you can defend yourself can build your confidence while also breaking down any ridiculous notions you may have about being a tough guy or girl. The self-defence skills and fitness you gain in jiu-jitsu reduce stress, encourage situational awareness, and can literally save your life (again).

  7. Jiu-jitsu is an art of the mind. Yes you get fit, but more than that you learn to use timing and leverage to overcome much stronger and larger opponents. Strategy, versatility, and improvisation are the main tools of the Jiu-Jitsu fighter, and the mental skills developed during jiu-jitsu training are easily applied off the mats as well.

A Disclaimer (and a Promise). It is very true that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is indeed for everyone, no matter your initial fitness level, but it is also one of the more difficult martial arts to master.  Achieving the level of black belt can often take 10 years or more—and that’s not ten years of showing up once a week to punch some flimsy boards or kick pretend attackers in their pretend groins. Training in BJJ is often intentionally grueling. Jiu-Jitsu is not a theoretical discipline: it is all about being able to apply techniques against real, resisting, skilled opponents in real time. You will get smashed, you will get clinched, you will get other people’s sweat on your face, and you will be defeated hundreds of times by people who look like your little sister or your local librarian. You may be big and strong and athletic, but at first that won’t matter much--only Jiu-Jitsu beats Jiu-Jitsu, and it takes time to learn. In Jiu-Jitsu, you learn to stop pretending to be something you are not—it tests every part of you and shows you precisely who you are. As a therapist, I can often tell more about someone by rolling on the mat with them for five minutes than I can by talking to them for many hours. Starting jiu-jitsu is, without exception, a very humbling experience and there is a steep learning curve; but it’s worth it. I promise.


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For more information about the benefits of training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu feel free to contact me at cshearer@twcrecoverylife.com. If you’re in the Vancouver area and are interested in recovery and martial arts training, come train with us!


To learn more about Caleb and this program follow this link: MMA Recovery Fitness Program