Words to Live By: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Founder Carlos Gracie’s 12 Commandments for Life

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How the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a philosophy for recovery

Though Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is widely accepted as one of the world’s most effective martial arts, it is far more than just a powerful style of combat. BJJ offers its practitioners a philosophy of life that can be a powerful vehicle for developing discipline, a profound shift in attitude, and manifesting success in all areas of their lives. We can trace the development of this philosophy to Master Carlos Gracie Sr. who was, along with his brother Helio, one of the founding fathers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and arguably the person most responsible for BJJ’s current widespread growth and popularity. Master Carlos championed the philosophy of “jiu-jitsu for everybody,” and embedded this philosophy into the cultural fabric of Gracie Barra, the world’s most successful Brazilian jiu-jitsu affiliation.

“Jiu-jitsu for everybody” is the philosophy that almost anyone’s life will benefit greatly from consistently training in a reality-based martial art like BJJ, despite supposed barriers like age, starting fitness level, athleticism, natural ability, gender, and almost any physical or mental disability. Master Carlos set down valuable guidelines for anyone seeking a better life, and we have found them to be truly empowering to addicts in recovery.

Here are Master Carlos’ “12 Commandments for Life” and some of the ways we employ them at Solid Ground as part of our Treatment Program.

1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Practicing mindfulness meditation is one of the most proven, powerful ways to maintain peace of mind. Every morning at Solid Ground begins with a 30-minute group meditation and grounding practice designed to help clients develop their “observer self”—an indispensable tool that fights addiction by recognizing that emotions and triggers are experiences to be compassionately observed rather than acted upon. A strong observer-self greatly reduces relapse rates.

2. Talk to all people about happiness, health, and prosperity.
For the recovering addict, developing gratitude for the blessings in life can often mean the difference between relapse and continued growth in recovery. In addition to a life-changing shift in attitude, focusing on the positive elements of life is an effective tool in fighting depression and many other mental illnesses that are common among addicted people. We do not ignore the hard work of confronting past mistakes and traumas, but we balance this perspective by identifying what is positive and moving with forward momentum towards that.

3. Give all of your friends the feeling of being valued.
The importance of attachment and connection to the recovering addict cannot be overstated. As Johann Hari  argues, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but human connection. Active addiction thrives on emotional and physical isolation, and all too often people suffering with it are not skilled at developing healthy, positive attachments. Through intense group experiences such as training and sparring with partners in BJJ, we learn how to appropriately express feelings of authentic appreciation for our allies. This is often the start of powerful, lifelong friendships with the people who truly understand what it takes to beat addiction—fellow recovering addicts.

4. Look at things from an enlightened point of view, and be optimistic about your view of reality.
Negative cognitive distortions can be strong predictors of future relapse. Solid Ground professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques from SMART recovery [hyperlink?] to provide concrete tools clients use to challenge unrealistic or inaccurate negative world views, and to overcome habitual pessimism—two frequent traits of people who suffer from addiction.

5. Think only about the best, work only for the best, and always expect the best.
Setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and timely is the core of successful aftercare planning. It’s not enough to move away from addiction and substances, to be successful we must move toward achieving the goals and dreams that are expressions of our highest self. By setting these goals on short, mid and long-term timelines clients motivate themselves to begin moving toward their best possible lives.

6. Be just as enthusiastic about others' victories as you are with your own.
It’s a truism to say that addicted people can often be extremely self-centered while in active addiction. Developing a lifestyle that focuses on service to others and helping in their victories is the best antidote to self-centeredness, and the Solid Ground program makes service and compassion between clients an integral part of life in recovery. Time and again we observe that the feeling of purpose and usefulness that comes when a resident helps his fellow in their sobriety and celebrates their progress, is truly life-changing.

7. Forget about past mistakes and focus your energy on the victories of tomorrow.
Addiction ruins lives, and not just the addict’s. People in recovery have universally caused and been subject to financial, emotional, and many other forms of wreckage. To move forward into the victories of tomorrow, the addict must take responsibility for this past and then heal beyond it. Through our Extreme Ownership program we provide clients with a step by step guide to taking responsibility for their own mistakes, and for healing from the deep internal trauma that has often led to addiction in the first place.

8. Always make those around you happy and keep a smile to all people who talk to you.
This is a goal and ideal to work toward, not a standard we are always able to rigidly hold ourselves. Being authentic, humble and kind is what we strive for. As people recovering from addiction, negative social interactions can be challenging and triggering. Yet regardless of how others treat us, we always strive to be positive with our fellows and to keep “our side of the street” clean.

9. Apply the largest amount of your time on self-improvement and no time on criticizing others
Addiction recovery is all about self-improvement, and the Extreme Ownership program teaches clients to avoid blaming others for the situations we find ourselves in. Criticism and gossip is not only counterproductive, it can be a sure road to painful social interactions and resentment. We work to avoid these destructive habits by keeping the focus on ourselves as part of a biopsychosocial plan of recovery.

10. Be big enough so you can feel unsatisfied, be noble enough so you can feel anger, be strong enough so you can feel fear, and be happy enough so you can feel frustrations.
This jiu-jitsu “commandment” is a regular topic of discussion at our group therapy sessions. It seems everyone has a different way of interpreting this and applying it to their lives. Learning to be “enough” that you can live through the great variety of human experience without recourse to drugs and alcohol looks different to every man. We learn a lot about each other and ourselves during these discussions.

11. Hold a good opinion about yourself and communicate that to the world, not through dissonant words but through good works.
This is my personal favorite. Successful recovery is about taking sustained daily action to heal and honour our bodies, minds, communities and spirits, and it is vitally important for our words and actions to align. Without the honesty and integrity that results from aligning one’s actions and words, lasting and deeply held self-esteem is unattainable. Without a solid belief in the power and essential goodness of our own true selves, positive connection and healthy attachment to others simply isn’t possible. Our programs and groups repeatedly stress the importance of this. Progress in something as challenging as the fundamentals of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a fast-track to helping foster this self-honouring.

12. Believe strongly that the world is on your side, as long as you stay loyal to the best of yourself.
Many addicted people are unaware of the values and virtues that motivate them and have driven their behaviors. Solid Ground utilizes a non-religious, virtues-based system of ethics that helps clients learn about their values and how to develop them into virtues that will guide their future actions in ways that are consistent with their best selves. Living life in alignment with universally held virtues has the benefits of reducing shame, guilt, negative social interactions, and of strengthening the bonds with other people that are vital to lasting recovery.


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Solid Ground is a biopsychosocial, non-12 Step, abstinence-based addiction recovery program built on the proven effectiveness of the best parts of several different treatment modalities. As part of an holistic program of recovery that stresses the well-established connection between body and mind, Solid Ground offers its clients daily training sessions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and its principles. To learn more about Solid Ground and our program follow this link: Solid Ground Recovery Program