This is a phrase that is often heard among jiu-jitsu practitioners implying that their participation in jiu-jitsu has similar effects to going to therapy. While these effects can definitely be experienced, it is important to clarify the distinction between something being therapeutic, which is when something has a healing or relaxing consequence, and engaging in actual therapy.
Going to therapy with a qualified psychologist involves getting to the deep roots and causes behind emotions we experience and our physiological responses. While going to therapy can provide some immediate relief, it often takes time to identify innate beliefs and thought or behavior patterns that have an impact on the way we act and respond to various stimuli.
In the first of my 12 articles about mental health, I stress the difference of going to therapy versus something being therapeutic. While jiu-jitsu is not the same as engaging in psychotherapy sessions, training can definitely have an impact on your mental health in more ways than one.
Even though jiu-jitsu is a physical practice, there is a massive mental component that is involved. After all, it is not a natural instinct to willingly put yourself in a vulnerable position where someone could potentially cause you catastrophic injuries or render you unconscious.. Jiu jitsu requires a much deeper level of engagement; we must be confident in our movement, trust our training partners to keep us safe, and dedication to training.The mental strength developed to successfully achieve these behaviors is definitely one of the strong, positive points about practicing jiu-jitsu.
Along with training, however, comes challenges. Stepping on the mat does not automatically erase the struggles we face in life from the outside world. They may be put on pause for a moment while we train, but that does not mean that they disappear. Sometimes the stresses and struggles we face in our personal life cannot be shaken off, which may make us negligent with our training, which in itself can have serious consequences. Furthermore, confidence and competence do not develop overnight and there are other issues, such as navigating performance anxiety, rebounding after difficult training sessions, dealing with injuries, and doubting our own progress, that arise and need to be handled in a manner that keeps us encouraged and engaged with our practice.
Jiu-jitsu gives us an opportunity to work on our mental resilience and strength and to learn how to face challenges we experience on the mats. The lessons we learn from facing those challenges can be translated to life beyond our jiu-jitsu practice as well. Next month’s article will be part 1 of taking a closer look at how jiu-jitsu can boost your mental health. If you have any topics you would like to have addressed, please comment below.
Ayesha is a purple belt and currently trains in Kuwait. She is an educator, writer, and speaker. Ayesha is the founder of She is Fierce, an organization that focuses on empowering women through Jiu-Jitsu, mindfulness practices, and written expression. Her other interests include writing, cooking, weightlifting, and yoga. After 20 years in education, she has shifted gears and is currently pursuing a Masters in Counseling Psychology with the hope to expand her work with women and continue to provide them with safe, supportive spaces where they can heal, grow, and thrive. You can learn more about She is Fierce at sheisfierce.co.uk or on Instagram @fiercefitfight & @plumpetalsfit.