Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mindfulness are two activities which have seen large spikes in participation over the past few years. People have train BJJ for many reasons be it self-defence, health & fitness or as sport to compete in. In the age of fast-paced life and distractions, mindfulness has become a tool for taking a step back and experiencing the present moment. Although these pursuits may seem like polar opposites, the reality is that they compliment each other in many ways. So how does an intense grappling sport compliment the pursuit of calm? The simple answer is that BJJ can be a form of Mindfulness and Mindfulness can be accelerated using BJJ.
BJJ as an act of Mindfulness
Even subconciously, practitioners understand the mindfulness element of BJJ. If you have trained before, you will understand that an hour of training can have a profound effect on your thoughts. When you leave the mats, you could be happy with your performance. Maybe you executed a move you have been training or your defense was solid against a tough opponent. Conversely, you might be frustrated with how you trained. Your submission attempts may have been loose or you gave your partner openings where you normally wouldn’t. Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of the two, happy with some techniques and others requiring more work. All of these thoughts have something in common. They have nothing to do with the world outside the gym. This is the first intersection between BJJ and Mindfulness. In BJJ, you are fighting against a resistant opponent. During these interactions, there is no time to let your mind wander. One slip and you are made to pay for it.
There is often comparisons made between Chess and BJJ. The strategy side of the game combined with the physical effort requires all of your attention and energy for the duration of training. In meditation, you are taught to focus yourself on one specific thing. The most common example of this is your breathing. Despite this simple and straightforward act, it can be difficult to keep your mind focussed for even a few minutes. The buzz and hum of your surroundings become far more apparent and distract your mind from the task. BJJ however, forces you into a state of single mindedness. Whilst rolling, the only thing that matters is what’s happening in front of you. There are no distractions and nothing to take your mind from the present.
BJJ as a tool for Mindfulness
Many athletes speak about the effectiveness of visualization. This is the act of playing a sequence or technique through in your mind and focussing on every detail that goes into them. A good example in BJJ is visualizing a specific drill for a specific move in various levels. Take a Guard Pass for example. First, you picture yourself in your opponents guard. You imagine the constraints of your opponent. Second, you picture your setup for the pass. What will each arm do, what will each leg do? Third, you picture your execution of the pass, taking note of each detail and slowing down the technique in your mind to process it all. Finally, you picture yourself completing the pass and in an advantageous position.
You can repeat the process over and over again, trying on different sides, from different angles, generally mixing up the technique until you are comfortable. As mentioned earlier, focussing on breathing is a common technique for meditation. Alternatively, meditating on BJJ can be just as effective. If you really focus your mind on each little detail, your mind cannot focus on anything else. Not only can visualization be an effective meditation tool, you will also sharpen your mental understanding. The next time you train, you will have a deeper understanding of the technique and all the nuances associated with it.
The relationship between BJJ and meditation is rarely explored in much detail but it certainly is effective. In my own experience, training allows me to switch into a singular focus. It clears my mind of any stress or anxiety. Meditating on the days off helps replicate that sense of calm and the next time I hit the mats, I am sharper and more aware of what’s going on in front of me. Given lockdowns and the uncertainty around returning to the mats I would urge you to give it a go. Set a timer for 10 minutes, pick a technique and drill repeatedly. You’ll open your eyes feeling refreshed and energized.