Professional work environments remain as competitive and demanding as ever. To meet those demands, professionals of all kinds are focused on optimizing their mental and physical health for peak performance in work and life.
And an increasing number of professionals, including prominent high-performers from entertainment, media, fashion, and academia, is discovering that jiu jitsu is a tremendous tool to help them achieve that objective.
What Is Jiu Jitsu?
Jiu Jitsu is a grappling style martial art that focuses on subduing an opponent or attacker through body control and submission – think pins, holds, joint locks and chokes. Leverage is used against the anatomically weaker points of the body to force an opponent to tap out or submit.
The beauty of jiu jitsu is that practitioners can train at 100% effort without sustaining damage or injury. It’s one of the few martial arts that can be performed at full intensity regularly, and well into your later years. Of course there can be some bumps and bruises along the way, but as long as you train smart, the benefits of jiu jitsu will far outweigh the risks.
So how exactly does a modern version of an ancient form of ground fighting help optimize your performance as a professional? There are five principal ways.
Forge Elite Problem Solving Skills
Sometimes called “human chess," jiu jitsu is premised on the application of technique to overcome physical qualities like strength, speed, and size. If one is able to apply the right technique or counter at the right time, they can overcome an opponent to reach a desired outcome like a sweep, pass, or submission.
At first, most beginners will attempt to use physicality to best an opponent. And typically, these attempts merely result in a waste of valuable energy that a knowledgeable opponent will use to his or her advantage by countering with efficient movement and calculated technique.
The key is to have the knowledge and skill to solve the problem that is your opponent. Once you begin to master techniques and understand new scenarios on the mat, you will be much better served thinking your way through situations as opposed to forcing your way.
The beauty of jiu jitsu is that there are unlimited scenarios and ways in which to apply techniques. However, with time on the mat you will begin to recognize patterns and understand how to solve the puzzle in front of you.
As a result, your cognitive and analytical abilities gradually sharpen with regular training. And as they do, you begin to see situations on and off the mat in new ways. In its essence, jiu jitsu is a meditation on when to use force, accept force, or navigate around force.
Poised Under Pressure
As intellectually and mentally challenging as it is, jiu jitsu is a taxing physical activity. Just knowing the answer to a problem will not get you out of the situation. You also need to apply the answer at the right time, with the right amount of force, in the right direction, against a moving opponent who is countering and making his or her own decisions in real time.
Inevitably, you will find yourself in bad positions on the mat. This is part of the game. Many times an opponent will have you in a compromised position, making progress toward the submission. In those situations, jiu jitsu teaches and develops the key skill of staying calm under pressure.
Facing substantial pressure and a threat of submission on the mat poses a high-stress situation for most practitioners. In that moment, it is key to relax, breath slowly, and think about how to counter your opponent’s offense.
There is usually always an escape.
When you face stress like this regularly you build up powerful resilience. You no longer panic. You embrace the moment and accept the challenge. You learn to compose yourself under stress.
The value of this stress-management practice transcends jiu jitsu as your ability to manage stressful moments at work or in life generally will improve significantly.
Develop Humility and Balance
“The mat is the great equalizer” is a popular saying within the jiu jitsu community and it is true. When you step on on the mat nothing matters other than your individual capabilities. It is that rare space of true, hard-earned merit. Your professional background, education, income, heritage, or connections are irrelevant to your performance on the mat.
There is no instant gratification and repeated and frequent failure paves the path to progress in jiu jitsu. Those who can let go of their ego and embrace the prospect of failure in every training will grow, those who cannot, will stall and eventually quit.
There is always someone better than you in jiu jitsu, no matter when you started or how much you train. Regularly meeting the reality that you are not as good as you might think you are is humbling and makes you a better leader and team mate.
Community and Mental Health
Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate social connection. It is physical, verbal, and unspoken communication all in one. And if the recent years of social distancing have taught us anything, it’s the importance of social connection for mental health.
Jiu Jitsu is facing adversity together regularly, and shared adversity forges a powerful bond. Beyond shared adversity, you and your training partners rely on each other while being in difficult positions, under pressure, and physically fatigued. This forges a deep, mutual level of trust with your training partners.
Your teammates will become lifelong friends. And because the honesty and authenticity of jiu jitsu shatters superficial constructs, you will form these friendships with teammates from all walks of life. At its core, jiu jitsu is about growing as a true community on and off the mat.
On top of becoming part of a unique and special community, you cannot actively train jiu jitsu without being fully present in the moment. Your training is that one period where nothing else matters and your mind is fully absorbed by the task at hand. For many, jiu jitsu is a therapeutic release of the stress and anxieties that can accumulate in our hectic, unpredictable lives.
Top conditioning, core strength, mobility: nearly every part of your body is engaged when training jiu jitsu. Indeed, grappling is considered one of the best total-body workouts you can do.
Virtually every movement in jiu jitsu will activate your core and hips. And active training will tax your cardiovascular system unlike few other activities given its variable flow of accelerated movements, short rest periods, and isometric strength.
Best of all, this will all happen while being absorbed in training and playful competition without following any scripted and repetitive routine.
Train Jiu Jitsu, Perform Better
There is a saying that jiu jitsu is for everyone and the benefits above certainly apply to any practitioner. That said, these benefits are of particular value to hard-working professionals in any area who are looking to optimize their performance and improve their mental and physical health.
And unlike so many scenarios in our professional arenas, there is no downside to trying jiu jitsu, only upside. Give it a shot, it will change your life.