Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, commonly called BJJ, is one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world. First introduced to the US in the 1980’s through the creation of the UFC, BJJ has gathered a tremendous and dedicated following. BJJ has become established as a very pragmatic, and highly effective discipline, and BJJ techniques are dominant in mixed martial arts. BJJ is a sport embraced by many celebrities, from actors Ashton Kutcher, Joe Rogan and Ed O’Neill to chef Anthony Bourdain, playwright David Mamet and philosopher Sam Harris, many of whom have written or spoken about the things that draw them to the sport.
As a clinical psychologist, and a long-time student of BJJ, it is the psychology of this sport which I find most intriguing. Why is BJJ so powerful and captivating for so many people? Why has BJJ become so popular, with so much dedication from its students, who so often describe the experience as uniquely addictive? BJJ offers many unique experiences which trigger rich, subtle and fulfilling psychological changes in its students, changes which promote positive transformation, and keep people coming back to the mats.
One of the things which distinguishes training in BJJ is the fact that from day one, the first time you step on the mat and attend an introductory class, you are grappling face to face, body to body, with other students. While drills and technique are critical to successful BJJ, from the first class, students must pit themselves against other students. This pragmatic strategy is core to the philosophy of BJJ, which attempts to apply these skills in real-world defense situations. From the beginning of training, students of BJJ learn to experience what these skills are like, used by, and against, people with varying degrees of skill, strength and technique.
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