How Training Jiu-Jitsu Can Affect Your Mental Health
Training jiu-jitsu, like training other sports, can affect your mental health. Here are some of the ways that I’ve experienced these affects both positive and negative.
Jiu-jitsu is not only about the physical but also the mental. The more you get into your jiu-jitsu training you start to realize the mental side of it, like baiting someone to react in order to get a move on them or having all your techniques from your jiu-jitsu game in order to make the connections when you roll. But, like everything else in life, there are certain things that effect the way you feel in the gym around your teammates and training partners, your bjj coach, and about your own training and understanding of jiu-jitsu. There are so many aspects that can affect your psyche in both a positive and negative way, which can affect your whole bjj journey. I wanted to take time to focus on the aspects that may affect you mentally while training jiu-jitsu.
How Jiu-Jitsu Can Affect Your Mental Health in a Positive Way
Of course, we got to start with the positives. We all want to feel good in anything that we’re doing in life especially when it is something we’re completely new at it. When we decide to be a beginner at jiu-jitsu or any other combat sport, we’re humbling ourselves in a tremendous way. So, when there is external validation that is positive, it makes us feel good for making that decision and we realize that we won’t be beginners for much longer.
When you are consistent about your training, you definitely start to see some positive results. You start to feel that you’re doing great at jiu-jitsu and want to make sure that you keep doing great. So, you might start watching videos outside of class to add to your technique, doing supplemental exercises for jiu-jitsu, and doing more outside of class in order to make your training better. This constant circle of improvement just makes you feel on top and in a constant state of “win”. I should mention that this doesn’t mean that you never tap. When you do tap, you start to understand what caused you to tap and how to avoid or defend that submission in the first place. All in all, your approach to training is great because you keep improving and you see those improvements.
Positive Reinforcement from Your Jiu-jitsu Coaches and Training Partners
Of course, when you have that internal validation that you’re doing well, the external validation will come from your coaches and teammates. When the coach compliments your skills and techniques, it feels good because they’re noticing you and it shows them that you were paying attention while they were showing the technique. It’s almost a back and forth of validation between the coach and the student because I’m sure the coach is thinking, “okay, this technique is a good one. People are getting it.” When the coach continues to compliment your game and even helps you with techniques for competition, this then might lead into that belt promotion you were waiting on.
Compliments from teammates also feel good because there is a level of respect from all sides. If the teammates are your belt or higher, you feel great in your training and that your belt is justified. If your teammates are a rank lower than you, there is a level of admiration, and you feel that you can help someone advance if they come and ask you for advice. I believe that most people want to feel these feelings in jiu-jitsu because it may justify the reasons you joined the sport in the first place. When you get to the point where people start asking you for advice and asking you to watch them do a technique, it also helps with the overall feeling that you know bjj.
Feeling a Part of a Bigger Jiu-jitsu Community
The jiu-jitsu community makes you feel so welcome. People tend to get together and help each other on the mat with techniques, sparring, and group stretches after class when you just talk about life and what’s going on (like my podcast Mat Chats with Black Girl, White Gi). Your teammates are there cheering their heads off when you compete and they give you encouragement whether you win or lose. Off the mat and outside of the gym, there are get-togethers to watch MMA fights at your local bar, sauna sweats, and small dinners after class. People want to feel like they belong to a tribe or group and jiu-jitsu strengthens that.
When I feel good and my psyche is positive, it makes me feel like my jiu-jitsu is progressing fast. It makes me more motivated to train and more excited and inclined to want to go to class and see the people that make me excited to go there. You just feel like there is a team supporting you in life, beyond BJJ, making sure you live your best life and be your best self. This is especially true when you’re an expat. In China, if you come without your family, you’re constantly looking for friends and connection. So, the community aspect of jiu-jitsu (or any other community for that matter) was so important to me. And because I’m constantly striving to be better at bjj, having people that know me and have my best interests in the sport helps.
How Jiu-Jitsu Can Affect Your Mental Health in a Negative Way
Of course, you can’t appreciate the sunny times without some rainy and cloudy ones. So, it goes without saying that you will experience some negative things when doing jiu-jitsu. I would love to say that there are very minimal negative times when doing jiu-jitsu. But, there have been times having a negative mindset has led to dark weeks or even month. So, here are some times where I’ve been led there.
Getting Yelled at by Coaches and Teammates
Personally, there have been times I’ve gotten yelled at for leaving the mat to go to the bathroom or coming in late for class. These times it’s usually because the coach is more traditional and hold the traditions of bjj to the standard they had when they started. This is kind of a two-sided thing because of course you need to respect the rules of the gym and traditions but at the same time, you feel that you’re an adult and you’re just living your life. Maybe it’s my own ego though and I’m walking the line of respect of jiu-jitsu and its traditions and the fact that I do pay money to go to whatever gym that I’m a member.
The other side of being reprimanded is if you do something that can seriously injure or endanger someone. From this side, you just feel guilty because I think most people aren’t out there just trying to hurt their training partners (and if you are…. Seek help). It just makes you feel that you aren’t caring, and people think you aren’t caring.
Feeling Like You’re Bad at Jiu-Jitsu
As I mentioned before, when you have a constant cycle of good training and learning, it feels like you’re getting better at jiu-jitsu faster. But sometimes life happens. You get injured, you don’t have has much time to train because of work or other obligations, you just don’t feel like working out or doing the supplemental training. Like a good, “positive” training cycle, sometimes a cycle of negativity comes about, and it just seems like you’re crappy at jiu-jitsu. There have been quite a few times where work has gotten busy for me and instead of my normal 4-6 times a week training, I can only make it for one or two. Then you feel like you missed something because your teammates keep landing submissions on you. After that, you just feel like you’re bad at jiu-jitsu. And then you feel like you should quit so why even bother. You can really spiral down if you don’t manage your feelings well.
Focusing Too Much on Getting Promoted in Jiu-jitsu
When you’re trying your best to be the best, you sometimes need to prove to yourself and others that you’re good by getting stripes and belts. Sometimes if we’re not focusing on jiu-jitsu for the sake of learning and becoming better internally, getting promoted can become our only reasons for training. This can sometimes set you up to become obsessed with training and make you sad when you don’t get the promotion you were looking for.
When I was headed towards my purple belt, I became that obsessed person who was just trying to get a belt. I was at the gym twice a day every day, tiring my body out. When it came time for dates and social activities, I would avoid them because it wasn’t gym time, and people stopped asking me to hang out. I would beat on myself mentally when I didn’t tap someone or got tapped out. My attitude was horrible. When I started to slow down and just appreciate the learning and the journey for what it was, that’s when I started to improve.
Cliques and Inner Circles in your BJJ gym
As I mention that being part of a bigger community makes you feel great, there are sometimes where within that bigger community, smaller groups form aka cliques. This wouldn’t mean anything anywhere else as that you don’t have to hang out with all your teammates at once all the time. I do have my jiu-jitsu friends that I hang out with outside of the gym but of course our outings are inclusive, and everyone should feel welcome. When it becomes a problem is when certain groups get special treatment from the coaches or they create some kind of in-crowd which is impenetrable and makes you feel like you can’t talk or approach them to train, ask questions, or just talk. This just makes it unwelcoming for people, especially if you’re new to jiu-jitsu and want to make friends in your gym.
How to Deal with Your Feelings and Mentality in BJJ
With all the things that affect my mental state when doing jiu-jitsu, especially the negative stuff, I like to try to focus on the one thing: The non- linear progression of learning in jiu-jitsu. In most aspects of life, we think that the more we do something the better we get, which is generally true. In BJJ, I like to think of it as an upwards squiggly line (very similar to what you see when you look at stocks). If you keep training, you’ll get better but there will be days where things are not going to be 1000% great. I like to have a mantra of “Today wasn’t my training day but tomorrow it will get better.” That mantra along with the coaches, teammates, and friends who support me are what keep me going and training and my mentality great on the mat.
How do you balance your mentality when training bjj? Do you have a mantra for yourself when it comes to negative training days?