Man in contemplation
Valentin Salja

A blog series analyzing the parallels between Jiu-Jitsu and Mental Health

You don't have to look very hard to find the "surface level" benefits Jiu-Jitsu can have on your mental health. It can improve your fitness, increase your confidence, help you build a friendship group, test your brain, release endorphins and serotonin, and probably lots of other things that are really hard to spell. But while these are all irrefutable facts, it's nothing we haven't heard a million times before about almost every form of exercise.

Beyond the surface, though, lay some intriguing parallels that feel almost as if they were created by design. Jiu-Jitsu and Mental Health are so interchangeable you could be talking about either when saying philosophical phrases, such as: It's a lifelong journey. There's always someone better. Focus on what you can control. Tapping doesn't mean giving up. (Don't worry, I can explain that).

Over the next few weeks, we'll break some of these subjects down and delve a little deeper into the fascinating similarities between Jiu-Jitsu and mental health.

Part 1: It's a lifelong journey

Mental Health is a lifelong journey.

There are things you'll learn on certain days that may be interesting, but don't necessarily hold too much significance. That's because they are only pieces of a whole puzzle. But when you look back in a year or even ten years from now, they may hold an entirely different meaning to you. Some will even become foundational building blocks you've built your entire life around.

Like with anything, though, you must put the work in.

Jiu Jitsu Class


In the same way, we build muscles in the gym, so they are there when we need them, we can build "muscles" in our mind. Take meditation, for example. It's such a useful tool that has a whole host of benefits beyond just giving yourself time or "quieting your mind."

Yet we often hear, "Oh, I meditated while I was depressed, but I'm better now, so I've stopped doing it."

Say what?

Look, it's amazing when you find something that pulls you out of the darkness and into the light. Truly. And if that's what you needed at the time, I applaud you for picking a healthy coping mechanism. But to give up when you feel better seems a little counterproductive.

Strength and conditioning is preventive maintenance. Stretching is preventive maintenance. Not rolling with the new guy that is all biceps and no brain cells is preventive maintenance. But not paying attention to these areas means, sooner or later, you're going to have to be reactive. You'll get injured, and eventually, you'll be visiting the doctor or knocking back pain killers in a desperate bid to try and stay on the mat. It's all so, well, reactive.

Meditation is just one mental health tool that you should consider for your preventive maintenance. It's unlikely to create an impenetrable fortress on its own, but to put it in language we understand, it'll form an integral piece of your guard game. There's only one way to get better, though, and that's to keep working at it… forever.

Tree Pose Yoga


Giving up when you feel better is the equivalent of getting fit for a wedding or working on that summer beach bod. Once you've achieved the goal, you stop going to the gym, and slowly but surely, all that good work starts to fade away. Then, one day, when that little brat on a moped swipes your new cell phone out of your hand, you've got zero chance of catching him; you should have stayed ready.

Now, as I said, mental health is more than just meditation. It's a combination of dozens (hundreds) of components that intersect every area of your life. It's the people you hang around with, the voice inside your head, the books you read, and the way you see the past. It's how you identify. It's how you interpret the world. It's how you perceive reality. And in that sense, it's pretty much everything.

Just like martial arts, it's a lifelong journey with no finish line and no way to complete it. It takes constant work and commitment. And the only way to get better at it is, you've guessed it, to do the work. Relentlessly, tirelessly, with passion, curiosity, determination, and accountability. You have to learn and relearn and effectively "drill" the same things over and over and over again. It can be boring sometimes, sure. But it's better than the alternative.

Jiu Jitsu Technique


You must keep showing up and revisiting even the simplest of principles. Until, one day, you become so at ease with it that it becomes second nature; your "true north."

So, on that fateful night, when you accidentally pass through some forgotten alley in your mind, and you feel a long-dormant anxiety attacking you at your most vulnerable, you'll have the tools ready and waiting to automatically protect yourself. You stayed ready.

If you can get to that point, you'll no longer be fighting for your life; you'll be fighting with it.


That a director of my city's opera company would call me seemed a little odd. There are probably some monkeys who know more about opera than I do. But the director was inviting me to lunch, so of course I went.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19th-century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.
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