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  • Sam Joseph

How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) helps eliminate bullying

Bullying, whether emotional or physical, is a problem that impacts people of all ethnicities, cultures and ages regardless of socio-economic standing. Children and teens deal with it in neighborhood playgrounds and at school while adults often have to face bullying at work and in social groups. To make matters worse, bullying can have enormous impact on us in the present and in how we continue our lives in the future. None of us are protected from being exposed to it so the question is: “How we are prepared to deal with it individually and in the groups we participate in?” One of the many benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it addresses bullying in a variety of ways and from different angles. Let us take a look at how BJJ can help us eliminate, or at least minimize, bullying in our lives.

BJJ builds character and promotes empathy!

One of the least talked about ways BJJ helps prevent bullying is how it takes away the desire to bully. Bullying is often revealed to be the product of the bully’s fear and insecurity. The harm the bully is doing to someone else is actually a physical manifestation of inner pain or turmoil. Take away and/or address that pain and the “need/desire” to bully should go with it. The combination of technical instruction and regular sparring in BJJ training allows us to face fear and insecurity in a way that allows for incremental growth and achievement. As inexperienced and relatively unskilled participants, we tap early and often. Consistent training and experience give us more tools and we start to see improvement in our sparring as a result. Eventually, we become the more experienced and skilled practitioners- at least in relation to newer training partners- and our sparring results start to change accordingly. Sometimes, we even advance to a point where the paradigm completely shifts and we are among the most skilled athletes in our training environments.

Again, regardless of where we end up, participation in this process forces us to face insecurities and fear while processing them in positive ways that allow for improvement. It also gives us an appreciation of how it feels to be in a situation where we are dealing with people who have more “power”. That promotes the kind of empathy that bullies often lack. Both of these character-building results can be major factors in preventing a potential bully from ever coming to be by addressing the core problems of the potential bully and stimulating real character development.

BJJ teaches self-defense and builds confidence!

The worst-case scenario when confronted by a bully is that we will have to physically defend ourselves. Learning BJJ, whether our focus is sport or self-defense, teaches us skills and techniques that will help us in hand-to-hand combat situations. YouTube is full of videos that show that very basic BJJ gives us the tools to deal with potential bullies (search ‘BJJ street fights’ and you will find quite a few). That reality and the process of getting better at BJJ, as described in the first point, work together to build our confidence.

Often, the confidence that we CAN handle a situation translates into the ability to avoid the situation while dissuading the bully from continuing to bother us. When I lived in Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time with training partner and friend Jackson Lee. Currently a BJJ brown belt, Jackson is and always was very laid-back regardless of the surroundings and sometimes bad-intentioned strangers/potential bullies would try to “take advantage” of him as they mistook his kindness for weakness. Jackson had the confidence to “set the record straight” and deal with these people without ever putting them down or resorting to violence. Some of that ability came from his innate character but a lot of it came the confidence he developed on the BJJ mat. Whether situations get physical or simply uncomfortable, BJJ gives us the confidence to handle them in ways we can feel comfortable with.

BJJ gives us an outlet for excess energy and provides healthy competition!

One the things I hear the most from new students interested in BJJ is that they are looking for something challenging and/or competitive to do as adults. Often they are former school or even semi-pro/pro athletes who are seeking a new challenge that they can take on in their current stage of life- whether they are retired from their sport, have a family, have schedule limitations, etc. The beauty of BJJ training is that it fills this need for us whatever our age, schedule limitations or goals. One of the best recent trends in BJJ is the advent of international ranking systems by the largest organizations- led by the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) and others. These organizations run regular tournaments were competitors are separated by rank, weight and age which allows us to compete on relatively equal footing at an international level. This represents the top end of the competitive scale for us all- from the potential world-class athlete to the recreational athlete and everyone in-between. At all levels, BJJ is a combat sport so most classes end in sparring of some sort. Even friendly sparring is competitive in nature and that is an excellent outlet for energy and the fire that a competitive nature can be inside of us.

Having this healthy way to be competitive and use our energy can have a real effect on us and our daily lives. I interviewed former UFC champion, BJJ World Champion, ADCC medalist and Renzo Gracie black belt Matt Serra a few years ago and one of the things that stood out to me was his appreciation for the impact BJJ has had on his life. Matt spoke fondly of his years training at the Renzo Gracie Academy and of the honor it was to compete (and win) for Renzo’s team at the highest levels of BJJ, No-Gi grappling and MMA. Anyone who has watched Matt compete, whether in BJJ or in the UFC, can attest to the fire of competitive energy burning in his heart and BJJ gave Matt, and it gives all of us, the ability to let that fire burn in ways that are productive. BJJ takes energy that could be used for bullying and allows it to be used in a positive way.

BJJ gives us Focus and Direction!

The “process” of getting better at BJJ is something often mentioned and referred to as being valuable in its own right. Constantly being forced to evaluate what we are doing and make changes to get earned, quantifiable results develops focus and gives us a sense of direction. These, in turn, give us an appreciation for constructive criticism, the people who help us make those changes and ourselves. The self-respect we develop for ourselves by recognizing our contribution to this process helps our senses of self-awareness and self-worth evolve and grow in healthy ways.

Self-awareness and self-worth are vital allies in the quest to develop and contribute to positive social groups. Self-awareness is key to the ability to congenially interact regularly with diverse groups of people. Individuals with good self-awareness are cornerstones of healthy relationships and environments that are not fertile ground for bullying-type behavior.

A strong sense of self-worth, bolstered by real achievement, attacks bullying from two different angles. It dissuades bullying as it identifies that the product of bullying is a false sense of superiority created by putting someone else down. When this result is weighed and measured against measureable and earned progress on the mat, it is revealed to be “fool’s gold” and quickly devalued. Self-worth attacks bullying from the opposite angle, as well. Healthy self-worth allows us to question the validity of behavior directed towards us in a clear-eyed way. It challenges us to either seek a change to behavior found lacking of appropriateness or to simply seek out other relationships.

The focus and direction we get by living the BJJ lifestyle and following the process needed to get better at our sport encourage this personal growth and maturation. The real benefit here is that these benefits come with us off the mat and into our lives, relationships and larger society. When that happens, we are able to participate in our communities in ways that improve ourselves and lift others up rather than tear them down.

Human beings are social creatures and history has shown us that behavior is contagious. This has proven to be true in relation to both good and bad behavior. One of the undeniable benefits that BJJ offers society today is that it promotes healthy individuals who treat others with respect. Whether it is in how we handle prospective bullies or in how we participate in our social circles in healthier ways, BJJ gives us the tools to be agents of change and stop the bullying epidemic in our communities. Over all, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers us the ability to have real impact on bullying beyond the walls of our academies. See you on the mat!

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