People get into jiu jitsu for all sorts of reasons. While learning self defense is pretty high up on the list of things that convince people to start this martial art, you’ll also hear many saying that they began because they want to lose weight or get in shape. To be fair, many people who get into BJJ do end up shedding extra pounds and gaining some serious muscle. But that’s not the coolest way you’ll see your body change.
Even though society likes to place the blame for body image problems on Barbie dolls and action figures, it’s probably more correct to assume that the bodies of real (although often digitally altered) people are more likely to make us “normal” people feel unhappy with how we look. In fact, a study by the Centre of Appearance Research revealed that 70 percent of adult women and 40 percent of adult men have felt pressure from the media to have a better body, and a whopping 60 percent of all adults feel “ashamed” of the way they look. But with all the world champions you see in jiu jitsu magazines sporting six-packs under their gis, you’d assume that this sport could finally get you to look like those hot people in underwear ads… right?
As a matter of fact, you are likely to see a lot of changes in your body if you spend a while training BJJ… even if they aren’t the ones you anticipated. You’ll be sore in places you didn’t even know you had muscles, and then you’ll begin to develop real muscles in those odd places. You’ll realize that your pizza-and-soda diet doesn’t allow you to train as hard as you’d like to, so you’ll start craving healthier foods. You’ll be eating more protein and veggies because they make you feel better, not because you’re counting on them to make you look better. Still, before you know it, those pesky areas of extra pudge will begin to get smaller.
While realizing you’re suddenly looking extra sexy is pretty cool, it does take a while for those changes to become visible. And in that time, you’re going to notice your body changing in other ways, too. You might wake up one day and realize that, for the first time in your life, you can actually touch your toes without bending your knees. Or maybe you’ll finally be able to make it through the warm-ups that once left you winded after just five minutes. You might even be able to submit That Guy who seems to love using his 50-pound advantage to squish you for the entire round.
Perhaps even cooler is the way you’ll realize that the things you once considered “flaws” can actually work to your advantage in jiu jitsu. The thunder thighs that once made you too self-conscious to wear shorts will make your opponents unable to weather the storm when you hit them with a triangle choke. Or maybe the scrawny arms that always got you teased in high school will prove their worth when you realize how easy it is to get them out of tight spaces. You can read all the motivational typography you want, but until you see just how well the body you have right now can work for you, you might not realize that your “flaws” were never really flaws at all.
Jiu jitsu shows you both the limits and the potential of the human body. You will learn very quickly how far back an arm can bend before it breaks, and you’ll also learn how to submit someone who is heavier, faster, or stronger than you. You’ll learn how to strangle someone with their own clothes. You’ll be able to transition from breaking their arm, to choking them with their arm, to popping their shoulder out of place all in the time it takes for them to say, “I shouldn’t have messed with this person.” The meat and bones that house your soul become a deadly weapon. If that’s not enough to make you like what you see in the mirror, I don’t know what will be.
It’s perfectly fine to want to look good in a bathing suit, and if you want to post those “before and after” pics on Instagram when you see just how sexy you got after months or years of training, we’ll all be applauding you for your hard work. Having a body that is both bangin’ and banged up is something to be proud of. But the beautiful thing about training BJJ is that it teaches you to love your body for its abilities rather than its appearance… no matter what shape or size you may be.