by Jody Andreoletti
“Jiu-jitsu is for everyone” is the classic motto you see and hear everywhere in the jiu-jitsu
community, but in a world of increasing distractions, evaluating whether something is worth your time or not has become an important skill. When you are a parent, like myself, or a caregiver of any kind, it can feel like you have even less time to invest in things, especially activities that are specifically for your own enjoyment or benefit. Here is my analysis about why jiu-jitsu will benefit you and give you a solid return on your investment if you enter as a parent or caregiver.
When you have kids to care for, your decisions generally revolve around their schedule.
Exercise has to fit in with everything else, so I tried yoga, pilates, running, workout DVDs, and online videos, and while they all gave me an okay workout, they were easy enough to do without much thought. I could imitate the video, or hold the pose, or repeat the exercise 20 times, or just put one foot in front of the other, and maybe think a little about improving my form, but then I would go on autopilot. My conversations with others lead me to believe I am not the only person who spaces off while they exercise. So without a lot to have to think about, I would think about everything else in my life: what should I have for lunch, what should I get at the grocery store, what am I going to do after this, and when is this going to be over?
I’m going to bet that most of you think enough about your day-to-day life that you would
like some time off from it. One of the first major realizations I had was that jiu-jitsu required all of my mental focus and presence. I couldn’t think of much else when another person was trying to choke me or threatening to break my arm. I got a break from my mind for two whole hours. I didn’t think about almost anything except what was in front of me, and that was a luxurious vacation! The kids, the groceries, the house, and the rest of my life was still waiting for me, but after class, my mind was quieter, my focus was directed, and some of the things I was stressed about didn’t seem so pressing. Life feels a little easier after fighting and surviving.
Working with kids, especially the younger ones who have less physical control or less
awareness of the damage they can do, you learn quickly that unpredictability requires an
accurate, fast reaction. Ever play around and have a kid kick you in the stomach or nail you in the face? Wouldn’t you like to have faster reflexes and accuracy blocking those flying feet? Well, jiu-jitsu. Kid thinks it’s funny trying to block you from getting something or somewhere? Wouldn’t it be nice to get where you want faster and easier than fighting off their little monkey arms allow? Well, jiu-jitsu. When the kids tackle you and you are done playing but they think that’s an invitation to keep pinning you? Don’t you want to extricate yourself like a ninja and escape their clutches? Well, my friend, look no further: jiu-jitsu. You learn how people will land if you hold certain arms and legs, and what happens if you use some leverage to move them out of your way, and how to disengage a grip on your clothes or your wrists. And all those techniques work on kids! I have blocked flying kicks to the face, arms swinging near my stomach, and potential head butts! That is a special kind of self-defense that I think would benefit every parent and child caretaker out there.
Finally, parents, caregivers, and teachers are the examples kids will emulate and use as
starting points as they grow up and figure out who they are. If you want your car to run well and last for a long time, you invest in its care. If you want your house built to withstand time, you make sure you’ve got a solid foundation and good materials. So if you want the kids in your life to have a chance at growing up successful, you have to invest in yourself to show them how to do it and that it is possible. When I go to class and when I compete, I’m setting the example of what is possible for my girls. My daughters, ages 6 and 9, have watched me compete twice so far, and they attend the Kids BJJ class I help with. Whether they know it or not, they are absorbing my attitudes towards sports, fear and frustration, and perseverance. Additionally, they learn self-defense, and to not be reluctant to engage and stand up for their place in the world. And maybe just as importantly, I am showing them how embracing a passion and investing time into it is good for me and everyone around me. As caregivers, we often put ourselves last to ensure that those we care for have the best possible chance at success, but we have to accept that we cannot give our best if we are not at our best. Whether they pursue jiu-jitsu long-term or not, my children will be affected by how I chose to live my life.
Where BJJ has parenthood and caregiving beat is in the expectations. There are a million
books out there on how you should care for kids, and as a parent, there seems to be an unspoken expectation that you should know or have done the research about how to manage kids, your life, and your new, child-laden social dynamics. BJJ is different in that respect: class is one of those rare places where it is encouraged to openly admit how little you know and ask others to help you. You are embraced for doing that. It’s a place where you are not supposed to be good; you can just be at whatever level you are, and all that is asked of you is just to try. I know in yoga or pilates, and probably many other individually based sports, you’re not supposed to compete against the other people around you, but let’s be honest — we’re all trying to do what super flexible-strong person can do and have to talk ourselves out of feeling down because we can’t. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have many areas of my life where just showing up and not being on top of things is totally cool and expected. It’s kind of nice to have one now.
By the end of jiu-jitsu class, you have had a two-hour respite from all your other thoughts,
and a great workout that will change your body. You will go home relaxed. You will sleep well. You will enjoy water and appreciate food like never before. You will become stronger and you will know it. You will be faster, and you will feel it. When you need to focus, it will come more easily. When you need patience, you will have more sooner. All of these things will positively impact your life with kids. Give jiu-jitsu a month of your time. If it doesn’t fit you, then you have only spent a month. If it does everything I have said and experienced, then you have lifetime waiting for you, and welcome to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.