How Learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Helped Me Tapout My Demons and Regain My Confidence.

Screenshot by Matt Von Tirpitz

by Matt Von Tirpitz

The internet is full of people writing about how jiu-jitsu gave them confidence. Usually they are talking about self-defense. But, I’m not writing about that. I’m writing about how BJJ helped me conquer a crisis that was within myself.

After a hellish period of job instability and difficult relationships, I was absorbed by a sense of utter hopelessness. I didn’t believe in myself. I was finding everyday tasks difficult to perform. My concentration and ability to apply myself suffered. I was plagued by a deep sense of dread and fear of failure. It was like living under knee-on-belly.

Of course, stepping on the mat can be itself a welcome shift away from whatever worries you. You’re in the moment, you’re not thinking of work deadlines, bills, or school grades. Your problems don’t disappear. However, they do go to the back of the queue. Having a 220-pound problem sitting on your chest and choking you puts your everyday troubles on the back burner. For many people that is bizarrely cathartic. But more importantly, this is how BJJ helped me off the mat.

Asking for help is okay.

When I ask my coach why my guillotine isn’t working I’m accepting that I’ve made a mistake. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Many of us struggle to acknowledge and announce that we have problems, and I’m looking especially hard at you, my fellow men. Seeing an issue resolved because you asked for help gives you the confidence to do it elsewhere. Perhaps to have a supervisor re-explain a project’s goals, speak to a friend about an important life decision, or choose to seek out professional help for a medical condition. A good experience with an approachable coach will put you on the right track.

You will fail many times before you succeed and that’s fine.

Fear of failure is one of the most crippling fears you can experience. It stops you even trying to achieve, and because you don’t try, you become more afraid of trying, the circle continues. But, when you try a new sweep or takedown you often fail many times before it works. But unlike in other areas of life, you welcome that failure rather than fear it, because you are surrounded by supportive people. You see it as an essential part of the learning process. If it doesn’t work, change something and give it another try. Applying this optimistic outlook off the mat is hugely beneficial. I can still hear my coach shouting from the sidelines “If it doesn’t work, try another angle.” He’s absolutely right.

People believe in you. Even when you don’t.

We accept that we’re not going to get everything right the first time. But that’s okay because we have people around us that are willing to show us how and where it went wrong. They are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, even if that means you eventually sub them with their own knowledge. They genuinely want you to succeed and they are delighted when you do.

Keep calm. You’ve got this.

Being on the receiving end of a choke or other sub can be pretty terrifying. But if you don’t panic or lose hope often, you can wait it out and escape to continue your fight. This can be like managing anxiety and depression. Everyone has different symptoms, but for me it was remarkably like being in a body triangle from behind. I felt like everything was crushing me and I had no hope of ever making it out.

But, with the boost I received from my teammates, coaches, and instructors, I learned to trust my own abilities and this transferred to my everyday life. It’s not unusual for new jiu-jitsu players to be surprised by how much strength they are able to utilize with the help of BJJ. I know exactly how they feel.

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