If you’ve done jiu-jitsu or have ever spoken with someone who does jiu-jitsu, you’ve probably heard how “It’s for everyone!” If you don’t do jiu-jitsu, this might have been confusing, especially when you learned about all the uncomfortable, sweaty stuff that’s involved in this sport.
For the… erm… athletically challenged, that phrase might seem even more absurd. After all, jiu-jitsu is often described in layman’s terms as “submission wrestling,” and we all know what our high school wrestling team looked like. Those guys were mean machines. They looked like they could lift you over their head with one arm (and many of them probably could).
You, on the other hand, were that kid who read books instead of watching football games. You thrived in a classroom and made the least amount of effort possible in gym class. Your body was useful because of the fact that it contained your brain, not because it could move fast or lift things up and put them down. So the idea of starting not only a sport, but a contact sport, might have seemed like something better suited for someone who was the exact opposite of you.
Trust me, a few years ago, I was right there with you. My idea of cardio was reading a suspenseful chapter in a book. You couldn’t force me to run a mile, but I’d happily lock myself in my room for a few hours studying new Spanish vocabulary. I was included in my high school yearbook as part of the wrestling team, but as the scorekeeper and not one of the wrestlers. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how to do a takedown, but I could recite every common preposition in the English language off the top of my head.
Yeah, I was a huge nerd.
Honestly, though, that side of me is part of what made jiu-jitsu so appealing to me. This wasn’t a sport that required nothing but brute strength or mindless, repetitive exercises at a standard gym. Jiu-jitsu, I learned very quickly, engaged my brain rather than just my muscles. I wasn’t just going in, sweating, and walking out; I was learning ways to make my body incapacitate another person using things like leverage and momentum.
Jiu-jitsu is very much a mental game, and that’s exactly why it’s so great not only for natural athletes, but for intellectuals. We’ve lived all our lives hungry for knowledge, and jiu-jitsu gives it to us while still being a great way to get in shape. Plus, all that physical activity is crucial for keeping our brains healthy for the rest of our lives. In a way, it’s like teaching our body another language. We’re showing it how to function in a way it’s never moved before to serve a completely different purpose than what it’s used to.
Every time you go to class and learn a new technique, you’re strengthening your mind as well as your body. You’re problem-solving and figuring out how to make a specific technique your own, adjusting it to suit your own body and making it work against people who have different strengths and weaknesses than your own. It’s very much like algebra, especially when you’re practicing a technique and have to figure out what you’re missing in order to get the desired end result. If you just go in there and expect to out-muscle your way through, you’re soon going to be outclassed by the people who can outsmart you on the mats.
Truth be told, I’m still a huge nerd. I mean, I write for a living, for goodness’ sake. I still struggle my way through many classes and watch in envy as my more athletic teammates surpass me in talent. But for someone with the hand-eye coordination of an earthworm, I think I’m doing pretty damn well. I know that I’m never going to be naturally good at doing anything with my body, but I’m thankful that jiu-jitsu has given me a way to stay active while still satisfying my need to think.
I’m not sure if it’s true that jiu-jitsu is for everyone, but if your mind has always been the most active thing you’ve had going for you, don’t let that keep you away from the mats. Your brain is a body part, too, and jiu-jitsu is a sport that lets it have its moment in the spotlight.