Jiu-Jitsu as Meditation

One of the main skills I’m trying to acquire in my life is the ability to disengage from the endless internal chatter that my mind perpetually generates. This chatter tends to be a non-stop feedback loop of repeated ideas which at best revolve around mundane day to day tasks that need to be completed and at worst focus on any negative thoughts I may have about myself, others or situations. That inner critic can be crippling, and the more I can dissociate with it, the more clear minded and emotionally centered I tend to get.

I do practice meditation, though I haven’t been practicing it for long, and certainly not as consistently as I probably should be. It helps, quite a bit, but I often find myself slipping into “auto-mode”, where hours can go by without me really being in control of my own thoughts. Gurdjieff talked about waking up from this robotic existence by continuously focusing your attention on a small body part (such as your right hand pinky). Doing so forced your brain into the moment, and practicing doing this was supposed to cultivate the same mind-state that meditation does.

What I’ve discovered is that Jiu-Jitsu has the same affect on me.

In Jiu-Jitsu our class is typically divided into 3 sections: warm-up, instruction, and sparring. After a long day at work I’m usually wanting to go home and lay down. The last thing I want to do is get entangled in a difficult workout. But I always force myself to go. At first during the warm-up the thoughts that usually come up in my mind are along the lines of: “I’m tired, too tired to be doing something so difficult”, “I had a really rough day at work, I should be home trying to enjoy myself”, or “I should really be spending my evenings trying pursue the new career that I want”.

After warm-up the instructor begins to teach the day’s moves, and my thoughts get focused on what we’re learning. We’re paired up with a partner and we drill each of the moves, and my body is tired and I start to worry about how I will perform during the sparring session of class. After we complete the instruction part of the class, we all go for a water break and prepare to spar. At this point my head chatter is usually along the lines of “I’m way too tired to spar”, “I’m going to get beat by the new guy and disappoint my instructor who I’m sure expects a better performance”, and “I won’t remember any of the moves we’ve been learning, why can’t I focus better during instruction”.

Then we begin to spar.

Sparring consists of 5 minute rounds, and on a long night we will get in 5 or 6 of those rounds, with a couple of minutes break in between. During sparring I’ll find myself often in positions where I’m totally immobilized by my opponent, bearing their full weight on my chest as they leverage their size and skill to essentially compress my chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe when I’m already out of breath, to frustrate my position until I give them an opportunity for submission. This goes both ways of course, but the main point I’m trying to make is that during this extremely difficult physical altercation there is no possible way to focus on anything other than “the moment”. Having my focus so completely engaged in the moment, while at the same time being more physically challenged than I’ve ever been in my life, coupled with the extreme cardio necessary to make it through these encounters leaves me feeling more at peace and happier at the end of a night of training than I ever remember before. Every time I finish a Jiu-Jitsu class I’m happy I went (though I often dread it beforehand), and feel a peace and calmness that I don’t feel at any other time. My thoughts are quiet. My mind is clear. After being beaten down for an hour and a half by like minded (and encouraging) instructors and teammates, my emotions are stable. There is no other time during my day that I feel as well adjusted as I do after Jiu-Jitsu.

With all that Jiu-Jitsu gives, friendship, incredible self-defense, a tremendous workout, the most valuable thing it gives to me is this calmness of mind.

I haven’t gotten very far with my meditation practice yet, but from all that I’ve read, and all I’ve discussed with others, it seems like the mental and emotional benefits I get from practicing Jiu-Jitsu mirror some of those that meditation is supposed to give to you. I will continue to work on my meditation of course, but in the meantime Jiu-Jitsu is filling a need in my life that I haven’t been able to get from meditation as of yet. I’ll be curious as my meditation practice grows to see how on the mark I am with this comparison between Jiu-Jitsu and meditation, I have a suspicion that these benefits I get from Jiu-Jitsu are in fact similar to what meditation can give, but likely meditation can take it much deeper.

Time will tell…..

1 thought on “Jiu-Jitsu as Meditation”

  1. I can see how any activity that requires focus on your immediate situation, rather than allowing you to run on auto-pilot and drift off into rumination, would be a form of meditation.

    I might argue that it’s actually mindfulness, rather than meditation. My current thinking on the distinction between the two is that meditation is like a concentrated session practicing the skill of focusing the attention on the present moment, and mindfulness is the implementation of that skill in daily life.

    I think activities like martial arts lean more toward the implementation aspect. But the end result is similar: practice at keeping the mind in the immediate activity and the present moment.

    I took a glass-blowing class back in college, and the intense potential danger of not paying attention to the molten glass resulted in a similar focus on the immediate activity. It was unusually addicting. At the time, I knew nothing of meditation or of the intended results of the practice. But I speculated back then that it was that intense focus on the present moment that I was actually interested in, not so much the glass-blowing itself.

    This might even explain how disinterest arises in a new activity once the novelty wears off and familiarity sets in — at the start, we are focused on the activity, but as we get skilled at it we begin to daydream while we do the activity and the “buzz” wears off. I noticed this with my bicycling.

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