Why is Jiu Jitsu so addicting?

For those of us who are already drinking the BJJ Kool-Aid, Jiu Jitsu is A-MA-ZING, and it’s hard to understand why the rest of the planet isn’t already pursuing this awesome, incredibly fulfilling, life-long activity!  The truth is, there’s some science behind why so many people who start doing Jiu Jitsu end up finding it rather addicting.  But before I go into that I should probably say, to be clear, all addictions aren’t necessarily bad- particularly if what you are addicted to makes you a healthier, happier, and more well-balanced human being! 😊

Ok, so to lay the groundwork for WHY Jiu Jitsu is so compelling for many of us, let’s first talk about how the human brain works.  I’m going to steal an idea from Tony Robbins here, which is basically a simple lesson in practical psychology.  After decades of engaging with millions of people all over the world, helping them create life-changing breakthroughs, guiding them toward self-improvement, as well as individually coaching some of the most successful and well-known people on the plant, he’s identified six basic human needs that all people must have in order to be happy and healthy.  Now the ideal amount of each are going to be different from person to person, but to at least some degree, all are required.  You can almost always trace someone’s behavior back to their desire to fulfill one or more of these six needs…  They are Certainty, Uncertainty, Significance, Connection, Growth and Contribution.  He poses that if an activity fulfills two of these needs, you will actively seek it out again.  If an activity fulfills three or more, there is a very high probability that it can become addicting.

So now let’s go through and look at each of these needs and how they might tie into Jiu Jitsu…

Certainty.  If you have a well-structured and tightly run school, students will have a very high degree of certainty about what their learning experience will be like.  Does your school follow the same format for each class?  Is there a structured curriculum that you follow?  Do students have a way to track their progress and identify what they have learned and what they have yet to learn?  If so, then there is a substantial amount of certainty that comes with training Jiu Jitsu at your school.  In many ways it’s very predictable and you know what to expect every time you come in.  Certainty is like the warm safety blanket that gives you the feeling of security and comfort in any environment- be it BJJ, personal relationships, professional careers, etc.  So, at least in my school (and other Gracie Academy CTCs), we can check off Certainty as something you will definitely get when you train BJJ.

Uncertainty.  On the other hand, if you knew everything that was going to happen before it happened, life would be incredibly boring.  We need uncertainty to keep things interesting and our attention focused.  When it comes to training BJJ, there is certainly some uncertainty involved, especially when you are learning a new technique for the first (or second?) time, or if it’s a sparring day.  “Will I be able to do the technique correctly?  Can I escape from this position?  Will I be able to use the new technique he taught us today when rolling?”  There’s also some uncertainty because you are constantly getting new and different training partners, and adding new details to old techniques.  Techniques don’t always work the same on the smallest person in the class as they do the biggest, so outcomes aren’t 100% predictable.  Uncertainty is like salt- too much can ruin the dish, but just the right amount really brings out the flavor!  So, Uncertainty in Jiu Jitsu- Check.

Significance.  People need to feel important, it’s a fact of life.  Some personalities need to feel like they are the most significant person in the room at all times, and some people just need to feel like they are significant to someone.  But everyone needs to feel some level of significance in their lives.  Ever wonder why dogs are called “Man’s best friend?”  You are the center of Fido’s universe- it’s hard not to feel pretty significant when Fido’s around wagging his tail and licking your face.  When it comes to training in a martial art like Jiu Jitsu, so much of the learning comes from cooperation and collaboration between training partners.  In a good training environment, you value your partners above all else, because they are the ones who can help you the most.  You are the ticket to each other’s success.  So, for today at least, they become very significant to your progress, and you are extremely significant to their progress.  This also applies in sparring. If someone is trying to submit you, you better believe they are the most significant thing in your world for the next 10 seconds until you tap or manage to escape! J  Significance, check!

Connection.  Humans are social creatures.  We crave connection- be it in the form of a romantic relationship, with close friendships, or in deep family ties.  We need to have close bonds with other humans because we evolved that way bazillions of years ago.  Connection comes from intimate interactions (not necessarily romantic intimacy, just meaningful personal interactions).  If you have noticed, Jiu Jitsu schools become almost like a large extended family.  The friendships become close and lifelong.  They’re not just training partners- eventually they become brothers and sisters.  This is due to the very personal interactions you’re having with your training partners on a daily basis.  You develop trust and respect with the people that you are training with because you’re putting your safety and well-being in their hands, and they are doing the same for you.  So Jiu Jitsu most definitely provides a very high level of Connection- Check!

Growth.  Among all martial arts, it takes longer to reach Black Belt in BJJ than almost any other.  The Art is incredibly complex and the amount of knowledge to retain is vast.  If you train, you’ve probably heard “it’s not about the belt, it’s the journey that matters”, and that’s 100% true.  With so much to learn, the potential for growth is huge.  Admittedly, you experience technical growth quicker as a white belt because you are starting from scratch, but growth is still a constant if you truly are appreciating the journey.  BJJ teaches us patience, humility, courtesy, and perseverance.  As a result, we continue to grow as individuals and martial artists throughout the entire journey.  So we can put Growth down on our list of Checked off needs as well.

Contribution.  Along with Growth, Contribution is generally more of a long-term need we want to get from our training.  Actually, we can contribute in many ways even as a beginner, but initially the goal is to learn and develop ourselves.  Once technical skills are mastered, we still keep coming back.  So why then do advanced students keep coming to class when they may know more than anybody else there?  It’s because they value the contribution that they can provide to the other students and to the school.  It’s about giving back, and starting the cycle all over again for the new white belts who will one day want to pass along their knowledge to the next generation.  Contributing to something greater than ourselves is something that is hard wired into our psychology as humans, and Jiu Jitsu certainly allows the opportunity to do that, so Contribution is yet another Check.

Six for six ain’t bad!

So it’s kind of easy to see why people get so passionate about Jiu Jitsu.  There are opportunities to fulfill each of the six human needs in just one enjoyable activity!  Especially these days, with busy schedules and so many things competing for our attention, it can be hard to get all of our needs met.  I often describe training as my “therapy” for the week, and it’s a sentiment that I think most other people who train can identify with.  In addition to the emotional benefits, you also reap the physical rewards as well!

You may have tried Jiu Jitsu before and for some reason is just wasn’t enjoyable for you, but that may have been because of the particular academy or environment that you were training in.  I can tell you from experience that all Jiu Jitsu schools and teachers are not the same, so you may just need to find one that works for you.  So if you tried it once and didn’t like it, or you used to train but have fallen away… give it another shot, try another school, and see if you can’t find some 100% Organic All-Natural human based “therapy” for yourself.  You won’t regret it!  And by the way if you’re interested, I know a place that gives you a 10-day risk free trial just to check it out! 😉  www.BerwynHeightsBJJ.com / www.GracieUniversity.com