BJJ provides the camaraderie that is missing. Feeling isolated is a risk factor for PTSD, and can make symptoms worse and recovery more difficult. Conversely, building a strong social network decreases the risks of developing PTSD and can help speed recovery.
Grappling is the ultimate ice-breaker. I love this aspect of it. You pair up with someone and you work physically very close to them. Add some physical activity, mild competition and some challenges and next thing you know, you’re both smiling and you leave the gym as friends. It’s great for introverts or people with social anxiety. I know from personal experience.
Because of the exercise and the close physical contact and the primal nature of fighting, I suspect that oxytocin is released, along with dopamine and serotonin. I don’t have scientific proof of this yet (anyone who wants to do research in this area, please contact me). Oxytocin is the bonding chemical.
Ideally, find a class with other first responders. People who understand what the job entails and what you might be going through. My vision is to create a group of first responders who train BJJ together and who can help each other through difficulties and become better and stronger together.
It’s hard to appreciate the full extent of these effects unless you’ve tried BJJ. So if you haven’t, please just take the plunge and try it.
2. Self-defence and restraint techniques
I’ve been to many self defence seminars over the years. Many of them teach to deliver disabling blows to your opponent and then run away. As first responders, it’s usually not appropriate to strike someone and run away. We often have people under our care or are protecting the public. We need to know how to safely restrain someone without anyone getting hurt.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the best core martial art for first responders because it is proven to work. It was proven back in the early 1990’s in the first few UFC events. An unassuming man named Royce Gracie took on much larger opponents and defeated them. BJJ is an art where technique and timing can safely diffuse size, strength and aggression.
The beauty of BJJ is that one can spar with high intensity without getting injured, compared to striking-based arts where every sparring session means risking head injury.
3. Physical exercise
Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact in PTSD. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that exercise has now been shown to improve many areas of life.
Let’s face it: most first responders, and people in general, could benefit from more physical activity. It can be a challenge to get into a fitness routine with rotating shifts, and for many, going to a gym gets stale quickly. BJJ offers a way to add in some physical activity with other people, while learning useful (potentially life-saving) skills. The social bonds that develop will help motivate you to show up day after day, probably more than making solo trek to a gym.
4. Flow state/not thinking about work
In sparring (we call it ‘rolling’), there is a forced focus on the present moment. There’s no time to think about that bad call, or the frustrating supervisor or that your family or friends don’t understand the demands of the job. There is only you and your opponent. The only thoughts are about what your next move is going to be. And sometimes there are no thoughts and you get lost in jiu jitsu. That’s flow. It’s one of the peak human experiences and from personal experience BJJ is a great place to get it. It’s easy to get lost in jiu jitsu. It’s a great mental break from whatever is weighing you down.
5. Helps restore faith in humanity
In dealing with awful situations and people at their worst for years, I lost my faith in humanity. It happened slowly and I didn’t notice it until it got very bad. I see it in many of my colleagues and friends. One of the things that helped restore this was jiu jitsu. Jiu Jitsu class is a place where people of all different walks of life, sizes and shapes come together, are respectful, trust each other, work hard together and develop close bonds with each other.
I could go on. These are just a handful of the many reasons why BJJ is perfect for first responders.
I hope to see you on the mats!