My intent for this post is to get members of the jiujitsu community, to see beyond the surface of jiujitsu. Beyond the belts, the shiny gold medals and even all the latest trends. To see the people around you and how the art can truly help others cope and even heal mental illness.
It would seem as though, I’ve had a grappling match with depression most of my life. Even as a kid, I’d go from smiling to having a wave of sadness wash over me. Of course living withcerebral palsy brings it’s own battles. Knowing that you’re not like everyone else in the world. Knowing where you belong in the world is as equally daunting. Truth be told, I’ve always felt like a misfit.
As a child, I went through a handful of surgeries, each requiring months to recover, taking me out of school and away from friends is in some ways worse than the physical pain. My one saving grace as a kid was learning how to grapple. It was my escape from even knowing I had CP, it was an escape from my mind and so much more.
Learning to grapple made me feel as though, I was alive and that this could all lead to a greater purpose. I’ve been a martial arts instructor since the age of sixteen, teaching very styles, disciplines and people from all walks of life. I love the arts. But the one art I love the most is jiujitsu.
I truly believe that it can change people’s lives for the better, students and professors have the ability to use the gift of jiujitsu to change people’s lives for the better. The way some other arts cannot. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Rickson Gracie once said that sometimes as a teacher, you are sometimes a psychologist as well. In that sometimes you have to teach others to be calm, control their emotions and transcend the challenges of their lives.
As many may know, speaking up about depression or any challenge can take a lot of courage. It’s often what we are most willing to speak about that gives us healing and hope. Most of the time, my team mates see me with a smile on my face, sometimes the smile is real, but sometimes the smile is a means to hide the pain.
I smile and don’t let anyone see the fight going on inside me. Which is daily. But once I feel my GI and belt wrap around me. I know everything will be okay. For me, I love the human contact of Jiujitsu. Which I don’t get much of. I know that either when I’m learning a new technique or rolling with friends. The pain and sadness will leave me. Then- I can breath and feel that everything is right in the world.
Jiujitsu has taught me to breath. To breathe through the heaviness of depression and even anxiety. To move and make space even when I am feeling smothered by life. There’s always a way out of a tough position.
My hope is that members of the jiujitsu community will look deeper into jiujitsu, and see the healing properties that it possesses. It’s not about the pursuit of gold medals, the stripes on your belt or how many cool techniques you can do. It’s about the people around you. Open your eyes, pay attention to your team mates, check in with the people around you. If you know someone is struggling, and you don’t know the words. Offer them your silence, your listening ear. Keep them rolling and moving forward in the journey. Am I completely free from the weight of my own depression? No, I am not. But Jujitsu has offered a healing, and am community that I have never had. And quite frankly, it is better than any medicine a doctor could offer me.
Remember, we are a community that exists to make each other better. Jiujitsu exists, not so much for the sake of violence. But to reveal the greatness that lives inside us all.