The “Gentle Art” of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

This article originally appear on yegfitness.ca. It was written by Liam Armstrong of F.R.E.E. Fitness Inc.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or “BJJ” is a grappling martial art based on establishing positions of ground control and applying joint-locks or choke-holds to submit your opponent. This sport does not involve any striking such as punches or kicks, but instead uses principles of leverage to overcome differences in size and strength.

I started my journey in BJJ over three years ago. I first got into it out of curiosity, but like most beginners, I had no idea what I was getting into. This almost deterred me from trying BJJ, which would have been a shame because it has taught me so much about my physical and mental capabilities. After trying my first class at Method Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Edmonton and meeting my instructor, Andrew Gummer, I immediately fell in love with the sport.

Why I Joined BJJ

My first class was extremely welcoming as I met men and women from all different backgrounds who had been practicing BJJ anywhere from a few months to over ten years. The BJJ community is incredibly welcoming all over Edmonton and it’s the perfect way to meet new people looking to sharpen their physical and mental skills. I also have no desire to intentionally hit someone in the face or be hit in the face, so BJJ was perfect for me. In my training, I found something that I was missing from playing team sports, a way to challenge myself as an individual and something I can learn for years to come.

I’ve seen many benefits from training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, both mentally and physically. I believe it’s one of the best martials arts and can benefit everyone who decides to step onto the mat.

What Does a Class Look Like?

Classes at Method BJJ begin with a warm-up, followed by learning and drilling techniques, and ends with timed rounds of rolling (the term for sparring in BJJ). Each month we learn a new series of techniques that we practice each week. Some months are focused on setting up protective positions (guard positions) to then attack from, and other months are focused on learning ways to move past or through guard positions to take advantageous positions. Most of this involves off-balancing and leveraging your training partner so that you end up in a favorable position. Each month of learning allows you to add more skills and techniques to your toolbox that you get to practice while rolling.

After we’ve finished our drilling, we roll. Rolling is unlike any other workout or exercise I’ve experienced. It’s an all-out effort the entire time. While rolling, the goal is to submit your opponent before giving them the chance to submit you. This usually results in a fast-paced battle for dominant position while setting up attacks to end the exchange, then getting up and starting again before time expires. I know this sounds grueling, but stay with me… it’s incredibly rewarding.

Rolling in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is rewarding because it gives you the opportunity to practice techniques you’ve learned during class against a live opponent who is trying to execute the same techniques on you. The entire time you are problem solving, defending and planning attacks. It’s like playing a game of chess while doing high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.). By the end, you are tired, drenched in sweat, and are gasping for air. It’s the hardest thing I do every week, and I love it!

It’s For Everyone

Classes are filled with people of all different body types. You don’t have to be in great shape when you start. It helps, but you can think of BJJ as a funnel for whatever physical and mental attributes you bring with you. You might be strong, have great balance, and excellent cardio which can benefit your rolling. However, someone else may have composure, and a “calm, cool and relaxed” mindset that may benefit their BJJ. Which ever attributes you bring with you to BJJ will help develop your rolling style. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, which makes this sport incredibly addictive to continue training over many years as you learn more techniques to improve your style.

Physical Health

Regularly practicing BJJ can improve your physical health in many ways. Weekly classes and rounds upon rounds of rolling add up to some serious strength and cardio conditioning. Not only that, but you’ll improve your mobility and body awareness from grappling with training partners and moving your body around with various techniques.

Often times, people use Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as motivation to get into the gym. If they can get stronger, increase their flexibility and improve their cardio, it can elevate their BJJ. It’s an awesome feedback loop where attending more classes will improve your overall physical health. But then wanting to improve your BJJ can motivate and inspire you to take better care of your health outside of class!

Mental Health

BJJ is challenging physically, but what I’ve seen in my mental growth could arguably be more valuable than my improvements to my physical health. BJJ teaches humility in frustrating and often embarrassing ways. When you start, you are frequently defeated by more experienced training partners while sometimes barely being able to put up a fight. Embracing the fact that you are a “beginner” at BJJ before you step on the mat will humble you. Every bump along the way is worth it because of the confidence you’ll gain by completing each workout and class.

While training, it isn’t always obvious that you are improving. However, I promise you that you are getting better every time you drill and roll. Showing up and getting your butt kicked (eventually kicking some butt of your own) multiple times a week builds some serious resilience and perseverance. After doing BJJ for three years, it feels like there’s nothing in life that I can’t handle. I know that if I can voluntarily challenge the hardest thing I’m going to do, two to three times a week at BJJ, everything else in life is attainable.

Community and Trust

Lastly, I’ve built such wonderful relationships with many of my classmates. While rolling, trust and camaraderie between you and your training partners are developed. The term ‘tap-out’ refers to when one training partner admits defeat when they get caught in a submission by their partner. This signals the “winner” to release their training partner who tapped out from the submission safely without causing injury.

While rolling with your teammates, trust is crucial to avoid injuries. You want to bring the best out of your teammates, and your teammates want to bring the best out of you. Practicing at 100% is important to improve your skills and conditioning, but at the same time, you need to trust that your teammates care about your safety. The benefit of this all is that you develop strong relationships that go beyond “friendship” as your safety is literally in your training partner’s hands. Schools become terrific communities where students can train, exchange stories and ideas and eventually become family.

I fell in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the moment I stepped onto the mat. It’s a fun sport that challenges you physically and mentally every practice. Aside from the strong sense of community among practitioners, my favorite part of BJJ is that there’s no end to how much you can learn and improve over many years of training. If you’re looking for a new hobby, recreationally or competitively that is challenging and highly rewarding, I recommend you give the “Gentle Art” of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a try.

Written by Liam ArmstrongF.R.E.E. Fitness