The most positive aspect of Brazilian jiu jitsu, as well as many other martial arts, is the act of physical human contact. Putting your body’s safety in the hands of other people on the jiu jitsu path allows you to visit the ends of the spectrum in physical communication; from getting smashed and tapped, to hugs and hand slaps. Countless lives are steered onto a productive course thanks to the important human interaction necessary for developing compassion and curbing an unhealthy ego.
There is a quality of trust inherent to BJJ training. Whether that fresh white belt acknowledges it or not, he is entrusting you with the safety of his dangerously flailing body, and vice versa. That agreement, existing from day one, is similar to a trust that sometimes takes months, or years, to gain in personal relationships outside the gym. Leaving your money, physical safety, or personal fears in the hands of anyone you’ve just met is difficult for most people, but the physical contact of grappling allows us to experience and bypass this immediately. Through this portal, a vast range of emotion and circumstance is faced. At the hands of a clock choke, one may get violenty ground into the floor and have their brain’s blood supply disrupted to the point of nearly losing their conscious awareness. Seconds later, the same person is being lifted to a standing position, from their suffering, welcomed by a smile and an embrace that may serve as an overall outlook on how to approach personal difficulties. In those respects, jiu jitsu provides many with supplemental interaction vital to psychological development.
A study focusing on a contrast in behavior between infant monkeys with fake prop mothers and another group not separated from their mothers was performed by Harry Harlow in 1959. The monkeys with artificial mothers all suffered from constant fear in their social interactions, developing antisocial and delinquent behavior. The orphaned primates matured into an irrationally violent group who often had trouble mating or developing a relationship (especially physical) with their offspring. Jiu jitsu cannot be a parenting figure, nor can it replace a childhood of neglect. It can, however, provide a gateway to good relationships built on trust and affection. Training partners can be interpreted as siblings, parental guides, or even offspring to pass your advice on to, all sharing in a group battle of circumstance on the mat. The sense of touch is one way to tie this all together. By using grappling as a tool, one can supplement areas in life that may otherwise be faced with a lack of confidence or perspective, lending more empathy and experience to draw from in all situations, simply by experiencing a wide array of physical communication. The student can then see more clearly, with less ego-driven fear, free to adjust their paths with help from grappling.
Behavior can be adjusted with the help of jiu jitsu, with some thanks owed to routine physical contact with other humans. Those who train it can, and often are, granted a fast track to physical, mental, and emotional health by close interaction, inspiring positive and productive attitudes throughout life. This belief is supported by anecdotal evidence that can be seen in gyms around the world, but it really only begins to touch on a perceived understanding of grappling’s cognitive benefits. We can certainly continue training, chasing understanding along with those next chokes, hugs, and hand slaps.