Sensei Chris talks in front of kids during the kids class

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a System of Education

Since the 1820’s Physical Education, known colloquially as “P.E.”, has come into existence to educate boys and girls about the importance of a healthy relationship with exercise and the physical and mental benefits that accompany vitality and fitness. It is unfortunate that nowadays, the attempts to provide any sort of value are somewhat laughable as seen by the rise of obesity in our youth stemming from a society which promotes sedentary behavior by way of over-consumption of junk food, electronics and a coddling approach to parenting and educating. Oftentimes, the teachers themselves are hardly examples of health or discipline and the class is seen as an easy way to get credits in order to graduate, especially for those who are already athletes or in good physical condition. The problem for many is the same one we as professors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ face, the people who stand to gain the most from a program that aims to develop self-confidence and respect, are unlikely to take the step towards an incredibly empowering journey if it does not demonstrate the capacity to help them achieve their goals. It is sad to know that roughly one quarter of kids from ages 2-19 years old are overweight. Those of us who are healthy can only imagine the difficulty going through life as a child or teen without having the confidence and the positive attitude that can come from having a healthy body and mind. It is clear enough to adults that kids are not the most understanding when it comes to matters of social issues and let’s face it, even for those with great health, school can still be tough with bullies and jealous types who want to tear others down in order to validate themselves. Many parents would benefit greatly if the public school system offered what a good martial arts academy does and there would likely be less bullies, resulting in less issues, and it is not to say that there aren’t plenty of good teachers out there who want to help and do the right thing but something is going to have to change if we want our programs to start producing healthier and happier kids. This is what a good BJJ academy strives to accomplish, and we do that by aiming to make the newest members feel welcomed and important. This is not by some tactic of deceit, all parties involved must be genuinely supportive of the success of the “white belts” or lower belts (newer students) in order to grow and foster an environment that helps everyone achieve their goals. Good professors, coaches and sensei (the word for teacher) are familiar with the difficulty of starting out as we all were once there, so they do their best to make students feel welcome. The term for this is jita kyoei which can be interpreted as “mutual prosperity” and is quoted frequently by Master Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo (a martial art/ Olympic sport practiced in nearly every country), throughout his writings Mind Over Muscle. This concept of contribution to society, as a whole, by way of self-improvement with Judo as a vehicle is what led to the implementation of Judo as a standardized system in schools, military, police and other branches in Japan and many other countries who followed their lead. Nowadays Judo, particularly in the United States has seen a decline, partly due to the absence of monetary incentive unlike many other sports that might provide a scholarship or even result in the athletes being paid and earning a living as an athlete or taking a coaching position. This is a shame to those of us who are aware of the incredible benefits that martial arts poses to pass on to our youth in particular as it has been shown to pave the way for strong, confident leaders who are empowered to take risks and approach life with the same mentality that they learned to achieve success in the art as an athlete or simply a practitioner. It is a similar structure to the military in the sense that it is encouraging young men and women to become dangerous for their own sake and the sake of their country while adhering to a moral code that will guide them to use their power for good. Sports are also capable of teaching such lessons to kids but due to the demand for coaches to win games, the life skills are far less important than winning. Alabama coach, Nick Saban, wouldn’t be who is today if they were a losing team, and there is much to be said for his skills as a coach, a leader and motivator combined with the incredible talent they attract. For most of us, such opportunities are far and few in between and most parents want to see their child receive the benefits of competing in sports so they can grow up to be successful and have good health and live a good life. The good news is that martial arts is a great place for kids, especially starting at the age of four to seven years old, where they will embark on a journey that will serve them for the rest of their lives. A Jiu Jitsu or BJJ academy is the perfect place for them to start receiving such an education, given that they have a curriculum that aims to provide more than simply self-defense skills or athletic qualities. While this is very important in order to be able to defend themselves and avoid becoming targets of bullying, one of the most important things they will learn is cultivating habits of discipline and self-respect in a healthy social environment for them to grow and become their best versions. One of the first things that a four-year-old will learn at our academy is the importance of posture. Even as young as three years old kids understand easily that poor posture is weak and good posture is strong. Right then and there they are learning that they want to be strong and capable rather than weak and afraid. By simply learning to have posture and make eye contact they dramatically reduce their chances of being a target of bullying. The next thing they learn is the importance of listening. This is incredibly invaluable when it comes to following the steps laid out for them to achieve their next rank or receive a stripe (a step towards their next rank) or even one day receive a black belt. While the road to black belt is long and cumbersome, those who are the best listeners achieve these promotions the fastest, just like in life. Students will also be promoted based on their goals. A student with a competitive focus will sometimes take a longer or shorter time to reach their next rank based on their performance in competitions whereas a student who simply enjoys the art and seeks general proficiency will be based more on their technical knowledge and character. This ranking system is a crucial part of the system because also ignites the healthy competitiveness coupled with goal-setting that they will need to do well in school and their lives after that. At our school we do not promote students based on their abilities alone, while this is part of the conversation, the main part of the equation is the behaviors that they are creating. As teachers we take pride in knowing that our students can not only defend themselves, but also treat people with kindness, get good grades and become assertive leaders who look to enrich their community by raising the standard of what kids can be capable of in the right environment with a good mindset. As much as we wish the school system was the solution, kids continue to suffer from bullying, obesity continues to rise along with depression and many other diseases that can benefit from the structure that promotes healthy, strong, independent leaders. Our vision is that by building a culture of happiness and health starting with our youth, martial arts or BJJ can one day have a place in the school system that so desperately needs it.