The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu for Life

Why does an ancient fighting technique work so well in todays modern world?

The relationship between physics, math and street fighting might not be obvious at first sight. But if you replace the latter with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and look deeper into the nature of the craft you can’t but see the parallels. In his seminal paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”, physics Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner asks the question of why math is so well suited for problems in natural sciences. Similarly, the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) for many other aspects of modern life is a puzzle. Here is an attempt to combine the two.

The history of BJJ starts thousands of years ago somewhere in India. Buddhist monks were constantly traveling from monastery to monastery. During their journeys they were often attacked by pirates and robbed. Since the monks were not exactly athletic in a Michelangelo kind of way (see the statute of David), they had to figure out a way to fight back. They developed a fighting style that focusses on leverage thourgh technique. The key is to use leverage and not strength. This way, the monks were able to defeat more athletic opponents. Jiu-Jitsu is a mix of Yoga, technique and moving practice. You have to be flexible, smart and agile to be good at it.

The technique spread with Buddhism through Asia and eventually landed in Japan, where the Samurai developed their own fighting style heavily borrowing from JiuJitsu. In the early 20th century a Japanese practitioner made his way to Brazil and thought the Gracie family JiuJitsu. The Gracies embraced the sport and developed a global phenomenon. Hence the notion Gracie Jiu-Jitsu which is almost synonymous with BJJ.

The Gracies adapted the technique to regular street fighting conditions. They made it more practical and dropped some of the old traditional baggage which is less effective in todays world.

The fighting style was so effective that they started challenging all other fighting styles in open mat sessions. People from disciplines like Karate, Judo or Wrestling showed up and got creamed. BJJ was undefeatable. Eventually one of the Gracies helped found the UFC and what we today call Mixed Martial Arts or MMA. Today, every MMA fighter is versatile in at least three domains, striking, wrestling and BJJ.

BJJ is incredibly effective in fighting conditions. It allows the fighter to take control and most importantly finish the fight without hurting the other person. The technique is so effective that the opponent will either give up or be incapacitated.

But BJJ goes way beyond the mat. Practicing the technique helps grasp many aspects of life. Whether it is hostile behavior by opponents in business or struggles with family members, BJJ is a good foundation to understand how to act and get solutions without causing unnecessary damage.

Hence the question: Why is BJJ so effective for life?

The answer is similar to math in natural sciences. Math describes fundamental relationships between basic natural objects. This universal approach makes it so effective in answering fundamental questions about natural sciences.

Similarly, BJJ deals with fundamental relationships between body and movement. One could argue that BJJ, the same as with math, deals with the relationship of objects. The difference is that in math the objects are square, circle etc. and in BJJ the object is the human body and its movements. But the basic concept is the same. And because it’s so fundamental, it’s applicable to many areas beyond the mat.

There is one major difference, though. While there are people who can do math and physics in a purely theoretical fashion, BJJ doesn’t work like that. You have to actually practice the technique to get better at it. Theory alone doesn’t get you anywhere. But the fundamental building blocks are nevertheless very similar. I encourage both fields.

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