This article was written by 3rd-Degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Nicolas Gregoriades.
When practised correctly, jiu-jitsu is good for you. If you devote yourself to training several times per week you can expect great improvements in your sense of well-being. Here are some of the reasons I feel this.
The body as an instrument
The one thing that we all share during the human experience is our inhabitation of a physical body - it's with us for this entire journey. Some of our bodies are big, some are little, and some are stronger than others, but with few exceptions, it's a pretty unified experience.
These bodies are such complex and powerful organisms and our physiques are capable of so much more than most people realize or utilize. The vast majority of the human race will never get to use their bodies to the extent that a jiu-jitsoka does.
About ten years ago a popular song named 'Sunscreen' was released. It offered various pieces of advice through its lyrics, one of which was "Enjoy your body, use it every way you can... it's the greatest instrument you'll ever own." Extending the analogy, we could view jiu-jitsu is an extremely complex, evolving piece of diagnostic software which allows us to test and maintain these 'instruments'.
Movement & Heat = Life
In death our bodies become cold and stiff, whereas life is typified by movement and heat. Taking this into consideration, I believe jiu-jitsu to be one of the most important expressions and representations of life.
When we grapple we engage in a large portion of the range of physical actions and movements available to a human being. This includes but is not limited to jumping, pulling, lifting, twisting, bending, reaching, gripping, pushing, dragging, rolling and kicking. Not only is the range of actions varied, but they are almost always done in combination - we lift and twist or reach and drag etc. Movement is life. Jiu-jitsu is movement. Jiu-jitsu is life.
Those of us that roll know that nothing compares to the workout derived from an intense grappling match. The incredible combination of aerobic, anaerobic, isometric and plyometric exercise generates huge amounts of heat in all of our corporeal tissues. In the medical philosophies of many cultures, heat is a healing agent. It is said to promote regeneration, pliability and eradication of disease. Heat is life. Jiu-jitsu is heat. Jiu-jitsu is life.
There are numerous other benefits associated with the gentle art too. The skin is the human being's largest organ, and jiu-jitsu is an excellent method for keeping it healthy. The heavy perspiration experienced during grappling aids in the elimination of toxins and the friction from the kimono cleanses your skin by scrubbing away dead cells. Good health of the internal organs is also promoted. The constant multi-planar bending of the torso and pressure of your opponent's weight on your frame massages the intestines, liver, kidneys and spleen, and promotes circulation of clean blood to them. Also, because of the aerobic nature of longer sparring sessions, the heart and lungs are also kept in peak condition.
Testing the intrument
Grappling is a very effective method for discovering weakness and imbalances in your physical structure. It differs from most other forms of exercise because the experience is so unpredictable and dynamic. Because you are challenged from so many awkward positions, you are forced to perform movements which are foreign and difficult for your body.
During sparring we are presented the challenge of moving our bodies through space at unusual angles and through multiple planes. We also have to deal with the dynamic resistance offered by our opponent's constantly shifting mass. When strive to balance our own weight and simultaneously manouver that of our opponent we are involved in an activity that is uniquely challenging.
Vast quantities of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited during jiu-jitsu. This muscular involvement is not limited to the larger, primary muscle groups, but includes all of the stabilizing structures as well. From the tips of the toes to the top of the head, almost every single muscle is constantly involved in the process. Jiu-jitsu quickly exposes weaknesses, which, if not dealt with, may lead to infirmity in old age, or at the very least hinder athletic performance in younger people.
During intense practices, we employ our physical resources in a way that few other activities can come close to equaling. Admittedly, other physical pursuits may offer some or even all of the physical benefits of jiu-jitsu, but none can claim to do so to the same extent. So the next time you don't feel like training, remember that you have only one body and that jiu-jitsu is one of the very best things you can do to maintain and condition it.