Are You a Martial Artist?

Most people who are outside of the world of brazilian jiu-jitsu tend to think of martial arts in the traditional sense. Starched white gis or black ninja pyjamas, lots of bowing and very strict training (being whacked with a katana by a stern master for sloppy form) in the halls of the dojo are what most people think of when they hear the word martial arts.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu retains some of the customs of the traditional Japanese dojo and in Gracie Barra classes you will observe some of those traditions carried over to the modern day.

Sport bjj competition and MMA are a much larger part of bjj than the early days when Count Koma had started his first dojo in Brazil. But many students still retain the ethos and spirit of the original martial artists.

The Gracie Barra Instructor Certification 5 (ICP5) has some interesting words about what it means to be a martial artist in the module “10 Things a Martial Artist Does Every Day”.

Here are 5 questions to ask “Are you a martial artist?”

1) Exercise every day

“Master Carlos Gracie Jr. still does this today, and he expects GB instructors to maintain high levels of physical strength.” A strong, fit body that is equipped for all of our challenges in life is a by product of our bjj training. Martial artists see striving for their best level of physical conditioning as an important part of their lifestyle.

Not only in the academy, but also enjoying other outdoors activities and supplementary physical conditioning. Master Carlos Gracie Jr. is well-known for his love of climbing the Pedra Gavea in Rio de Janeiro and the sand dunes in Florianopolis (he says it strengthens the legs for his open guard).

On hikes in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, I have encountered 60+ year olds high up on the mountains, fit enough to hike high up into the alpine. This is true fitness for life where your body is up to whatever challenge you ask of yourself.

2) Eat well every day

The lifestyle of the martial artists extends beyond the walls of the academy.  Taking care of your nutrition is one of the most important parts of the jiu-jitsu lifestyle. Carlos Gracie Sr. developed the Gracie Diet philosophy to promote life long health and disease prevention that plagues modern societies.

It is one thing to tighten your diet to lose a few lbs. to make a weight class in a bjj tournament. It is another to view your nutritional habits over the longer term.  As part of your healthy lifestyle that allows you to retain vigorous health and continue to get on the jiu-jitsu mat well into middle age.

Master Carlos Gracie Jr. attributes his great health to his adherence to a healthy diet based around natural, unprocessed foods.

read also: 5 Ways to Eat Better

3) Serve a higher cause

Gracie Barra (and the martial art of brazilian jiu-jitsu) In the ICP5, speaking specifically about bjj instructors:  “This includes placing the needs of your students ahead of your own. When you do this, by favouring what is best for them, you will be a more influential teacher.”

For most of those bjj practitioners who are not teachers, we also demonstrate the service to the higher cause of jiu-jitsu in 2 ways:

A) The blue belt who helps the brand new student with their techniques as a way of giving back to the art and helping spread jiu-jitsu to as many people as we can.

B) Being an ambassador of jiu-jitsu outside of the academy. People who ask you about bjj will see you as a representative of the art.  Someone who is respectful, articulate about the benefits of training bjj and confident.
Always keep in mind that you have an opportunity to present a positive image of a bjj practitioner and perhaps positively influence someone to take up bjj themselves.


4) “Place 100% focus on personal growth, not on beating others.”

While the top athletes in sports bjj competition inspire all of us with their high level of technique and physical conditioning, sports competition is but one of the aspects of jiu-jitsu.
The majority of students in the bjj academy are not active competitors but derive great benefits from their weekly training.
Healthy human beings strive for self improvement, set goals and work towards them. Building the valuable character traits of self discipline and perseverance are by products of overcoming the obstacles we face in training bjj.

Coach John Wooden has a great quote to illustrate this ideal: 
“You should never try to be better than someone else. Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control.”

It isn’t about tournament medals, it is about maximizing our own potential through jiu-jitsu.


5) Respect for others

One of the hall marks of the traditional martial artist is the image of the humble, respectful attitude in dealing with others. Confident in your own abilities and not intimidated by others, one may approach interactions with the many different types of people that we encounter without insecurity or the need to impress.

I recall reading the autobiography of an Olympic Judo champion. He stated that when he was in his competitive prime that his mental focus was on one thing: could he beat you in a judo match or not!
He admitted that his mental attitude was very narrow and he evaluated the people that he met on the sole criteria on their fighting ability.

After his judo competitive career was over he said he learned that there were many ways people lived and that he could respect them for the other accomplishments and qualities they possessed. One of the primary reasons that parents enroll their children in bjj lessons is to build an attitude of respect.

Respect for authority – by understanding that they must follow the instructions of the professor in the class.
Respect for others – by working with others and having to trust them with your safety in training, you exercise respect and consideration for others.

Do you consider yourself a martial artist?


read also: Steel Sharpens Steel – Why Your Training Partners Are So Important

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Asia
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ