Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Lessons learned from the Gentle Art

Written by Jackie Tey

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has drastically impacted my life for the better and significantly affected all aspects of it. I could not imagine myself as the coach or athlete I am today without the mental transformation I have experienced (and continue to experience) in jiu jitsu. 

I started about 9 years ago, a few years after graduating high school. I was a wrestler in high school and thrived on being coached, but once I graduated, I found myself lost. I knew I loved to exercise, but not without purpose. I tried finding workouts online, but with no direction or guidance I lacked confidence in where my efforts were going. A coworker introduced me to BJJ since he knew I had been a wrestler, and after a few weeks of contemplation I decided to take a step forward and walk into the academy, not realizing it was about to change my whole life.

In my time training BJJ I have learned some important principles that have contributed to my success and longevity in the sport. These principles can be applied to all things in life and have in fact helped me overcome adversity in my life time and time again. Here are a few of those nuggets of wisdom that you can take into your next training session.

Mental fortitude

One of the biggest impacts BJJ has on our brains is that of increasing our thresholds: mental (focus/mindfulness, persistence) and physical (aerobic capacity, pain tolerance). This is not only accomplished by sparring or competing, but also develops within each training session. The cerebral aspect of BJJ is a significant factor in the practice. We joke that the “nerdiest” or least athletic person in the gym is often the most skilled grappler. I love this about BJJ because it really evens out the playing field and proves that the strength of the mind triumphs against brute force.

The more you train your mind to deal with difficulty, the tougher you become mentally. Through a systematic approach to developing mental toughness, you can learn to overcome anything that life throws at you on the mat, in the gym or in life. Toughness is a skill that’s sharpened by constant resistance. This is why consistency is a good partner in building toughness. Being consistent also allows you to experience adversity more often.

Training with intention

Coming onto the mats or into the gym requires effort and planning. Regardless of whether or not you are motivated, making the most out of each session will help you to reach your goals sooner. Drill each rep with purpose. Set an intention for what you would like to focus on before stepping foot inside the gym. In BJJ, we all tend to share similar goals in our training and work together to accomplish those, sometimes pointing out holes in each other’s games and sharing successful techniques that will help patch those holes.

The great thing about training at ASF is that you have your own personal coach, cheerleader, mentor and #1 fan to help keep you on track toward your goals so that all you have to do is be consistent and focus on training with intention.

Accountability and trust

BJJ differs from team sports in that your success is determined by your own efforts. This can be empowering with the right mindset and work ethic, although admittedly discouraging and even sometimes isolating when things get rough. However, one must also trust their teammates to help each other work toward their goals.

This relationship is similar to the relationship between our coaches and their clients. Both are agreeing to give each session their best and work toward a common goal. Both are committing to their time in the gym and outside, with the coaches putting care and effort into programming for the client’s needs and goals, and the client committing to proper recovery, sleep, and nutrition. We cannot do it for you, but we are here to help you along the way.


It takes longer to earn a black belt in BJJ than in any other martial art. Karate and Tae Kwon Do take an average of 3-5 years, whereas BJJ takes an average of 10 years. This makes the accomplishment so much more meaningful. It is hard proof of years of great effort, consistency, mental fortitude, humility, patience and growth. There is a common saying to express this: “A black belt is a white belt that never gave up.” 

The black belt is often what most people fixate on when starting BJJ, which usually slows down their progress. The internet is saturated with flashy content that looks way cooler than drilling the basics, but to try to jump ahead without a solid foundation is a wasted effort. I admittedly found myself in this position as a white and blue belt (the first two belts in the five belt tier system), only to realize later on that I sabotaged my own growth by doing so. I spent so much time and energy on the mats and some of that time was simply wasted by trying to jump ahead too soon.

This is all too relatable to training in the gym. Skipping the foundations of training full range of motion and total body strength and just trying to lift as heavy as possible sounds way more appealing than taking the time to lay down the bricks to a solid foundation. However, this can put you in danger of injuring yourself, setting yourself back even further. Building a solid foundation allows you to stay healthy and continue to train longer and better.

Perfect practice promotes improvement – The journey is the goal

Unless you are a professional athlete who relies on success in competitions to make a living, I believe that the pressure of “Winning” is an unnecessary burden to apply to yourself, rather than aiming for the goal of improving and testing yourself. Don’t get me wrong – shoot for the stars! But in my experience, hyper-fixating on that win usually just wears me down where instead I should be present and focused in a fight camp.

Our repetition and intentions within each training session are what determine our readiness. When that adrenaline dump hits and that fatigue sets in, that practice is what kicks in. Think of it as a generator – we are charging that generator for when the “power” diminishes in our bodies and minds. 

Whether you are training for a competition or working toward a healthier and happier you, the only way is through. There is no quick fix, no magic pill, no shortcut. The transformation that we undergo in order to become 1% better each session equates to an enormous amount over time. Convert that effort and pain into progress.

You do not need to practice BJJ in order to learn and apply these principles. I see our clients practicing them in the gym every day. We each differ in our circumstances but are united in our humanity. We were built to overcome challenges and to evolve. I sincerely hope that you can keep this in mind the next time you come to train. Keep making those deposits into the lifelong investment that is yourself!


Train with Jackie for all the support you need to build a stronger, healthier lifestyle. Click here to schedule your free consultation and first workout.