• What the Church can learn from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (part 1)

What the Church can learn from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (part 1)

Almost every Sunday afternoon from 5-7pm I find myself getting choked by various people.

Or at least, they’re trying very hard to choke me.

Or break my arm.

Or twist my foot.

Or dislocate my shoulder.

And I absolutely LOVE IT!

Okay…that’s not true. They’re not ACTUALLY trying to injure me!

In fact, neither I nor the people I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ for short) with on Sundays have ever been injured during our sessions. But the moves we train are all designed to do such things…should the need arise.

A super quick recap of BJJ…

For those readers unfamiliar with BJJ, it is an offshoot of Judo and Japanese Jujitsu that arose when a famous Japanese martial artist named Mitsuyo Maeda (aka. “Count Koma”) immigrated to Brazil and began to teach the sons of a local businessman in gratitude for helping him get settled in a new country. Those sons’ last name was Gracie and they took what Maeda taught them and began adapting it and testing it through open competition with other martial artists over the next few decades. (Maeda also went on to teach another student named Luis Franca, who in turn passed on his knowledge to Oswaldo Fadda who developed another lineage of BJJ separate from the Gracies). Two of the Gracie brothers in particular, Carlos and Helio, spread the art not only within their family, but also to students who took it all over the world.


Elders poster sepia

The Gracie lineage of BJJ: Jigoro Kano, Mitsuyo Maeda, Carlose & Helio Gracie (Poster version available at www.zazzle.com/DiscipleDojo)

Then, in the early 90s, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event was held and Helio’s grandson Royce introduced BJJ to the mainstream American martial arts community by defeating every opponent…without throwing a punch…and without injuring them…and being outweighed by 50+ lbs in most of his matches!


The guy who revolutionized combat sports in America…and yours truly back when I was a BJJ noob!

From that moment on, every genuine martial artist (who wasn’t completely delusional) realized that if they didn’t know how to defend themselves when a fight went to the ground–as 9 out of 10 end up doing!–they had a serious hole in their game. Since then, BJJ has exploded in popularity and growth both here in the States as well as throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. In fact, Royce’s cousin, Renzo (whom you’ve likely read about many times here in the Dojo) trained a young Arab college student for a number of years…who turned out to be Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed of Abu Dabi…who, upon his return to his country made BJJ the national sport and now hosts the ADCC, which is widely regarded as the Superbowl of grappling!

International BJJ legend Renzo Gracie holding the portrait I drew of his late brother Ryan during one of my trips to NY to train at his academy

My friend, and international BJJ legend Renzo Gracie with a portrait I drew for him of his late brother Ryan

So from its humble roots with a traveling Judo master in Brazil to a martial art that has literally revolutionized international combat sports and given rise to MMA and the UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has come a long way!

Okay, thanks for the history lesson. But so what? What does this have to do with Church??

Great question! Back to this past Sunday…

I was thinking yesterday on the way home about how much I enjoy our Sunday sessions. “Open mat” is a time when the academy where I train, Leadership Martial Arts, opens our doors to students from other schools who want to come and get in some extra mat time. It’s a friendly and informal atmosphere with no structured teaching or drills. While in the shower, I thought more about why it is I love BJJ so much. I mean, I’m a lifelong martial artist who’s trained in various styles for over 25 years.

Yet these past 7 years of BJJ have been more rigorous, more enjoyable, more informative, and more intellectually stimulating than all the previous 20 years combined.

I was thinking about why this is the case and the more I thought about it, the more similarities I began to notice between BJJ and what we as the Church (I use “Church” with a capital “C” to denote all genuine followers of Jesus across all denominational lines and theological traditions) should be embodying in this world.Specifically, I noted five qualities of authentic BJJ that the Church should also possess.

They are:

1. Sense of true community and friendship with people from all walks of life
2. Vulnerability and trust in those you train with
3. Authenticity of the teacher (vs. a “McDojo” academy looking only to make money)
4. Adaptability of technique (but without compromising the essentials if BJJ)
5. Patience of senior students in helping newer students with less experience

Over the next few posts I want to briefly look at each of these aspects of BJJ training and reflect on what followers of Jesus–particularly those in leadership and teaching positions (i.e. clergy)–can draw from them in order to be better students of our true Sensei, Jesus Himself.

Stay tuned…

Open Mat training with my friend Matheus (who trains at another local BJJ academy...and frequently taps me out!)

Open Mat training with my friend and fellow purple belt, Matheus (who trains at another local BJJ academy…and frequently kicks my butt!) [Photo: William Johnson]


PS: For those wondering how martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu or MMA/UFC meshes with the Christian life, see the following posts I’ve written on the subject:

Can Christians enjoy MMA?

Ultimate Fighting…Jesus??

Qualifying Mark Driscoll’s defense of MMA

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    Pingback by Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org » What the Church can learn from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (part 2) on February 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm

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