Does Jiu Jitsu Solve PTSD? ~ Iman Gatti's BJJ Story

In this article, we dive deeper into Iman Gatti’s BJJ story. She is a best-selling author, coach and speaker. Iman has dedicated herself to help those going through trauma and grief. You will learn how jiu jitsu training has helped her with her own PTSD and how it can help in many other aspects of life as well. She shares her personal story and some important insight on how to recover from hurtful moments and traumatic events. 

Iman Gatti Smiling in a Jiu Jitsu gi

Submission Shark Community | Instagram: @imangatti

Full Name: Iman Gatti

Age: 39

BJJ Belt Colour: White

Professor: Pedro Lott

Short Term Goals: Survive

Does Jiu Jitsu Solve PTSD? ~ Iman Gatti's BJJ Story

Black Rose

 

How long have you been training jiu jitsu for? 

I started in September of 2019 and due to injuries and COVID, was off the mats for 6 months. So 6 months of training so far.

Where do you train BJJ out of? 

Front line BJJ team

Frontline BJJ Academy Canada - Carlson Gracie Team, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

Do you prefer training in the BJJ gi or no-gi Jiu Jitsu? 

Gi.

What are some lessons you learned from jiu-jitsu that apply to everyday life?

Iman with her BJJ instructor

That you can suffer for something good. That hard work is fun when your heart is in it. That little by little, with determination and effort, you can accomplish things you never imagined possible. And that sucking at something can be the most fun you ever have.

How often do you train BJJ? 

Right now anywhere from 5-8 hours a week.

What made you want to start training jiu jitsu? 

I have never done a sport in my life and when I came across BJJ, it made me feel so empowered to think I could defend myself physically and be able to feel strong in my body. I love discipline and devotion and BJJ offers those in excess.

Do you plan on training your whole life? 

That’s the plan for sure.

What’s it about jiu jitsu that makes it so addicting?

Iman Jiu Jitsu training with her friend 

Oh man, so many things: It is so much fun and incredibly challenging. The mental and physical problems you are solving, never end so you can’t possibly get bored and the community is the most supportive and amazing group of people you could hope to meet.

What has jiu jitsu done for your physical health? 

I feel the healthiest I have ever felt. I am stronger and more coordinated and just smarter about how I use my body and what it can do. A few more aches and pains too, haha.

Has BJJ benefited your mental health? 

Well, for me this is a huge one. I have a long history of childhood trauma and live with complex- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) for the past 30 plus years and Jiu Jitsu has helped more than any therapy I have ever taken. 

It’s been super incredible to feel powerful in my body for the first time in my life and reclaim the self-esteem and ownership of self that is so often stolen from humans who have endured abuse. I am learning to control my breathing, not to panic when I am in a difficult position and to trust my teammates. 

I can think better under pressure and I trust my abilities a lot more. All of those things are huge steps for survivors of violence so I am super grateful for that. I never thought I could get to this level of healing and so, for me, this is a must-do from now on.

If you could restart your jiu-jitsu journey, would you do anything differently? 

Yeah, start when I was a toddler haha.

What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried jiu-jitsu before but is interested in trying it? 

If you are interested in it, just show up and learn to suck at something for the chance of improving yourself. It is extremely challenging and you will be absolutely awful for a really long time. If you can handle losing and growing one teeny tiny bit at a time whilst having the absolute time of your life, then give it a shot.

Do you have any aspirations in jiu jitsu? 

To be better than I was yesterday.

What’s your favourite BJJ moves? 

Oh man, there are so many amazing techniques. I think flying armbars are pretty damn sexy to watch. The Peruvian necktie is brutal but awesome and loop chokes are just fun…but I am like a kid in a candy store right now, everything I see, I want. 

If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now? 

Definitely not as happy or peaceful as I am now.

Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream? 

Hmmm I don’t think so actually. While I think Jiu Jitsu can benefit everyone, it takes a unique type of person to be able to show up and have the discipline, humility and dedication that is required. So in that way, I don’t think it could be more mainstream because it seems to weed people out pretty quickly.

Have any of your BJJ training partners pushed you to reach your full potential? 

Iman's BJJ training partners

I love and respect all of my training partners and they absolutely push me and teach me so much, but damn, as a two-stripe white belt, I sure hope I haven’t reached my potential yet! :P

When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of jiu-jitsu that you had trouble getting? 

Just how to actually do anything haha. Like, how to know what to do next. Getting used to full contact with others. I couldn’t comprehend what it meant not to “spazz” while also fighting. How to not panic or hold my breath….omg at first everything is so difficult. I still struggle every day but I set small goals for myself so I can see my progress.

If you could roll with any practitioner, dead or alive, who would it be? 

Honestly, I love rolling with my teammates every day. I would also love to roll with Gezary Matuda because she was the first woman my size that inspired me.

If you had to describe Jiu-Jitsu to someone that's never heard of it before in under 5 words, what would those words be? 

Iman training in a BJJ gi

Blood, sweat, tears & bliss.

What has been the most memorable moment you've had on the mats so far? 

Probably the first time I ever went. That took some big courage. And the first time I successfully escaped an armbar felt like a huge deal, too.

What makes you want to inspire and motivate others? 

I try not to think about inspiring or motivating people, which probably sounds weird for a Life Coach. Every day, I just try to become more me and hope that other people also believe in themselves enough to become more themselves. 

I want people to feel encouraged to find their own motivation and inspiration and to keep showing up for themselves and to believe that they deserve what’s in their hearts and that they are powerful enough to make big changes.

Do you have any advice for others that may have gone through trauma and don't know how to start healing? 

Ask for help. Understand that you can recover from what has tried to take you out. Know that your pain is not a reflection of your worth. You are still capable of greatness. You will never be the same again; you will be stronger. 

There is no shame in scars – every great warrior has them. We survive, we heal and we carry on to the next battle. We must find a way to keep fighting.

What are some ways people can heal from grief specifically? 

Iman Gatti Grief Coach and Support

By honouring it and actually sitting in it. There is no escape from grief. We must surrender to it and allow it to destroy us and then put us back together. Get help, get support, cry, scream and workout. Nourish yourself and work through it.

What inspired you to begin this type of work?

I have lived a wildly traumatizing and yet extraordinary life which I am really happy in. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. I have spent a lifetime doing the work required to be where I am and it seemed super selfish not to share what I have learned with others, especially knowing that it could potentially change people’s lives for the better. 

Iman Gatti Quote

I am grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way, and I feel it is my mission to be that person for others whenever and however I can.

Do you believe BJJ can help those that may be struggling with PTSD, if so how? 

It has helped me so I know it can, but of course, everyone is unique and individual so some people may not resonate with BJJ as a way to help their healing. But for me, it has taught me to practice being calm under pressure, to relax when I am restrained and unable to escape and to trust that I can think through to the next step when I am in a really tight spot. 

The first couple of months was just me having panic attacks getting the courage to enter the building and step on the mats and then I had to work through the discomfort of people, particularly men, overpowering me. 

Jiu Jitsu Friends

I have learned to feel safe with my teammates and to show up no matter how I am feeling and just do what I can. All of these things may seem small to someone without an anxiety disorder but for us with PTSD and cPTSD, these are huge feats of accomplishment. In these ways, I have become more comfortable with myself, my team and have gained so much trust and empowerment for who I am and what I can do.

The Submission Shark Community was first inspired by Nicolas Bontempo's BJJ story who also, unfortunately, lost his mother at a young age as well.

What would you like to say to everyone that has lost a loved one and is still pursuing their dreams?

Keep going. Keep talking and loving and remembering the people you lose along the way. Everyone you meet makes an impact on you and you get to take those pieces of them and keep them with you. Find a way to take that pain and grief and let it propel you towards your future.

What is your book Cracked Open Never Broken About?

Cracked Open ~ Never Broken is my memoir and takes readers through my life story of being orphaned at six years old after witnessing my father murdering my mother. I share what life was like for me and the continued abuse I experienced by various guardians throughout my childhood.

Iman Gatti's book: Cracked Open Never Broken

It is a story of resilience and hope and how an ordinary person can overcome and work through a lifetime of hardships and still create a fulfilling and wonderful life.

Where can people connect with you further?

Imangatti.com and @imangatti on social.

What would you like to say to everyone that has supported you on your journey?

Thank you isn’t enough but I want people to know that if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers and regular everyday people, I wouldn’t be here today. I am forever grateful for anyone who has impacted my life and taught me that one person believing in you can change your whole world.

When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?

As the wild-hearted, feral woman with the big hair and loud laugh that spoke her truth, swore too much and tried to help when she could while defying the odds set against her. Someone who left people better than she found them. Mother, writer, speaker, lover and deeply flawed human.

 Iman Gatti

Iman Gatti
Best Selling Author, Coach and Speaker

Submission Shark:

A huge thank you to Iman for sharing this heartbreaking but inspirational BJJ story. It’s incredible what martial arts can do to help those healing from PTSD. If you gained value from her story, feel free to check out this story from Timothy Locklear, a veteran who found relief from PTSD through jiu jitsu. 

Veteran BJJ PTSD storytrain

Another great read would be from a Jebidiah Osborn, a BJJ practitioner that has received amazing benefits from this art form. His experiences and willingness to help others after witnessing trauma just like Iman is a special lesson to be learned. 

Flow back to the community section to see how Brazilian jiu jitsu and other martial arts can benefit you in more ways than you might imagine! The School of Sharks houses a wide variety of sport-specific articles to help you become the best martial artist you can be. If you’d like to support these articles, feel free to shop for brand new no-gi BJJ gear, martial arts apparel or a jiu jitsu gi.

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