The Similarities Between Philosophy and Jiu-Jitsu

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Renzo Gracie was once quoted as saying “There is more philosophy in jiu-jitsu mats than any Ivy League school in America.”

Whether he’s right or not, there’s no denying the major parallels between the study of Philosophy and the study of Jiu-Jitsu.

Critical Thinking

Both Philosophy and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu promote and foster critical thinking skills. This, in and of itself, makes both areas extremely valuable in the modern world. Critical thinking is a skill that needs to be fostered and taught, it’s the art of questioning everything. If we are unable to examine and question our world, we can never truly learn anything of value.

Critical Thinking

A Critical Thinker is someone who can put their ideas about themselves to the side and ask difficult questions about themselves and the world. The answer to these questions may not even be something we want to hear, but learning more about the truth & reality of the situation is always better than repeatedly acting on or believe something false.

In Philosophy, Critical Thinking is important for developing new ideas whereas in Jiu-jitsu we need Critical Thinking to problem solve and reflect on what was successful and what was unsuccessful.

Submission Shark Philosophy Quote

In BJJ it’s our training partners and coaches that make us better critical thinkers through practice and study of technique. By working through a new or old technique, we constantly have to test ourselves and see where we can improve. The same applies in competition too; where athletes can test their knowledge and ability against an opponent. Win, lose or draw, all of this is part of the learning process and presents us with findings from which we can learn. Once a person is able to step away from their ego and objectively assess their improvement and weaknesses, they are thinking critically about their learning.

Exchanging Ideas

The exchange of ideas is crucial in Philosophy and BJJ. In fact, neither area would be anywhere without the exchange of ideas. The Gracies would never have developed the style of grappling they learnt without exchanging and building on the ideas of Mitsuyo Maeda, modern philosophers would never have developed their ideas without those they could build on from the past.

The exchange of ideas is what leads us to new knowledge. Once we begin to exchange ideas, even those we disagree with, we begin to reflect on how these new ideas impact on our views and beliefs. New ideas inform us or lead us to develop a better understanding of our own ideas.

Modern Jiu-jitsu has evolved because of the ideas introduced by practitioners of other grappling arts such as Sambo, Wrestling and Judo. The result is an exchange of ideas that has led to a much more comprehensive and informed view of grappling. All arts benefit from exchanging ideas, as every practitioner becomes exposed to new information and techniques.


The Origins of Jiu-Jitsu Part 1: The Samurai Code

Leave Your Ego At The Door

In both philosophy and Jiu-jitsu, there is no space for ego. A person has to admit that they can’t possibly know everything before they are able to learn anything, if they don’t their ego is blinding them. By leaving your ego at the door, you open your mind.

Mystery Door

Any learned martial artist will tell you the importance of being able to remove your ego from the equation. You can learn a lesson from a seasoned coach or a brand new student, everyone has something to teach you when you have an open mind. The open mindset is one that allows you to listen, learn, see and experience new things in the absence of the assumption that you already know ‘enough’. There is always more to learn when a person is able to admit that they don’t know everything.

Any philosopher will tell you the importance of trying to build good ideas in an argument rather than ‘win’ with a bad idea in one. Whether it’s a philosophical argument or a physical confrontation, the analogy is the same! You can’t defend yourself with bad technique in a fight and you can’t defend your point of view in an argument with bad ideas.

Never Stop Learning

So many people fail to learn valuable lessons because it confronts their fragile (and false) ideas about the world. These people would rather avoid having their ideas tested and will also be the first to quit when the going gets tough. Having an open mind can be tough because it shows us exactly how little we know, but by leaving our ego out of the equation we don’t have to feel ashamed and we can get on with the learning process.

To conclude, these are just a few of the crossovers between Philosophy and Jiu-jitsu. The martial arts and the thinking arts have always worked together to show us a path towards self-improvement and developing new skills.

No one is born a great thinker or martial artist, both are skills that are learned and developed through years & years of dedication and hard work.

Understanding that there are many tools on the path to self-improvement is helpful when it can often seem so challenging, both Philosophy and Martial Arts are powerful tools on the path.

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Jiu-Jitsu has always been a mental challenge for me as much as a physical one. Connecting the mind and body to move synergistically with each other requires a great deal of focus and attention. Some techniques can have you pondering for hours on every minor detail. This feeling of unknowing and curiosity is what sparks a philosopher's mind into pursuing a quest of searching for answers. But even the most intelligent thinkers will never be able to reach a complete understanding of the universe as it has an infinite amount of questions with answers and reasonings that contradict each other. You may spend your life reaching for perfect intelligence but like a martial artist, perfection does not exist but the mere attempt at it is enough to set the spirit free. 

There is a difference between a fighter and a martial artist. A fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I'm a martial artist. I don't train for a fight. I train for myself. I'm training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection. - Georges St. Pierre

Everyone has their own philosophies for life including you. You may gain inspiration and ideas from other great minds but we all have the freedom of thought. The ability to think freely is a gift that's too often taken for granted. Just like how martial arts grants you the ability to create your own style, philosophy grants the same ability. Techniques might be ancient and still effective but innovators will always add new and polished gears to the mental machine. Just like how the evolution of martial arts is inevitable, so is the innovation and invention of new creative and enlightened thought. Will you be a creator of your own universe?

There is a difference between a thinker and a philosopher. A thinker is studying for a purpose: He has a problem. I'm a philosopher. I don't study for a problem. I study for myself. I'm studying all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection. - Submission Shark

When you begin to study, you begin to realize how little you actually know about the universe. Similar to an egotistical fighter being humbled by the smaller practitioner. Dissolving your ego is important in both pursuits of martial arts and philosophy.

But what is ego? What is it that causes an overwhelming sense of pride and belief that you are invincible? When does confidence fall into pride and if pride is one of the seven deadly sins in the holy bible, should you ever be proud of your accomplishments? These are questions that the mats can help solve but to really understand the philosophies behind these lessons, we have to go beyond the mats.

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In our next philosophy article, we dive deep into the ego and what we can learn from it. Make sure to subscribe to this blog, follow our social media pages and sign up to our email list. What are your thoughts on philosophy and martial arts? Let us know in the comments below.

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