BJJ Makes the Proverbial Trip to the Dentist More Survivable


Do you ever find yourself thinking about the ways that Brazilian jiu-jitsu helps you? I mean outside of knowing how to break an attacker’s limbs or choke them unconscious. A lot could be written about the benefits of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. You know, things like an increase in self-confidence, the socialization, not to mention what it does for one’s physical fitness.

Patience is something I think BJJ forces one to learn. It’s not something that comes easily to a white belt, and blue belts are beginning to understand it, but there are multiple ways patience is a part of BJJ. One must be patient when looking for submissions. You can’t get upset when the attack you’re trying to perform does not come easy. Some of your opponents know more than you, may be really good at countering whatever attack you’re throwing at them, or they may just physically have capabilities in the strength or flexibility department that are enough to foil your efforts.

Patience is also required as you advance in belt rankings. It’s pretty well known that achieving one’s black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu takes most normal people between nine and ten years. (Even the prodigies and those who are lucky enough to study and BJJ train full-time for a living usually take between four and five years.) You can’t get upset when your goal isn’t immediately met in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Instant gratification is not really what it’s about.

Another benefit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu I’ve found that comes with time is that it allows you to remain calm under situations that are, when you step back and look at them, pretty dangerous! “Is that choke that my opponent is laying on me really enough to make me tap?” “Am I really ready to tap to this guy’s armbar? Does he really have it, or am I just nervous?” These are decisions we make every time we roll with someone who is better than us. Now keep in mind that I am not advocating trying to “tough out” submission holds that you’ll encounter. The default answer to the above questions should be “yes”, as safety comes first and you must have the policy that it’s better to be safe than sorry, as you can get seriously injured in BJJ if you don’t tap when you should (humility is another benefit you get from BJJ, but that’s a story for another day). But that ability to remain calm under physical duress is something that comes with training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for sure.

So, what makes me decide to write about this is that I recently went to the dentist after putting it off for a while. (Not smart.) It turns out that I needed some work done which included some drilling. Hey, not good news, but I better get it over with while I’m there, right? So as the dentist begins work, there were definitely times when I said to myself, “Oh $*%#&! Christ it feels like that drill is about to sever my jaw! Oh jesuschristinheaven she nailed that nerve.” (And I’m not even religious.) But then some instincts from jiu-jitsu kicked in, and I stopped and asked myself if the pain I was experiencing was really enough to make me react. “Do I tell her to stop? Do I freak out?” No, it was not really that bad. I could really handle it. And here’s where another BJJ benefit kicked in: I told myself “It’ll be over soon. Just chill. Go think about rolling around on the mats or something. Just relax and when it’s over it’s over.” I didn’t hear a voice from on high telling me to “flow with the go” (which would’ve been cool in retrospect) but I kept my composure.

So, thank you BJJ. Not only was I able to make my dentist’s life easier, BJJ helped me survive the serious discomfort I’d earned myself. I don’t know if it’s a compelling enough story to include in a BJJ school’s marketing material, but maybe it’ll help you next time you find out that brushing alone is not enough to keep your teeth in pristine shape!

6 Replies to “BJJ Makes the Proverbial Trip to the Dentist More Survivable”

  1. Caleb, I wonder: Does BJJ cause patience, or does patience cause BJJ? Probably both, but I suspect that the latter is especially true. The people who last in BJJ (to blue belt and beyond) tend to be those who have loads of perseverance. As you probably noticed when you visited our academy (Ralph Gracie, Mountain View, CA, for those who don’t know) a few months ago, we have a surprising number of older professionals here. These are people in their 30s and 40s who have already spent years slogging through law school, medical school, or other graduate schools. They’ve already shown a willingness to endure years of suffering for an uncertain payoff.

    However, I think you’re right that learning BJJ helps develop patience, especially for the younger students. (I find it enjoyable to watch the progress of the teenagers in our academy, not only because of how frighteningly fast they learn (compared to us old farts), but also because you know that they are developing qualities that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.)

    Nonetheless, the main question I ask myself when I evaluate a new student is not “how athletic are they?” or “how quickly do they learn?”, but “are they the type of person who’s likely to stick around?”.

  2. Hey Ross,

    Good to hear from you!

    Yes I think you’re right. There’s definitely a set of characteristics I bet most long term students & practitioners have in some degree or another. Predispositions like patience, curiosity, creativity perhaps, and certainly the ability to handle “defeat”.

    I think you’re right about being able to sense pretty early which folks will stick around.

    For all the limitations of personality tests, I wonder what the average Myers-Briggs personality profile would look like if you analyzed the test results of a few hundred folks who’ve practiced BJJ for, say, five years. What would they have in common?

  3. I saw your tweet about this story, and I had to come over and read it 🙂

    I trained fairly regularly for about 1.5 years starting in 2006. Made some big career/life changes and my training pretty much came to a grinding & complete halt. Let me say, my personal experience has been that I wish I had never stopped training. It’s SO HARD to get back!! I FINALLY, got things in a manageable order and hit the mats again last month for the first time in nearly 2 years. Initially, I felt like I should scrap my blue belt and start all over. Slowly though, I think it might be coming back. I was training last night and rolling with my boyfriend (he’s been training all along). I asked him to just keep coming at me hoping my instincts and defenses would kick in. While rolling, I had this same kind of realization. How BJJ teaches you to relax and contemplate “is this choke really a danger?? does it feel like I can counter and inch my way out??” etc. It’s good mental discipline…problems solving in tight situations. I think that’s a discipline that extends far beyond the mats.

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