Television is to the Cinema as Yoga is to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Phillipe della Monica jiu-jitsu
Gracie Barra’s Phillipe Della Monica demonstrates a variation of the bow and arrow choke.

Get it? Small screen and small yoga mat? Big screen and big jiu-jitsu mat? Oh never mind. While my metaphor was a bit forced, it’s a workable entree into a little comparison of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and yoga.

Yoga and Brazilian jiu-jitsu have a lot in common if you think about it. (Especially if you think about it while seated between two bigger guys on a 5 hour long, sold out, stuffy flight from Charlotte to San Diego.) Both are activities where individuals go a few times a week. While proportion of men and women who train BJJ is probably not much like what’s found in yoga, I would bet the education levels and socioeconomic statuses of BJJ and yoga practitioners are not very different. Both yoga and BJJ have positive benefits for your physical and mental health, and can be practiced by almost any age. And I’m guessing people make some respectable money making instructional DVDs in both.

What really got my brain turning on BJJ and yoga was an article in the April 25 New York Times about a set of yoga studios run by Greg Gumucio in New York City. The article offers some fun points that allow us to compare and contrast yoga and jiu-jitsu. To start with: unlike some expensive yoga studios with serious attitude, you do not even have to pay to attend Gumucio’s. Classes are meant for everyone. According to the article, his website admirably proclaims: There will be no correct clothes, there will be no proper payment, there will be no right answers… no script no ego no pedestals.

While there can be correct clothes in jiu-jitsu (if you’re training in the gi, well, you need a gi), payments range greatly between schools (especially internationally), and there really is no “one way to do things”. Whatever works and is not against jiu-jitsu’s small handful of rules is welcomed. As for the rest:

  • No script: there’s no one way to beat your opponent, that’s for sure. The fun thing about jiu-jitsu is just how many ways you can make your training partner tap (or get tapped).
  • No ego: we all know the well known lesson that if you’re going to train jiu-jitsu you need to leave your own ego at the door. You can’t last in jiu-jitsu if you can’t get over yourself. On the other hand, it’s a fact that certain jiu-jitsu instructors have strong beliefs about the value of their instruction. (That’s a nice way to put it). Bravado is to be expected in anything where competition takes place.
  • No pedestals. Again, whenever there’s competitive aspect to anything, the winners are often literally placed on a pedestal at the end of the event. Even if the winner at a jiu-jitsu event is the most humble guy out there (Marcelo Garcia comes to mind), his admirers will hold him in higher regard than others.

A few other points in the article resonated with me.

Yoga’s not about doing things in a certain type of place.

Have you ever been to the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California? The large, brightly lit locker rooms reminded me of the type you would find in a country club. The counter tops are marble. The lockers are made of polished wood with little Gracie “G” symbols on each. The lighting is bright, there’s comfortable carpet next to your locker, and towels are made available. The mats are cavernous and offer the academy’s well known “big ass fans” hanging from the ceiling make sure it never gets too hot.

While such amenities are very nice, it is not obviously required if you want to learn jiu-jitsu. In many jiu-jitsu academies there is not even heating or air conditioning. Some training environments in Brazil do not even offer what you’d call walls and what’s over your head is not so much a ceiling but an attempt to keep the sun or rain off the mats. In the end jiu-jitsu, like yoga, asks very little of its practitioners materially speaking. (If there are any active duty military service men or women reading this who are stationed abroad, please email me and tell me a little about training jiu-jitsu where you are!).

You are your own teacher.

Many of the BJJ superstars of today did not come from an environment where they were surrounded by other BJJ superstars. Perennial black belt absolute world champion Roger Gracie spends the majority of his time in London, with its nascent BJJ scene. Much of ADCC absolute champion Braulio Estima‘s early training career was spent under Ze Radiola, who was a blue belt when he began offering classes. While Roger Gracie’s foil Xande Ribeiro has the benefit of training alongside his multiple time world champion brother Saulo Ribeiro, Xande received his black belt after relocating to the United States, and was not surrounded by a horde of incredible training partners either. While these are extreme cases, the fact remains that one’s journey in jiu-jitsu (like life, I suppose), is more in your control than you may realize. One’s progress in yoga is likely the same.

No emphasis on philosophy.

Traditional martial arts can be heavy on the philosophy. Some yoga styles involve some pretty heavy doctrine and even chanting. But Gumucio has eliminated that sort of thing from his yoga studios. You come in, do yoga, and go home. No ascent to higher planes of existence are involved.

I cannot speak for everyone, but the easy going attitude found in most jiu-jitsu schools is certainly something that hooked me. You come in, train jiu-jitsu, and go home. Of course, while some people (including myself) occasionally enjoy thinking about how the lessons we learn on the mat apply to life off the mat, that sort of thought is not something you spend time on during class. And while many jiu-jitsu people end up having a pretty similar lifestyle, there is no prescribed “way to be”.

I am not sure about you, but putting together this rambling article has increased my interest in learning a little more about yoga. I know lots of jiu-jitsu folks who turn to yoga when they’re injured and can’t do jiu-jitsu anyhow.

Last thought before closing: someone out there should organize a mixer for yoga and BJJ people. I am pretty sure yoga is more practiced mostly by health-minded young women, and BJJ is practiced mostly by health-minded young men. Seems like there is potential for serious chemistry. Think of the dates you could have: you visit the yoga studio, she comes and trains a little BJJ. Everybody wins!

6 thoughts on “Television is to the Cinema as Yoga is to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu”

  1. Hey Caleb.. GREAT ARTICLE.. you got me wanting to visit Greg Gumucio’s yoga studio! ASAP.. Fantastic! I really did not give it my deepest thoughts on how similar Yoga & BJJ are.. both are obviously have health benefits on different planes..interestingly they enhance each others benefits greatly.. when combined, like “Chocolate Milk.” : )

  2. Interesting way of tying them together. I’ve actually been thinking about the potential benefits of Yoga in BJJ for a while, although I haven’t done anything about it. The few Yoga classes I’ve done were MUCH harder than I expected. With long term benefits like flexibility, learning to relax and focus your body and general strength and balance, I’m actually surprised it isn’t more popular for BJJers.

  3. This was a great article and very well said. :)

    I teach yoga in & around Huntsville, Alabama, and recently started teaching at Maverick Training Center, owned by Suzanne Ramsden – purple belt BJJ.

    It has quickly turned into being a terrific partnership and the two disciplines really flow well together!!

    Her BJJ students are really digging the asanas – feeling the benefits of greater flexibility, range of motion and the inner stillness that yoga can provide.

    I always teach from the ground up – working with the class where they are THAT DAY…so the asanas vary constantly – her BJJ gym has wonderful wall space, so we use the wall for a lot of hip & shoulder opening postures…trikonasana (triangle pose), ardha chandrasana (half-moon pose), just to name a few.

    It’s a lot of fun working with the “yang” energy in the gym – yoga can offer a more “yin” balance to the fighting energy you experience at a BJJ facility. The students are usually really active & conscious of their fitness levels…they’re just not as flexible as they’d like to be.

    BJJ gym owners, I encourage you to contact some yoga instructors & invite them to teach in your gym! Try to find someone certified & registered with Yoga Alliance so you know they’ve had a solid foundation of training under their belt (pun intended)

    Namasté!
    Mitzi

  4. Great post, Caleb :)
    It would be awesome if more BJJ schools offered yoga classes. I think that helps perpetuate the mellow vibe that so many of us enjoy about this sport.

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