BJJ Science: Research on mental and physical benefits of Jiujitsu

Are there quantifiable physical or physiological benefits of BJJ? 

Surf the internet, and you will undoubtedly hear practitioners claim they lost weight with BJJ or how BJJ improved their lifestyle in one way or the other.

It’s true that we love to tout jiujitsu’s benefits, but are any of these claims backed up by research and science?

Academics are starting to study Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and there is a small, but growing body of academic research. I’ve compiled the following studies and literature that offer insight into how BJJ may benefit your health.

The scientific perspectives of jiu jitsu are under-appreciated so it’s cool to see that some smart folks are paying attention. I’ve also included some academic papers offering critical, cultural/historical perspectives of BJJ.

BJJ and Physical Health

Common sense suggests that BJJ is good for your physical wellness. After all, physical exercise is always better than being a couch potato. 

But, scientifically, just how good is BJJ for your health?

Pretty good, it turns out.

BJJ has been found to be associated with low body fat. According to one study: “Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes had low body fat, without differences between novices and experts or between elite and non-elite athletes.” 

The following research studies found generally positive associations with BJJ and fitness benefits: 

BJJ and Injuries

This study examined competitors and non competitors to understand the types and rates of injuries they would sustain over a 4 month period.  A whopping 90 percent of sustained injuries! Yikes. 

Another study looked at risk factors for injury in BJJ and identified 60 percent of participants sustaining an injury over a 6 month period.  

One interesting finding was that “[m]ore experienced athletes were more likely to report the low back injury, while less experienced athletes more frequently reported head, upper extremity, and elbow injuries.” Even more interesting was the fact that “gi preference, instruction on break-falling, and participation in a structured beginner’s program” were predictive of injury risk. 

One study explored concussions in BJJ and found the “lifetime prevalence of the self-reported BJJ-related concussion was 25.2%.” 

A study conducted in 2019 identified the most common BJJ injuries as sprains and strains to fingers, the upper extremity, and neck. There was also an association between taking time off to heal and the likelihood of coming back: “participants required to take more than 4 months off training were 5.5 times more likely to consider quitting compared with those who took less time off.”

BJJ and Mental Health

A study of active-duty service members who participated in a 5 month BJJ program found that the participants had “meaningful improvements in their PTSD symptoms” as well as improvements to depression and anxiety. 

Another study explored levels of aggression in BJJ athletes. It found that successful bjj competitors showed low levels of overt aggression in their day to day lives.

Further, it concluded that “successful BJJ competitors are low in overt aggression but higher in athletic aggression that pertains to illegal actions during the competition, than less successful BJJ-competitors.” 

Finally, a 2015 study explored how BJJ practice transfers positive life skills to its participants.  It found that BJJ generally reported improvements to one’s sense of perseverance and self-confidence

The Effects of BJJ on Youth 

Youth participation in sports is important. It’s a topic that has been the subject of academic interest for many years. The following studies offer insight into how BJJ can improve the lives of children and adolescents. 

Critical Studies of BJJ 

Jiu Jitsu not just a sport in the abstract. It involves people, places and history. Academics are also examining BJJ from a critical perspective. This includes the social and cultural impact of jiu jitsu.

One fascinating study looked at the bonding effects of the belt whipping promotion ceremony. This study of 605 participants “found no differences between those who had undergone belt‐whipping and those who had not and no evidence of a correlation between pain and social cohesion.”

The results suggest that the gauntlet ceremony does little to actually socially bond a club together as compared to those clubs that do not use ceremony. 

The following two essays caught my eye because they explore how jiujitsu is being used in particular cultural contexts and moments.

The first looks at BJJ and its use in worship services among certain communities.

The second explores how BJJ knowledge is being disseminated and taught on the internet.

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