Psychologists Praise Mental Health benefits Of Grappling

Psychologists Praise Mental Health benefits Of Grappling

Photo by Tino Konino,  Frota Academy in Zurich, Switzerland.


Written by Iva Djokovic, Psychology graduate and BJJ practitioner at Kimura Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Serbia.

Plenty of grapplers who love wrestling weren’t thrilled with me and my last article. There I mention scientific links found between wrestling and negative mood states (Arms et al., 1979) as well as enhanced violence outside the sport setting (Watkins, 2000). It’s important to note these researchers are dealing with psychological implications of this sport, the actual techniques are undisputed.

So what are some psychological positives of being involved with grappling?

 “The three objectives of physical education, fighting and spiritual growth are expressly sought in judo. By practicing judo, the student will be able to acquire the benefits of physical education, become versed in methods of combat, and concurrently nurture their intellect and morality.” – Jigoro Kano

This is an excerpt from a lecture Kano gave in 1889 which considered the contribution of judo to education. Judo researchers started by focusing on personal characteristics of martial artists in the late 60s which later evolved into various comparisons. For instance, it’s been shown that medalists scored significantly higher in self-confidence and negative energy control.

One early study claims that traditional approach (focused on meditative aspects, stressing self-control, conflict avoidance and study of philosophy) has more positive effects than modern teaching that emphasizes sport and competitive aspects (Trulson, 1986). More recently, Najafi (2003) came to very similar conclusions. Traditional approach and traditional martial arts highlight humility as opposed to modern practices. Additionally Lamarre and Nosanchuk even went so far as to conclude that aggressiveness in judokas declined across training and ages in both men and women! This was somewhat unexpected as they were expecting men to still be more aggressive. So, much like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo also reduces levels of aggression and improves one’s ability to contain negative moods.

Some psychotherapy journals place involvement in martial arts (including judo and jiu-jitsu) in a group with dance therapy, art therapy, psychodrama and meditation. Effects on both healthy individuals and those suffering are confirmed. Being involved with a martial art will increase self-esteem, self-confidence, management of feelings, and decrease sleep disturbances and depression. While psychotherapy journals are reluctant to draw the dividing line among martial arts, almost all are considered positive and life-affirming.

When judo was taught to adolescents with a history of violence, Pyecha found that those students were much more warmhearted and easygoing compared to those involved in karate, taekwondo and aikido and the group that didn’t practice anything.

Another research juxtaposes personalities of jiu-jitsu practitioners and wrestlers. This particular research claims that these two types of training positively influence stability of personality and emotional balance in sports situations but also in life situations.  However wrestlers were more likely to be personality type A (more likely to overreact) even though most of them are type B similar to bjj players.

Some researchers even go as far as to say that early resignation from training (typical for judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu) during the first year by a large number of participants is a reflection of coaches, and sponsors more than anything else. Apparently being focused on sports success instead of therapeutic values of combat sport (along with Olympic status of judo) is detrimental in general population (Klimczak, 2014).





This shines a particularly interesting light on all those Gracie University practices; perhaps this is the science that explains their draw and retention rate.  I’m unsure about their therapeutic values, but it’s fairly obvious they place minimal pressure on the participant to perform in a sports scenario. While it’s not hard to equate what they’re doing to being a wee bit money hungry, it’s interesting to consider the intrinsic value or at least what could be done with a different approach.

SBG principles seem closest to traditional values most researches endorse. Heavy accent placed on philosophy is very appealing to me personally and there seems to be science substantiating some of the core values of their system. When we consider how traditional approach (as mentioned above) builds up confidence and toughness – the core abilities of successful competitors – it’s no wonder it has had some good results on the side of good, albeit quirky, reputation.

Scientifically speaking, martial arts also have an effect on non-practicing individuals. Popular media creates a distorted image of martial arts for entertainment purposes (Stickney, 2005).  The role of spectator seems equally important as those of participants.  Ever-changing face of the UFC lends its image to Brazilian jiu-jitsu now more than ever with the EBI on the UFC fight pass. It’s crucial time for us to grasp how every little thing we do, and every nuance of our approach to jiu-jitsu (and other grappling arts) will help shape it for the years to come, not only for practitioners but also for the ever watchful spectator eye.


Boostani MH, Boostani MA, Javanmardi R et al. Investigation and comparison of aggression in Olympic and Non-Olympic athletes of sport fields. Ido Movement for Culture. Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology 2011; 11(3): 37–41

Cezary  Kuśnierz, WojciechJ Cynarski, Artur  Litwiniuk . Comparison of aggressiveness levels in combat sports and martial arts male athletes to non-practising peers Arch Budo 2014; 10 OA287-293

De Herdt, A, Knapen, J, Vancampfort, D, De Hert, M, Brunner, E, & Probst, M 2013, ‘Social anxiety in physical activity participation in patients with mental illness: a cross-sectional multicenter study’, Depression And Anxiety, 30, 8, pp. 757-762

Fuller, JR 1988, ‘Martial arts and psychological health’, The British Journal Of Medical Psychology, 61 ( Pt 4), pp. 317-328, MEDLINE, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 March 2016.

Lamarre, B, & Nosanchuk, T 1999, ‘Judo–the gentle way: a replication of studies on martial arts and aggression’,Perceptual And Motor Skills, 88, 3 Pt 1, pp. 992-996, MEDLINE, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 March 2016.

Artur Litwiniuk, Agnieszka Daniluk, WojciechJ. Cynarski, Ejgil Jespersen 2009, Structure of personality of person training ju-jitsu and wrestling. Arch Budo 2009; 5 OA139-141

Pyecha, J. (1970). Comparative effects of judo and selected physical education activities on male university freshman personality traits. Research Quarterly, 4(3), 425-431.

Zivin, G, Hassan, N, DePaula, G, Monti, D, Harlan, C, Hossain, K, & Patterson, K 2001, ‘An effective approach to violence prevention: traditional martial arts in middle school’, Adolescence, 36, 143, pp. 443-459, MEDLINE, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 March 2016.

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