Jiu-Jitsu Therapy For Veterans

Jiu-Jitsu is providing more than just physical exercise, some veterans are saying it’s saving lives. Veterans are gravitating towards the mats, calling it life-changing therapy. At the gym, we’re more relaxed and conversational than we are on a therapist’s couch or in a fluorescent VA hospital. The coaches and mentors serve as therapists, the people training with you become your support group.

“There’s nothing better for your mental and physical state than training Jiu-Jitsu, I recommend it for all veterans.”

Rick Farran-USMC Vet, Communism Survivor, Cancer Fighter and Patriot at Genesis BJJ in Port St. Lucie, Fl.

There’s trust in the room, similar to the camaraderie we miss from the military. Rolling around on a mat isn’t a quick fix or a magic pill, but the benefits might be a new way to improve the mental, physical, and even spiritual lives of America’s veterans. And if it doesn’t work- at least you get to make friends and choke people. Here are 5 reasons why you might want to check out Jiu-Jitsu Therapy.

Form Community

As children, we playfight with our brothers and sisters. All mammals engage in various playfighting activities, from grizzly bears to puppies. Playfighting means cooperation, building strength and coordination, as well as developing problem-solving skills. This playfighting in the animal kingdom creates strong bonds and humans are no different. The strength of community in Jiu-Jitsu rooms is unparalleled, on par with the bonds of military service. People support one another, help out in and out of training, and form lifelong friendships. Jiu-Jitsu communities are infused with integrity, mutual respect, and helping one another on a path of betterment.

Creates Vulnerability

As veterans we like to project strength, but you have to check your ego at the door in Jiu-Jitsu. You can’t play the tough guy warrior, Jiu-Jitsu exposes your authentic self. You’ll have to let yourself be put in extremely compromising positions and extend life and death trust to people you barely know. It can be a struggle to connect with civilians as a veteran, but Jiu-Jitsu promotes deep bonds and a sense of belonging. It’s easier to open up and be vulnerable on the Jiu-Jitsu mat than the VA therapist. Marcus Dawson’s who’s featured in the photo speaks passionately about the 26 names etched on his Gi – the 26 servicemembers he’s known that have taken their lives. He views Jiu-Jitsu as a way to fight PTSD, combat veteran suicide, and a lot of veterans agree.

“Jiu-jitsu has been the best thing I have found to deal with my trauma. I’ve never had a medication that hit me like Jiu-Jitsu. When I’m on the mats, its’ the only thing that matters and I’m present in the moment, because there’s no other option. There’s no therapy like it!”

-Retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt Marcus Dawson of We Defy Foundation, who provide veterans with military connected disabilities long-term means to overcome their challenges through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and fitness training.

Growth Through Discomfort

When we find ourselves in uncomfortable positions, it’s a sign growth is coming and on the mats you’ll find yourself in plenty of uncomfortable positions. Discomfort is the catalyst for growth, and embracing it is motivating. It’s a constant learning process, we learn from our failures and our losses in an environment that isn’t life and death like the military. There’s a healthy pressure, a beautiful but competitive environment in Jiu-Jitsu gyms around the country. Mastering the feeling of discomfort means mastering your life. There’s pain at first and then you learn to love the pain because it equals growth.

Teaches Consistency

Consistency is key to improving in life, we learn in the military that we get better through repetition. Consistency leads to momentum and what used to be impossible, now comes easy. Consistency is better than motivation, and Jiu-Jitsu forces accountability through community. To reach any goal, it takes sustained effort and dedication, something we learn in the military and martial arts. Consistency isn’t sexy, it’s the silent difference between those that conquer the day and those that let the day slip by. Jiu-Jitsu ingrains consistency, the most obvious producer of success and yet the easiest to overlook.

Builds Resilience and Increases Confidence

The veteran experience is full of ups and downs, nobody said our path was going to be easy after the military. The adversity we encountered while serving made us stronger, the military puts obstacles in front of us every day of our careers. If we don’t continue to seek obstacles and challenges, we’ll stagnate in our post-military lives. Every veteran experiences failure, Jiu-Jitsu teaches us how to accept that failure with grace, humility, and a learners mindset. When we have those levels of resiliency, we’ll feel ready for whatever life throws at us. When we fail, get tapped out, don’t get the raise, or whatever else…. that confidence learned in Jiu-Jitsu helps veterans try again. And try again…and again, because that’s what it takes.

For many veterans, Jiu-Jitsu is real therapy, the people rolling with you on the mat are your support group. Dr. Jessie Virga, Navy veteran, entrepreneur, and author of The End of Dieting says “BJJ is more than just a physical challenge that tests your endurance and stamina; it challenges your mind. It teaches you how to overcome the rapid fire of panic and rely on your training. You master the skill of staying calm, and aligning your mind, body and soul to accomplish a task. For me, BJJ has not only helped me stay centered; it has become my community. Leaving the military was difficult, but when I found BJJ it became the thing that grounded me – it became my peace.”

Dr. Virga and fellow athletes at the Carlson Gracie West Coast HQ

If you enjoyed the article, share it with fellow veterans. Take a look at my new challenge journal with NFL Veteran Pat Angerer, the #FREEDOMCHALLENGE and connect with me on IG -John H Davis. If you have any other ideas, links, or thoughts about Jiu-Jitsu therapy lemme know! We’re all in this together.

Sign Up for My Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest resources for Veterans including living abroad content, mental health resources, and connect with me for success. Connect with me on Instagram and TikTok.

Scroll to Top