A mama marvels at the life lessons her daughter has learned from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in Singapore, from problem-solving to resilience and empathy
About three years ago, my just-turned-5-year-old daughter said in the most matter of fact way: “Mommy, one day I am going to grow up to be a BJJ Champion.” To wrap some context around an otherwise random comment, she had just started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and at that point had completed all of two 45- minute BJJ classes for 4 and 5-year-olds. I gave her a hug, some patronizing words of encouragement, and chalked it up to beginner’s enthusiasm. All the while keeping my fingers crossed that she would finish up the class package that we already paid for.
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about when it came to the kiddo committing to her new sport. In fact, she went from going to class once a week to now training three to four times a week. On days she has training, she wakes up with a big smile on her face and literally goes: “Yay! Today there is BJJ!” Her beginner’s enthusiasm has not waned one bit.
In the almost three years since the “Champion” comment, my petite, soft spoken, sometimes wallflower of a daughter has flourished. Though still petite, she has gained confidence, tenacity, and focus. She appreciates the concepts of discipline, hard work, respect, and empathy. While I will admit that a lot of these characteristics come naturally with age and maturity, I truly believe that her journey with BJJ in Singapore has played a big role in teaching her virtues that are so important for success later in life.
I am not a practitioner of BJJ, nor do I claim to have prior knowledge of any martial arts for that matter. So I speak from a bystander’s perspective. As a mother who watches practice. As a parent who has cheered for all the wins and provided comfort after the losses. In my mind, as a mother on the sidelines, the parent behind the athlete, BJJ is one of the best sports you can encourage your kid to get into.
The biggest takeaway I get from watching BJJ kids train and compete, is that the sport teaches problem solving skills under intense pressure, and rewards tenacity. During training, the coaches (called Professors) walk the kids through several different “if this, then that” scenarios. In practice, I learned that there are many ways to gain advantages. If one strategy doesn’t work, the kids move on to try another strategy, and so on and so forth until something works.
And then there is the reward for tenacity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed my lightweight daughter pinned under a bigger, stronger child and thought to myself, “Well, that’s that I guess.” But then after what seems like an eternity of wiggling she finds the split second opportunity, turns the tables, and somehow wins the fight. This resilient mindset training is so vital and directly transferable to real life.
As with most other martial arts, I notice that BJJ places a huge emphasis on discipline and respect. The discipline and respect expected of kids from their coaches could arguably be learned in all types of sports. However, in my opinion, the unique aspect surrounding discipline and respect that BJJ teaches extends further into boundaries and restraint.
During instruction, often times the Professors begin by explaining the theme of the class. Then, after practicing several techniques, they’ll let the kids go against each other – a sparring session, if you will. However, I have noticed that these are seldom a “free for all, winner takes all” scenario. There are strict boundaries that the kids have to operate within. For instance, even if there is a maneuver that can secure a win, they may not be able to use that technique because it wasn’t the focus for that training session. I find that this translates incredibly into real life. The respect for rules and boundaries, the restraint that an adrenaline-filled kid would have to show, the mindful discipline it takes to practice said restraint. That is all very powerful stuff.
I feel like many sports over-celebrate the individual achievements of the MVP. Sometimes I find that this results in arrogant star athletes who may excel in their sport, but have little empathy for others. Which is why I quite literally smiled to myself the first time I heard the Professors say “Higher belts [more advanced students] please help the lower belts [more beginner kids].”
As I watched the more advanced bigger kids patiently walk my daughter through her first few months of classes, I was amazed by the maturity and grace these kids showed towards the younger, sometimes clueless newbies! Now that my daughter is no longer a newbie, she is always so happy to return the favor and teach the kids who have come after her. And while the older kids have graduated to more advanced classes, they retain a mentorship role in my daughter’s eyes, someone to look up to and aspire to be. On the flip side, she is also learning that to give back and show kindness and patience, to have empathy, can sometimes be more gratifying than being the best kid in class.
At the end of the day, BJJ is a form of martial art which, to me, is a form of self-defense. While we did not enrol our daughter in BJJ with the intention of her one day being able to defend herself, we have peace of mind that if that day ever came, she would probably have a leg up. In the nearly three years that she has been training in BJJ in Singapore, I have seen exponential growth in her confidence and mental grit. In the early days, being matched up against boys or against physically bigger kids used to automatically result in tears and refusal to step up to the challenge. Today, she may still be battling uncertainty inside. But on the outside, she shows tremendous confidence and courage, and isn’t afraid to step up to any challenge. After all, in her words, “I have to at least try.”
While she is still working hard in her journey to “grow up to be a BJJ Champion,” she’s already well on her way to becoming a Champion in life. Much credit is due to her practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her Professors, and the tight bonds she’s formed with her BJJ family.
Much has transpired since I first penned this article. Namely, a global pandemic requiring strict social distancing. As one can imagine, BJJ, being a full contact sport, has had to change drastically to ensure the health and safety of its practitioners and Professors. All the full contact scenarios described in this article were from a pre-COVID world. Now, post-COVID, the kids practice with human shaped “partners” constructed from pool noodles in class, and life sized stuffed sparring buddies at home. While the lack of contact takes away a big part of what defines the sport, I have been both impressed and further awed by the tenacity and creativity of the BJJ community here in Singapore.
The Singapore BJJ community has banded together to find a safe, socially distanced way to allow training to continue. While we are all waiting eagerly for the day BJJ can go back to being a full contact sport, we can all appreciate the great lessons the current situation teaches our kids – resilience, flexibility, creativity, patience.
Looking for BJJ lessons for your kids? Start by checking out Ju Jitsu Association of Singapore, a non-profit organisation which shares all about the history of the martial art and has resources for classes that kids and adults can attend in Singapore.