How does BJJ impact teenage boys’ livesLaurien Zurhake
On the 16th of August 2017, Role Bonito published my interview with teenage BJJ girls about how BJJ impacts their lives and those around them. I received various responses in which one request was repeated frequently: whether I could also conduct such an interview with BJJ boys as a small comparative case study. My answer to that request was of course yes! So here it is and let us listen to what these boys from Team Laurien & Alex affiliated with Pound for Pound have to say. Their names are: Adrian (16), Benjamin (15), Felix (14) and Björn (14).
What does BJJ mean to you?
Adrian: “sport, fun, team spirit, training with each other and not against each other and soon, when my knee is healed up, competition.” With this short and absolutely clear opening statement the tone was set for this interview. Contrary to their female teammates, they are all extremely short in their answers but just as serious and enthusiastic! Felix continues by stating that BJJ means for him “knowing that I can stand up for myself and defend myself. BJJ also compensates perfectly for all the stress at school and daily life and that BJJ is perfect conversation material with fellow BJJ mates and friends who don’t practice BJJ. On the mats BJJ is also a perfect place to create new friendships.” Benjamin is even shorter by gallantly pointing out that BJJ means for him “Hobby and life. Without BJJ I am depressed.” He also emphasizes his wish to train even more often, but is sometimes blocked through mandatory sport lessons at school.
How is BJJ integrated or incorporated in your daily life?
Adrian, who is the oldest of the group, points out that martial arts in general have always been part of his life. “Since I was 4 I already started with Ju-Jutsu. I did not want to typically play football as many others did (my parents also did not want me to play football either by the way), so my mother sent me to Ju-Jutsu. BJJ and martial arts in general give me confidence and a feeling of safety, especially late at night when I am alone on the streets.” Felix continues by saying that he sees the impact and effect of BJJ especially at school: “I appear and act in a more dominant way. As a result, people let me be, even those who without second thought annoy the rest. Apart from school, I also often practice my boxing skills on my boxing bag at home.” Adrian adds to what Felix said: “that BJJ is an art and sport that can be easily and effectively mixed with others.” Regarding Benjamin, BJJ affects him on a very physical level: “no matter when or for which reasons I sit on the ground,” Benjamin says, “when I stand up I always do a technical stand up. I shrimp out of bed and do 180 degrees rolls to change sleeping positions at night.”
That is exactly what happens when specific movements have been repeated and drilled so often that they become muscle memory: my boyfriend and I, too, shrimp out of bed and do technical stand ups whilst standing up. I guess many who practice BJJ can absolutely relate to what Benjamin says!
How is it, as a young man, to practice BJJ and how do your friends, classmates and other acquaintances react to you training BJJ?
Adrian: “they actually don’t react at all. It is a sport so it does not matter whether it is table tennis or a martial art.” Felix and Benjamin have somewhat different experiences: “quite some react impressed”, Felix shares, “and they sometimes want to learn something. Once I showed a friend how to do a wristlock and others joined.” Björn, Adrian’s younger brother revealed that he has a friend who practices Aikido and they often exchange techniques with one another. Felix continues that “there are also some boxers at school and they find BJJ not so cool. Apart from that, BJJ is reacted upon normally as on any other martial art.” Adrian remembers that he has nice contact with a fellow student who is a Judo athlete and competes a lot and that it would be nice to spar with him sometime. Then Benjamin chips in and shares: “when there are fights at school I am never allowed to join in – as I know what I am doing – because they say that I can hurt them. This is practical in daily life, because no one attacks me. If they do, however, it is easily settled. Apart from that, BJJ keeps me fit. Also when one practices a martial art, one’s vibe and presence changes, especially when one enters a room.”
So what can we conclude regarding this small survey amongst BJJ girls and boys? Surely, we cannot say that the conclusions from this survey are representative, but they may hint at some general trends. I think that there is certainly a gender divide: almost all the young men interviewed state that their surroundings react positive and normal on them practicing a martial art. This is not always the case with girls: we have seen in the previous interview that both boys and girls tend to react negatively to these young women. Often not even believing them or when they do, they think that these girls can’t be good martial artists, because they are girls.
Another important difference is that although these young men clearly show that BJJ makes them feel safer and more confident, the self-defense aspect is less emphasized in comparison to the interviewed girls. These state that they are aware of the lingering dangers and that they, apart from loving BJJ, also practice it for self-defense to increase their overall awareness, well-being and feeling safer. This does not mean, however, that BJJ has therefore less impact on boys. Rather, it seems that society is much more cognizant and accepting of young men training BJJ than girls. Yet, BJJ also makes boys feel safer as well as keeping them at harms bay from potential bullies: they just leave them be.
Moreover, a significant similarity between the two is this desired sense of wanting to belong somewhere. Both stated that BJJ enhances friendships and team spirit. That is simply beautiful as this means that no matter what happens with these young individuals, they can find a home and safe environment on the mats and with their teammates.
I hope that in due time it will become normal for girls to practice BJJ (and any other martial arts of their choosing) as well. Especially because BJJ provides both boys and girls with so many anchors, not only on the mats but especially off the mats, that a greater acceptance will help many now and in the future.