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Brazilian jiu-jitsu as social and psychological therapy: a systematic review



The results surrounding the socio-psychological contribution of the martial arts are contested. One analytical distinction that has been made is that traditional, as opposed to modern martial arts, are more well-suited to such ends. Yet, this distinction is not always made, rendering shallow the analytical depth of this topic. Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) is an emerging martial art that has been highly touted as a social and psychological form of therapy. However, this claim derives from anecdotal reports and narratives. BJJ's potentially therapeutic properties have been understudied because of the sport's recent emergence. It has not been systematically assessed to date. Considering BJJ's late emergence and direct connection to other modern martial arts, it is unclear whether BJJ is considered a modern-or traditional martial art; something that has implications for a martial art's potential to contribute towards developmental outcomes. This systematic review identified 12 articles of BJJ's potential social-and psychological properties. In summary, the research on BJJ is focused on two salient themes: the psychosocial outcomes and the social meanings of BJJ. The former tended to focus on the relationship with aggression, with little theoretical consideration for how BJJ functioned as an agent of social change. However, the latter offered a glimpse into such mechanisms through sociological inquiries that effectively highlighted how BJJ entails developing resilience. While the literature uniformly indicated that BJJ holds promise as a form of therapy, research also points to BJJ's complex social nature. This characteristic entailed social rituals that BJJ-practitioners go through, which are socially-and morally debatable. The review thus suggests further theoretical considerations to the emerging field of BJJ research. In summary, BJJ training may be an appropriate public health intervention considering its social climate and emphasis on developing resilience and its mitigating effect on aggression. However, more research is needed to explore unhealthy traditions that seem to exist in BJJ.
Journal of Physical Education and Sport
(JPES), Vol. 21 (3), Art 196, pp. 1544 - 1552, May 2021
online ISSN: 2247 - 806X; p-ISSN: 2247 – 8051; ISSN - L = 2247 - 8051
Corresponding Author: TONY BLOMQVIST MICKELSSON, E-mail:
Original Article
Brazilian jiu-jitsu as social and psychological therapy: a systematic review
Department of social sciences, Södertörn University, SWEDEN
Published online: May 31, 2021
(Accepted for publication May 15, 2021)
The results surrounding the socio-psychological contribution of the martial arts are contested. One analytical
distinction that has been made is that traditional, as opposed to modern martial arts, are more well-suited to such
ends. Yet, this distinction is not always made, rendering shallow the analytical depth of this topic. Brazilian jiu-
jitsu (BJJ) is an emerging martial art that has been highly touted as a social and psychological form of therapy.
However, this claim derives from anecdotal reports and narratives. BJJ's potentially therapeutic properties have
been understudied because of the sport's recent emergence. It has not been systematically assessed to date.
Considering BJJ’s late emergence and direct connection to other modern martial arts, it is unclear whether BJJ is
considered a modern- or traditional martial art; something that has implications for a martial art’s potential to
contribute towards developmental outcomes. This systematic review identified 12 articles of BJJ's potential
social- and psychological properties. In summary, the research on BJJ is focused on two salient themes: the
psychosocial outcomes and the social meanings of BJJ. The former tended to focus on the relationship with
aggression, with little theoretical consideration for how BJJ functioned as an agent of social change. However,
the latter offered a glimpse into such mechanisms through sociological inquiries that effectively highlighted how
BJJ entails developing resilience. While the literature uniformly indicated that BJJ holds promise as a form of
therapy, research also points to BJJ’s complex social nature. This characteristic entailed social rituals that BJJ-
practitioners go through, which are socially- and morally debatable. The review thus suggests further theoretical
considerations to the emerging field of BJJ research. In summary, BJJ training may be an appropriate public
health intervention considering its social climate and emphasis on developing resilience and its mitigating effect
on aggression. However, more research is needed to explore unhealthy traditions that seem to exist in BJJ.
Key Words: martial arts, combat sports, socio-psychological, aggression, resilience, intervention
The martial arts hold the potential to promote a host of developmental outcomes, extensively researched
in the literature. Yet, there appear to be contrasting results that cast doubt on the potential of martial arts to
contribute towards socio-psychological outcomes. This lack of clarity can effectively be illustrated with several
recent reviews concerning martial arts and aggression. For example, Harwood et al. (2017) reviewed 12 studies.
They found stable evidence for martial art’s mitigating effect on aggression, whereas Gubbels et al. (2016) and
Moore et al. (2020) found no association at all. More concerningly, Gubbels et al. (2016) noted a publication
bias in favor of studies that detect positive socio-psychological effects. In their seminal review of martial arts
and socio-psychological outcomes, Vertonghen and Theeboom (2010) declared that it indeed is contested and
that we lack robust evidence. Over a decade later, in the most recent review, Lafuente et al. (2021) concluded
that this problem is still the case but that there seems to be a significant but weak mitigating effect on aggression.
How are we to understand these contradictions? One of the issues may lie in the definition of martial arts and the
heterogeneity between martial arts disciplines. Martial arts is an umbrella term spanning across a multitude of
disciplines, ranging from non-contact martial arts (e.g., tai-chi) to full-contact competitive disciplines (e.g.,
These disciplines not only differ in features and norms, but their practitioners also differ in
characteristics, such as levels of aggressiveness (cf. Vertonghen et al., 2014). As Lafuente et al. (2021) point out,
a decisive factor in whether martial arts may promote socio-psychological development seems to be contingent
on whether the practiced martial art is considered traditional or modern. While modern martial arts lack a clear
foundation or belief system with clear ethics and norms for practitioners to rely on, traditional martial arts are
deeply seated in a pacifistic belief with an immense cultural legacy that emphasizes self-control, discipline, and
humbleness (Zivin et al., 2001). In returning to the fragmented findings of reviews on aggression and martial
arts, it is thus not surprising to note that Harwood et al. (2017) found the strongest positive effects, also almost
exclusively included martial arts considered traditional. Clearly, this point makes problematic the analysis of the
aggregation of a wide range of martial arts as a single study. One might even argue that this approach plays a
zero-sum game, considering that modern martial arts seem to promote aggression. In contrast, traditional martial
arts seem to mitigate it (Nosanchuk & MacNeil, 1989). Consequently, by failing to make this distinction, studies
fall into traps that do not consider the varying character and associated outcomes of various martial arts, at times
without accounting for such an important moderator. This point brings us to this paper’s paradoxical martial art:
BJJ is a martial art originating from Brazil and Japan. Specifically, it is a grappling sport that utilizes
chokeholds and joint locks. Participants are dressed in traditional kimonos and are ranked according to
experience and skill, ranging from white belts to black belts. The sport was primarily noticed through its
embodied appearance by the Gracie clan in the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) event
in the mid-’90s. Within this mixed martial art (MMA) event, a physically smaller, kimono-dressed man
neutralized and defeated opponents far more muscular. This attention sparked an intense interest in the art of
BJJ. Quickly acquiring BJJ skills became a necessity in order to be competitive within MMA. Since its
appearance in the UFC, BJJ has accompanied MMA on its explosive rise and emerging popularity (Blue, 2013).
For example, this popularity can be characterized through the growing numbers of BJJ- and MMA clubs in the
UK, going from 12 in 2009 to a stunning number of 320 in 2020 (Sugden, 2021). In stark contrast to MMA,
which is surrounded by discourses on gross violence, commercialization, glorification of violence, and
ambiguous reputation (García & Malcolm, 2010), BJJ is founded on a traditional philosophy and has been
attributed social, and even spiritual, meaning (Pope, 2019). Pope (2019, p.306) states that BJJ has the capacity to
”...shape human nature in a positive way, that is both for the practitioner in terms of internally directed virtue
development and achieving a calm inner state..”.
Furthermore, known as ‘the gentle art’, BJJ emphasizes concepts such as playfulness and flow (Pope,
2019) and resembles a game of human chess and problem-solving (Hogeveen, 2013). This proposed nature of
BJJ has led scholars to examine whether BJJ can contribute towards subjective well-being (Fogarty, 2020) and if
it has therapeutic properties, for example, in military populations (Collura, 2018), or if the sport can be useful in
educational programs for youth (Bueno & Saavedra, 2016). Reusing (2014) explored the lives of five prominent
BJJ practitioners in-depth. He found that the salient themes which emerged were how BJJ was intertwined in
discourses on social values and teamwork and how BJJ clubs functioned as safe spaces, sometimes with clinical
meaning. Although the cited works have shown great promise for BJJ’s potential to contribute towards
developmental outcomes, there is still a palpable dearth of research on this topic. The evidence for this fact
includes that the above references are mostly grey literature, with scattered scopes and research questions.
Furthermore, these anecdotal reports and accounts of BJJ connect such practices to spirituality (Jennings et al.,
2010), mindfulness (Miyata et al., 2020), discipline (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004), and pacifistic values (Zivin et al.,
2001)and resembles the literature on more traditional martial arts.
This background introduces a peculiar paradox. BJJ is a modern martial art in terms of temporality;
however, its indicated philosophy and its associated features and norms seem to point towards a more traditional
understanding of martial arts. This paradox is further spurred because BJJ made its most remarkable and noticed
appearance in MMA competition, which is today's benchmark for how modern martial arts look. Yet, MMA and
BJJ are sports that go well together, as evidenced by the fact that most MMA gyms also house BJJ classes.
Utilizing martial arts in general as a social intervention is frequently done by social workers; however, they often
do so without the empirical evidence behind it (Theeboom et al., 2008). This practice is peculiar, given that
different martial arts indeed seem to be associated with different levels of anti-social behavior (e.g., Theeboom et
al., 2014). Consequently, it is imperative to assess the evidence behind an intervention’s potential capacity; it
now stands clear that BJJ has attracted attention for its possibility to contribute towards psychosocial outcomes,
often mentioned in a therapeutic sense. Additionally, despite a dearth of reviews on martial arts socio-
psychological contributions, BJJ has yet to be included and studied (Moore et al., 2020; van der Kooi, 2020;
Vertonghen & Theeboom, 2010). Tentatively, the recent origin of BJJ compared to the long existence of other
martial arts has contributed to BJJ’s absence within the literature. Given the anecdotal narratives on how BJJ can
change lives (Dzabirski, 2018), BJJ surely is an addition to the sociological- and psychological literature on
martial arts. Considering the positive narratives surrounding BJJ combined with an overall increasing rise in BJJ
practitioners, it is now high time to compile- and assess the evidence behind these claims. Contemporarily,
research on BJJ is heavily dominated by topics such as injury prevalence or performance aspects (e.g., Detanico
et al., 2017; Jones & Ledford, 2012, Øvretveit et al., 2019). To date, no research has systematically assessed the
social- and psychological meanings and effects of BJJ practice, despite its emerging popularity and potential
value as a social intervention. The current study sought to assess socio-psychological effects due to BJJ practice
systematically. The following research question was posed: how does BJJ affect- or associate to social- and
psychological factors? The current paper is structured as follows: 1) method, 2) results, and 3) a discussion that
ties together the findings, evaluates BJJ’s potential as a social intervention, and proposes further directions.
Material & methods
The current study sought to conduct the systematic review with rigor, following Khan et al.'s (2003)
guidelines. These include 1) framing the research question, 2) identifying relevant work, 3) assessing the quality
of the studies, 4) summarizing the findings, and 5) interpreting the findings.
Inclusion and exclusion
The articles had to be 1) peer-reviewed, 2) written in English, 3) include empirical material, and 4) include a
social- or psychological aspect or outcome. The latter was shaped more broadly given the review’s sport-specific
scope but still needed to be central to the study scope. Both qualitative- and quantitative work was included.
Articles that compared BJJ populations to other sporting populations were included; however, articles that
exclusively aggregated the results of the BJJ population with other sport populations were excluded.
Furthermore, grey literature was not included in the current review.
In order to preserve the scope of the study and avoid covering performance-related findings, the study
excluded all personality traits that were discussed regarding performance (e.g., mood-states in competition,
perceived competence, self-confidence, etc.). Furthermore, the study excluded literature that only concerned
physical aspects, including weight loss and factors associated with it (e.g., disordered eating), historical accounts
of how the sport had developed, and organizational inquires (e.g., leadership quality, etc.). In short, the review
was not concerned with sport-specific, historical, organizational, or competitive aspects but instead concerned
with social- and psychological aspects that could indicate BJJ’s potential effect outside of the sport itself.
Search strategy
Four major databases were searched: Google Scholar, PsycINFO, Scopus, and SportDISCUS. Before
conducting the main searches, a preliminary investigation was undertaken to acquire a pre-understanding of the
literature's breadth and depth. Based on this pre-understanding, the searches were conducted in January 2021,
with a single search word: “Brazilian jiu-jitsu”. At all search engines but google scholar, the keyword Brazilian
jiu-jitsu was used without any search restrictions. In google scholar, it was stated that the keyword had to be
found within the title of the study to make a reasonable limitation for the specific database. Initially, 576 articles
were identified. After the removal of duplicates, 454 remained. All these article’s abstracts and titles were
screened to assess their preliminary eligibility. If the articles made no mention of any social- or psychological
aspects of martial arts training, they were excluded. In total, 387 articles were excluded, leaving 67 for a final
full-text review. Out of these, 12 articles were deemed fit for final inclusion.
Figure 1. Flow chart of inclusion and exclusion of articles
Records identified through
database searching
(n = 576)
Included Eligibility Identification
Additional records identified
through other sources
(n = 0)
Records after duplicates removed
(n = 454)
Records screened
(n = 454)
Records excluded
(n = 387)
Full-text articles assessed for
(n = 67)
Full-text articles excluded,
with reasons
(n = 55
Physiological = 13
Performance = 13
Pedagogical = 2
Grey literature = 19
No empirical = 5
Other = 3)
Studies included in synthesis
(n = 12)
Within the results section, the descriptive characteristics of the studies will be accounted for at first,
followed by two emerging themes: 1) psychosocial outcomes and 2) social meanings of BJJ practice.
Descriptive characteristics
The earliest studies within the set-out inclusion criteria were published as late as 2016 (Chinkov & Holt,
2016), which gives a clear picture of the novelty of socio-psychological research in BJJ. Nine of the studies
deployed a quantitative design, consisting mainly of cross-sectional designs (n = 6), followed by
(quasi)experimental designs (n = 2) and social network designs (n = 1). Out of the three qualitative studies, two
(n) deployed an ethnographic approach, and one (n) used semi-structured interviews.
There was a clear notion of BJJ’s potentially therapeutic properties, characterized by the fact that half of
the studies explicitly linked or discussed the practice of BJJ as a form of psychosocial therapy. Additionally, one
study (Willing et al., 2018) used BJJ as an actual clinical intervention. Furthermore, there was a geographical
diversity of the studies, where most studies were conducted in Central Europe (n = 5), followed by the UK (n =
2), Sweden (n = 1), Canada (n = 1), Guam (n = 1), the US (n = 1) and Brazil (n = 1). The conceptualizations
differed to some extent between the included studies. Seven (n) studies examined psychosocial markers and their
association to BJJ-practice; two (n) studies spanned across several themes, including both mental health and
social bonding within BJJ-clubs; one (n) study examined social identity concerning positioning within a social
network, and one (n) study examined a social ritual within BJJ-clubs and how this related to perceptions of this
ritual and associations to in-group ties and identity.
Psychosocial outcomes
A bulk of the included articles assessed aggression levels in BJJ practitioners (Blomqvist Mickelsson,
2020; Janowska et al., 2018; Pujszo et al., 2018; Vít et al., 2019; Wojdat & Ossowski, 2019). The assessment of
aggression levels was mainly examined in comparison to other sports such as MMA (Blomqvist Mickelsson,
2020), baseball players (Vít et al., 2019), hip-hop dancers (Pujzo et al., 2018), and judo (Janowska et al., 2018)
with one study examining gender differences within a BJJ-sample with a control group (Wojdat & Ossowski,
2019). Notably, all studies mentioned aboveused the Buss and Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ; Buss &
Perry, 1992), further consolidating the BPAQ as the gold standard aggression inventory. Notably, few elaborate
accounts of any theoretical mechanisms underlying the relationship between BJJ and aggression are to be found.
Generally, distinctions are made between instrumental aggression and sport-specific aggression, where it, for
example, is concluded that aggression is a neurobiological human trait (Wojdat & Ossowski, 2019) needed to
survive, but that sport can fulfill educiational aims, and therefore indirectly reduce aggressive levels (e.g., Pujszo
et al., 2018, p.768). Wojdat and Ossowski (2019) argue that BJJ-practice will facilitate emotional processing
more adequately, therefore being able to resolve conflict more easily. Still, such an hypothesis remains untested,
since emotional processing was never examined.
Overall, the results point to a negative correlation between training experience and aggression; in other
words, more experienced BJJ practitioners report lower levels of aggression (Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2020;
Janowska et al., 2019; Wojdat & Ossowski, 2019). Additionally, the studies that examine aggression also
generally agree that BJJ practitioners exhibit low aggression levels compared to other populations. Whereas no
findings between BJJ practitioners and baseball players were found (Vít et al., 2019), BJJ practitioners reported
lower aggression compared to hip-hop dancers (Pujszo et al., 2018), control-groups (Janowska et al., 2019;
Wojdat & Ossowski, 2019), MMA practitioners (Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2020) and judokas (Janowska et al.,
Other psychological constructs that were examined included life satisfaction (Wojdat et al., 2017), pro-
social behavior, self-control, crime frequency (Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2020), PTSD markers, anxiety,
depression, and alcohol intake (Willing et al., 2019). Overall, life satisfaction was significantly higher in BJJ-
practitioners than control groups (Wojdat et al., 2017), and BJJ-practitioners significantly increased levels of
pro-social behavior and self-control, while reported crime frequency dropped (Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2020). Of
note is the populations studied. Whereas the bulk of the studies examined ‘regular’ practitioners, Willing et al.
(2019) utilized BJJ as a complementary therapeutic element for military veterans, with the primary aim of
examining changes in PTSD scores. Consequently, in light of the discussions surrounding BJJ’s potentially
therapeutic properties, Willing et al. (2019) are the only authors that explicitly use BJJ as what could be
perceived as a clinical intervention. Within their study, Willing et al. (2019) found clinically meaningful
improvements in PTSD-markers, along with improvements in anxiety, depression, and reduced alcohol intake;
however, it was a pilot study, and the results ought to be interpreted accordingly due to sample size issues, as
accounted for below.
However, in general, these (quantitative) studies were conducted with low sample sizes with BJJ-
practitioners such as, for example, 30 (n) (Janowska et al., 2019; Vít et al., 2019), 33 (n) (Pujszo et al., 2018), 50
(n) (Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2020), 63 (n) (Wojdat et al., 2017) with the biggest sample size being 81 (n) (Wojdat
& Ossowski, 2019). Although using BJJ as a clinical intervention, only 9 (n) participants fulfilled the whole
intervention in Willing et al.’s (2019) study. Despite these low sample sizes, there are numerous statistically
significant findings (except for Vít et al., 2019); this further spurred the notion that there is something inherent in
BJJ that promotes psychosocial development.
Additionally, although many studies discuss causality in some form regarding how sporting experience allegedly
affects aggression levels, most of the studies only deploy a cross-sectional design except Blomqvist Mickelsson
(2020) and Willing et al. (2019). However, even the latter articles lack randomization (Blomqvist Mickelsson,
2020) or control groups (Willing et al., 2018). Despite this design, the latter two studies offer a glimpse into the
causal effect of BJJ practice, although this should be carefully interpreted.
In short, there is a palpable absence of theoretical accounts of how BJJ functions as an agent of
(psychosocial) change. In the aforementioned studies, the theoretical basis is often grounded in prior research
that posits whether combat sports are either psychosocially beneficial or not. These contrast the philosophies of
traditional martial arts versus modern martial arts but are rarely analyzed with any comprehensive theoretical
framework. In short, this presents a methodological caveat in the quantitative socio-psychological BJJ research,
where most design and sample sizes prevent a thorough discussion of causality. At the same time, the absence of
theoretical explanations retains the ‘black box’ status of such studies.
Social meanings
In the ethnographical studies, Sugden (2021) immersed himself within the local BJJ-gym for three years
trained in where he “…socialized, fought and competed with members of an urban MMA gym(p.2). Drawing
from his three-year ethnography and inspired by the salutogenic health model Sugden (2021) uncovers many
themes but primarily about mental health. Specifically, the author frequently encounters sentiments that discuss
the link between mind and body and how BJJ facilitates personal development and the construct of mindfulness.
In auto ethnographical fashion, Sugden (2021) also notes how he, to his surprise, experiences the BJJ gym and
local BJJ competitions as extremely friendly and kind spaces which he positions against the mainstream
discourse on combat sports gyms with connotations to gross- and barbaric violence. This experience is
corroborated elsewhere, where coaches- and peers facilitate the acquisition of life skills (Chinkov & Holt, 2016)
and where peer interactions predict stronger in-group ties and continuous engagement within the BJJ club
(Rodrigues et al., 2018). In short, the social climate within BJJ clubs functions as a powerful mediator for other
social experiences, where peers and coaches have a central function. However, a social function is also found
within the actual physical practice. Consider the following excerpt from an informant from Sugden (2021, p.24):
Nowhere else can you spend an hour on the mat with someone, knock 10 bells out of [beat]
each other or choke each other 10/15 times and then come off and chat about what you did right
or what you did wrong, and develop this kind of bond and this friendship
Subsequently, Sugden (2021, p.24) concurs with the informants’ notion of BJJ-practice, and the core of
this social bonding practice can thus be traced to the sparring itself.
Relating more directly to mental health is the coping mechanisms that practitioners experience. Sugden
(2021) notes that coping with anxiety and depression often surfaces in discussion with the practitioners and
relates to the nature of BJJ. The content of the interview material indicates that participants learn to cope with
stress and anxiety a life-skill they transfer to the outside world by surviving the physical and stressful
encounters on the mat. Consequently, drawing from Sugden’s (2021) ethnography, BJJ indeed resembles
therapy. In his work, Farrer (2019, p.407) responds to this exact parallel by positing the question: How does
therapy arise from techniques to incapacitate, injure, and kill? What could be the malady? Who requires
treatment? Farrer (2019) himself engaged in the local BJJ scene at the militarized Island of Guam for 18
On the contrary to Sugden’s (2021) health-oriented model, Farrer (2019) takes a theoretically different
approach and attempts to view the BJJ-as-therapy parallel as ‘shifting subjectivities’. That is, BJJ can take many
forms, including the re-enactment of death, eroticism, and health (Farrer, 2019). Consequently, BJJ, along with
all its properties, are contingent upon these subjectivities and how they shift. The author presents slightly more
critical results- and analysis compared to Sugden (2021), in which he claims that positioning BJJ as a form of
therapy is possible for some. However, for others, it could be considered an ironic joke. Regarding the latter,
Farrer (2019, p.426) argues that some may adhere to the notion of BJJ as a therapy on the grounds of hyper
masculinity; that real therapy is for “…the mentally ill, wimps, failures, or deviants…”. However, Farrer (2019)
also highlights elements of BJJ in a positive light. Relating to Sugden’s (2021) coping mechanisms is Farrer’s
(2019) exploration of survival as a concept in BJJ. Again, the nature of BJJ practice entails being physically
dominated (or dominating) another human being a highly stressful scenario, something that Chinkov and
Holt’s (2016) participants also stress. In Chinkov and Holt’s (2016) study, participants frame this as
‘perseverance’, and as one coach put it:
…persevere under pressure, no matter where you are. ... When your opponent’s crushing you
down, you don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable. You persevere, you have heart, you
carry on. These are values that also take place out into the workplace, and take place out into
your social interactions” (Chinkov & Holt, 2016 p.146)
Consequently, BJJ gives participants abilities that extend beyond the sport sphere and could be
transferable into the workplace. These sentiments of ‘coping’ and ‘surviving’ in BJJ practice were framed in a
more clinically oriented manner, in which Willing et al. (2019) argued that BJJ resembles exposure therapy. In
one out of the two quantitative articles on a social phenomenon at the group level, Kavanagh et al. (2019)
examined how social cohesion and pro-group behavior were affected by a very specific tradition within BJJ,
namely ‘belt whipping’ in a sample of 605 (n) BJJ-practitioners. Belt whipping refers to a ritual where a
practitioner is awarded a new rank (i.e., belt). Subsequently, the practitioner must walk “…past a line of their
training partners, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder and use their untied belts to whip the individual being
promoted, which often results in severe welts and bruising(Kavanaugh et al., 2019, p.464). Kavanagh et al.
(2019) found that if the promotion was experienced as an overall positive experience, it was significantly linked
to stronger identity fusion group bonds and group identification; however, no statistically significant link could
be established if the promotion had been perceived as a negative experience.
Furthermore, the authors established a mediating pathway where identity fusion mediated the
relationship between positive experiences of the promotion and costly pro-group sacrifices, operationalized as
donating money, risking life, and donating time. Identity fusion proved to be a consistently reliable mediator
across all relationships. Kavanagh et al. (2019) advance the socio-psychological research on BJJ by moving
beyond merely measuring personality traits and linking a much-debated ritual to phenomena at a group level.
The concept of identity fusion can also be linked to Sugden’s (2021) experiences within the MMA-gym. Sugden
(2021, p.19) posited that:
It is the confronting nature of the training along with the commitment, sacrifice, and time
required to train and improve which is significant engendering dropout. Yet the consequences of
overcoming these difficulties are profound.”
By enduring and overcoming the difficulties of BJJ practice, BJJ-practitioners may be more inclined to
partake in promotions that include belt-whipping. Tentatively, such rituals consolidate the suffering and the
perseverance that BJJ practice entails, as displayed by the above excerpt. In so far, the study on BJJ that extends
beyond the psychosocial, cross-sectional realm seem to be both methodologically- and theoretically more
The review sought to assess social- and psychological effects and associations tied to BJJ practice.
Evidently, the research on BJJ is clearly still in its infancy, although not surprising, as BJJ as a sport only
surfaced in the mid-’90s in conjunction with the UFC. Comparing this research to the traditional socio-
psychological research on martial arts, it becomes clear that other traditional martial arts have been around
longer and received much (more) scholarly attention. Considering the seminal review from Vertonghen and
Theeboom (2010), karate and taekwondo dominates while there is no mention of BJJ. This point still holds
because the most recent review on martial arts and mental health still does not include BJJ (Moore et al., 2020;
van der Kooi, 2020) In so far, the current review is the first to summarize what we currently know about BJJ’s
potentially social- and psychological contribution. The main findings of this review consist of descriptively
mapping the field and its methodological- and theoretical caveats and challenges. However, the review also links
different concepts to each other, ultimately pointing to how the nature of BJJ contributes towards resilience and
how this relates to a strong social culture within BJJ-gyms.
One of the first salient findings is the extreme focus on psychosocial outcomes, but specifically
aggression, evidenced by many quantitative studies. This finding generally reflects the field’s tendency to focus
on this particular trait with combat sports (Vertonghen & Theeboom, 2010). Furthermore, these studies were
most often carried out in a cross-sectional fashion, with low sample sizes. Additional concerns consider the lack
of theoretical explanatory power few, if any, theoretical accounts were given in most of these quantitative
studies concerned with aggression. This point is also reflective of a broader debate on whether combat sports, in
general, are associated with higher- or lower levels of anti-social behavior (Endresen & Olweus, 2005). This
research question has been engaging scholars for decades (Nosanchuk & MacNeil, 1989) and seems to
proliferate every time a new combat sport emerges. Although these methodological and theoretical shortcomings
limit the inference, we can draw from these studies. The studies consistently show that BJJ practitioners, in most
cases, report lower levels of aggression compared to other groups. Yet, when compared against, for example,
Vertonghen, Theebom, and Pieter’s (2014) work, BJJ-practitioners (Wojdat & Ossowski, 2018) are less
(physically) aggressive than Thai boxers but reports higher scores on the BPAQ-scale than aikido-, judo- and
karate practitioners.
Secondly, many studies discussed the nature of BJJ practice and how it entailed ‘coping’ (Sugden,
2021), ‘survival’ (Farrer, 2019), and ‘perseverance’ (Chinkov & Holt, 2016). Willing et al. (2019)
conceptualized BJJ as a promising sort of exposure therapy in a more clinical spirit. These concepts are closely
aligned to one another in their psychological construct and refer to how they develop resilience due to BJJ
practice. Also important to this phenomenon is the social context in which it is embedded. Evidently, a strong
social and pleasant atmosphere mediated these experiences, in which peers took a central role.
Consequently, despite battling each other, the BJJ practitioners stimulate one another’s personal
development through the challenging practice. Relatedly, Andreasson and Johansson (2019)noted how MMA-
practitioners forged a strong social community through long (common) preparations before bouts. Additionally,
on the benefits of how sport relates to social relationships, Jones (2001) highlights how boxers tend to hug after
bouts, showing respect and appreciation for the opponent. The grueling practice of combat sports in general thus
seems to stimulate personal development and social bonds as practitioners collectively overcome the practice.
Drawing from a plethora of quotes from the qualitative studies, a therapeutic property lies in the actual physical
encounter that BJJ-practitioners engage in, as we keep returning to how sparring constitutes the foundation for
such development and social bonding.
It should be emphasized how BJJ not only contributes towards physical health; physical health may be
the first detectable sign when one engages in BJJ practice, but it may also have the capacity to stimulate both
resilience and access to a social networking relation to the appropriateness of BJJ as a social intervention.
Considering the palpable lack of theoretical frameworks that intend to explain how personal development occurs
from this specific practice, there is a need to formulate and advance the theory applied to this phenomenon. This
application entails a broader exploration of the psychological literature; however, given the results here on social
bonding, such a theoretical framework could effectively be merged with sociological theories. We need to re-
organize our idea of violence in general and conceive sparring in martial arts as a collaborative activity, where
training partners push each other towards physical and psychological development through the embodied
practice. Drawing from specifically Sugden’s (2021) thick descriptions, both his own and his informant’s
experiences align with such a view. The physicality of combat sports sparring and the challenges BJJ-
practitioners oppose for one another can be perceived as a collective emotional experience, which provides a
breeding ground for social relationships.
Finally, the social climate and the group dynamics play an important role in BJJ gyms. BJ-gyms engage
in physically- and mentally challenging practices, but the social atmosphere that these practices are embedded in
is social- and comforting (e.g., Chinkov & Holt, 2016; Sugden, 2021). Notwithstanding the friendly and
socializing atmosphere, it is, however, also intertwined with social rituals (i.e., belt whipping) that have been
morally disputed. Considering Chinkov and Holt’s (2016, p.141) justification for choosing BJJ in their study:
The sport has an underlying philosophy that may be particularly suited for the acquisition of life skills based on
the values of efficiency, patience, and control”, such rituals seem peculiar and contradictory, given the alleged
underlying philosophy in BJJ. On the other hand, by enduring the belt whipping, it may also be argued that
practitioners display discipline, patience, and control. However, the social meaning of this ritual is still not
explored in the academic literature but is constrained to popular media and anecdotal statements by renowned
BJJ practitioners. As a future research proposal, research ought to combine sociological lenses with social
psychology to collaboratively explore why this ritual occurs, who is inclined to partake on what grounds,
particularly considering the strong social culture within BJJ clubs.
This study is the first to assess the therapeutic properties of BJJ systematically. The field currently
suffers from a lack of theoretical consideration and methodological caveats. Consequently, it is imperative to
further explore and emphasize the mechanisms at play that make BJJ a suitable form of therapy and look to
alternative theoretical explanations and more rigorous designs. Nevertheless, the review also shows that BJJ
holds great promise as a sociopsychological intervention; it is consistently associated with low levels of
aggression, development of resilience, and the possibility of extending one’s social network. In other words, BJJ
may constitute a community that can buffer against mental illness and promotes well-being. This goal has direct
implications for social workers, psychologists, and physical therapists that seek to combat public health issues.
Additionally, considering the current pandemic and the mental illness it has brought with it, along with decreases
in physical activity, practitioners and policy-makers will need to address how to go from here to re-establishing a
healthy baseline of physical and psychological standards. BJJ seems appropriate to achieve these outcomes.
Conflicts of interest -the authors have no conflicts of interest.
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... MA is an umbrella term for various disciplines, such as wrestling, boxing, judo, and karate. While most research on MA tends to focus on motor and performance aspects, there is a solid body of literature on MA's promising sociopsychological contributions (e.g., Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2021). Another distinctive feature of MA, its explicit budo philosophy, emphasizing a range of virtuous characteristics. ...
... Aggression is widely considered as undesirable and has implications for young people's psychosocial development and adjustment. Most studies suggest that a longer time participating in MA is correlated with lower aggression (for reviews, see Harwood et al., 2017;Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2021;Lafuente et al., 2021). There is some longitudinal evidence to this too. ...
... In their school intervention, Lakes and Hoyt (2004) found that an informed taekwondo program significantly helped youths develop selfregulation, including how they reacted to challenging situations. This has been corroborated in various studies (e.g., Zivin et al., 2001;Blomqvist Mickelsson, 2021). For example, Zivin et al. (2001) found that youths involved in MA learned to breathe to control their impulses, which is consistent with MA practiceholding your breath or having the body control the mind is detrimental to MA performance. ...
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This paper introduces a model that explains psychosocial development by embedding the developmental concept of rough-and-tumble play (RTP) into the contextual settings of martial arts (MA). Current sport-for-change literature relies on theories that address contextual factors surrounding sport but agrees that sport in itself does not facilitate developmental outcomes. In contemporary times where western societies invest substantial resources in sport programs for their psychosocial contribution, this becomes problematic. If the contextual factors surrounding sport are exclusively what produce developmental outcomes, what is the rationale for investing resources in sport specifically? We challenge this idea and argue that although contextual factors are important to any social phenomena, the developmental outcomes from sport can also be traced to the corporeal domain in sport. To date, we have lacked the theoretical lenses to articulate this. The developmental concept of RTP emphasizes how “play fighting” between consenting parties stimulates psychosocial growth through its demand for self-regulation and control when “play fighting” with peers. In short, RTP demands that individuals maintain a self-regulated mode of fighting and is contingent on a give-and-take relationship to maintain enjoyment. RTP can thus foster empathy and prosocial behavior and has strong social bonding implications. However, such play can also escalate. A fitting setting to be considered as moderated RTP is MA because of its resemblance to RTP, and its inherent philosophical features, which emphasizes self-regulation, empathy, and prosocial behavior. This paper outlines what constitutes high-quality RTP in a MA context and how this relates to developmental outcomes. By doing so, we present a practitioner’s framework in which practitioners, social workers, and physical educators can explain how MA, and not merely contextual factors, contributes toward developmental outcomes. In a time where sport is becoming increasingly politicized and used as a social intervention, it too becomes imperative to account for why sport, and in this case, MA, is suitable to such ends.
... Although many BJJ athletes begin their training out of sheer interest in the sport, some continue to participate in part to the social connections that they make within their gym. BJJ athletes have noted that the social environment and connections made during their training have had a significant impact on their comfortability within their gym as well as providing many mental health benefits such as positive coping, resilience, and perseverance (Reusing, 2014;Chinkov and Holt, 2016;Mickelsson, 2021;Sugden, 2021). Research has also found that social connections to others deemed as vital to a BJJ athlete's gym is correlated with a higher probability of continued participation as well as stronger feelings of connectedness to others (Rodrigues et al., 2019). ...
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Combat sports, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), require intense physical, mental, and emotional tasking within its training. With the degree of difficulty ingrained within the sport, many participants that once were intrigued by the sport may lose this interest and enjoyment if their goals are not met. The purpose of this study was to examine the relative strength of sport motivations among BJJ players. Participants included 228 BJJ athletes varying in levels of sport participation experience. Grounded in Self-Determination Theory, participants were assessed on five motives for sport participation including: fitness, appearance, competence, social, and interest/enjoyment. Motives related to interest/enjoyment, competence, and fitness, were rated relatively higher; and appearance and social were rated relatively lower regarding participants’ motivation for BJJ participation. Analyses were also conducted related to athletes’ years of experience and competitive level of participation (i.e., hobbyist or non-competitor to those who compete on a regular basis) There was a significant effect of competence and interest/enjoyment motivators among competitive BJJ players, regardless of years of experience in the sport. Findings from this study could aid coaches, sport clinicians, and sport psychologists in working with BJJ players by focusing their training on the motivators that are most appealing to these athletes.
... Although still in its infancy, the BJJ research literature has grown substantially over the past few years across multiple domains, such as the psychosocial (Bennett & Dressler, 2020;Mickelsson, 2021;, nutritional (Verli et al., 2021;White & Kirk, 2021), anthropometric (de Paula Lima et al., 2017;Øvretveit, 2018b), physiological (Belo et al., 2020;Øvretveit, 2019), and technical-tactical Coswig et al., 2018b). Due to the paucity of research in competitive BJJ, little is known about the performance characteristics of different events, styles, and skill levels. ...
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Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based combat sport performed either with a traditional uniform, the gi, or without, known as no-gi. Differences between the two when it comes to gripping, pace, and ruleset can affect match characteristics, which has implications for how athletes approach competition. The present study investigated time-motion and technical-tactical characteristics in matches from official no-gi submission-only BJJ tournaments. The analysis included 26 regional and 26 international athletes from the light-feather to super-heavy weight class. Match characteristics did not differ between competition levels, style (guard or pass player), or weight (p > 0.05). The duration of positional dominance was similar between competition levels and styles (p > 0.05), but significantly different between winners and losers (p < 0.05; effect size (ES) = 0.39). Positional dominance also correlated with upper-body submissions (r = 0.50; p < 0.05). Interestingly, positional dominance appeared inconsequential in matches determined by lower-body submissions. In fact, athletes winning by lower-body submissions, in most cases a heel hook, exerted no positional control prior to their victory. The high-to low-intensity ratio was 1:2 and 1:1, for regional and international athletes, respectively. The standing to ground time ratio was 1:2 for both groups. In addition to the novel competition characteristics of competitive no-gi BJJ, these findings indicate that there are strategical discrepancies that precede distinctly different submission holds.
... In the last decades, the popularity of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) has increased sharply, with practitioners and athletes worldwide. This popularity is due to the growth of mixed martial arts, where the fight on the ground is decisive to the outcome (Andreato et al., 2011;Brandt et al., 2021;Dal Bello et al., 2019;Dos Santos et al., 2019;Fernandes et al., 2018;Mickelsson, 2021, Ratamess, 2011. Chronic training generates a cause-effect relationship in this combat sport, thus improving performance or changing some physiological parameter that determines BJJ (VO 2 , for example) due to a specific intensity and volume of training or competition (Øvretveit, 2018; Øvretveit et al., 2019). ...
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This study analyzed the acute effect of Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) combat on muscle injury and oxidative stress. For this, eight highly-trained male athletes (23.7±3.3 yrs.) were analyzed before and after a 10 min bout. Blood Lactate (LAC) was measured as an indicator of combat intensity. Muscle damage markers were measured creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). The levels of Total Antioxidant Capacity (CAOT), catalase activity, and protein carbonylation were measured as oxidative stress markers, p≤0.05. The main results indicated that there was a difference between pre and post values for the concentration of LAC (0.5±0.2 vs. 1.9±0.9 mmol/L; p=0.002) e CK (66.5±48.1 vs. 80.3±53.1 IU/L; p=0.027). There was no difference for the other measures (p>0.05). Catalase pre-BJJ and LDH post-BJJ had a strong and negative correlation (r=-0.751; p=0.03). CAOT and protein carbonylation post-BJJ had a positive and strong correlation (r=0.806; p=0.02). In conclusion, Brazilian jiujitsu tends to increase cell damage, especially when related to low pre-combat levels of protective enzymes, such as Catalase.
... It should also be noted that MA is not a homogenous concept or sport. Quite the contrary, the diversity of disciplines that reside under the umbrella term MA are associated with different psychosocial outcomes [72,75,76]. In the current study, the MA group consisted of a range of disciplines; however, the sample size did not allow for a further differentiation in the analysis. ...
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Parents place their youths in sport with the belief that doing so will produce developmental outcomes. However, it is unclear if parents enroll children in different sports based on different desired characteristics they wish their youth to develop. This paper analyses the link between youths engaged in martial arts (MA) compared to other leisure activities. MA research has indicated the importance of masculinity and gender ideals that suggest that parents hold certain visions when enrolling their youths in MA. For example, one such vision is for their youths to be able to handle themselves in physical encounters. Two research questions guided the study. First, what characteristics do MA parents desire their children to develop? Secondly, how do these desires correspond to MA youths’ actual characteristics? We utilize multinomial logistic regression analysis on nationally representative data from the Netherlands. The results show that MA parents are younger, their youths are of migration background, and the parents value characteristics such as self-control, responsibility, and acting “gender appropriately”. These results correspond to their youths; MA youths are consistently characterized by more masculinity compared to the youths in other groups. The results bear implications for how MA environments must safeguard against potentially harmful and misleading norms.
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Background. The activity of specialised associations and other institutions, and researchers, are co-creating the present fighting arts arena and the recent history of this phenomenon. It is therefore worth describing these events and new publications and also evaluating them. Problem. The cognitive aim of this research is to describe and analyse the area of martial arts and combat sports (people and scientific institutions) and activity in this field during the last year in the research centres in the small town of Strzyzow, Poland and in Central Europe, as well as on the wider international scale. Scientific and methodological events and new literature on the subject have been reviewed. Method. The main qualitative method used here is a survey of multiple case studies, which are descriptive, interpretive, and eval-uative. Data were collected between October 2021 and October 2022. In many cases, the co-authors were participants / direct observers of the events. Publications and other materials were evaluated using a content analysis method and analysis of other sources (documents, films, electronic sources). Results and conclusions. Several events, as well as publications, which are interesting from the point of view of the thematic profile of our journal, have been indicated and evaluated in short reviews. The situation of the martial arts and combat sports community and its researchers is monitored on an ongoing basis using descriptive and/or photographic documentation. This is done by taking into account the cultural context and historical perspective.
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In de afgelopen tien jaar heeft er een (r)evolutie plaatsgevonden in de vechtsportwereld. De populariteit van MMA (mixed martial arts) nam enorm toe en in het kielzog daarvan wonnen nieuwe grappling sporten aan bekendheid en populariteit. Ook kende het aloude worstelen een duidelijke opleving. De veelheid aan technieken en fysieke eigenschappen die tegenwoordig gevraagd wordt, maakt de betreffende sporten op zichzelf interessant, maar biedt ook enorm veel mogelijkheden aan de sport in brede zin, het bewegingsonderwijs, weerbaarheidstraining en hulpverlening.
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Background Empirical data have suggested that mind-body practices that originated in Eastern traditions can cause desirable changes to psychological traits, the brain, somatic physiological functions, etc. Martial arts in Japan refer to the physical/mental practices that were developed based on historical combat techniques. Today, martial arts are considered activities that seek embodiment and/or mind-body unity, as well as sports. Empirical studies involving practitioners of Japanese martial arts to date remain scarce. Methods We conducted a questionnaire survey using a cross-sectional design to examine whether the practice of martial arts based on Japanese traditions are associated with mindfulness and psychological health. Participants included a population of practitioners of martial arts with a practice period of 0.6–35.0 years, and non-practitioners matched for demographic variables. Results Compared with the non-practitioners, the practitioners of martial arts had significantly higher scores for mindfulness and subjective well-being and lower scores for depression. Among the practitioners of martial arts, a longer period of practice or a higher frequency of daily practice significantly predicted higher mindfulness and psychological health. Conclusions The results obtained are consistent with those previously obtained for other populations of Japanese contemplatives, and support the view that practice of multiple Eastern mind-body practices might be associated with similar desirable psychological outcomes. A cross-sectional design has limitations in that it is difficult to determine the effect of continued practice, so that a longitudinal study that follows the same practitioners over time is desired in the future enquiry.
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Problem statement: Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based combat sport with a high attrition rate. Central to BJJ training is simulated competition in the form of sparring, which may have implications for athlete motivation and effort in training, and consequently impact skill development and sport adherence. Approach: Twelve active male athletes (age: 30.6 ± 2.7 (SD) years; height: 182.5 ± 5.9 cm; body mass: 81.2 ± 6.7 kg; training experience: 4.6 ± 2.2 years; weekly training duration: 10.3 ± 4.4 hours) ranked from white to brown belt were monitored during sparring in a BJJ training session. Perceptual training effort was expressed using rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and physiological training effort was determined with relative heart rate (HR) responses. Achievement goal profiles and perceptions of the motivational climate were assessed with the 3x2 Achievement Goal Questionnaire for Sport (3x2 AGQ-S) and the Perceived Motivational Climate in Sport Questionnaire (PMCSQ-2), respectively. Purpose: Explore the relationship between perceptual and physiological markers of training intensity and achievement motivation in active BJJ athletes. Results: The athletes reported a mean absolute RPE of 15 ± 1 during sparring, which equated to a relative RPE of 74 ± 7 percent. Mean HR was 164 ± 9 beats·min-1 , equivalent to 85 ± 4 percent of the athletes' maximal HR. Perceived effort strongly correlated with task-and self-approach goals, as well as other-avoidance goals (p < 0.05). Similar associations were observed for HR and the two latter goal constructs (p < 0.05). Conclusions: These observations indicate that mastery-based goals are associated with training effort in BJJ, consistent with previous findings on the mastery-effort relationship. Emphasizing mastery-oriented goals and motivational climates may increase long-term adherence to BJJ and be conducive to mastery involvement during training.
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Contemporarily, two martial arts have emerged as highly popular among youth; Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Brazilian Jiu-Jiutsu (BJJ). Despite their popularity, we know little of how they affect individuals sociopsychologically. The current study sought to explore how the currently underexplored martial art disciplines may contribute to sociopsychological development among young people. In addition, it was investigated whether individuals who are predisposed to different traits may favor one sport over the other. This study was conducted with a longitudinal design; over the course of 5 months, 113 participants completed training in either condition. The results show that both groups displayed increased self-control and pro-social behavior; however, MMA practitioners also reported increased aggressiveness, whereas BJJ practitioners experienced a decline in aggression. Accordingly, individuals who trained in MMA displayed substantially higher pre-existing aggression levels than the BJJ practitioners. The current results further corroborate research suggesting that modern martial arts and MMA may not be suitable for at-risk youth to practice, whereas traditional martial arts and sports with a healthy philosophical foundation may be effective in reducing antisocial behavior while enhancing socially desirable behavior among young people.
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Introduction The United States has been actively involved in major armed conflicts over the last 15 years. As a result, a significant proportion of active duty service personnel and returning veterans have endured combat, putting them at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disabling disorder that may occur after exposure to a traumatic event. Current therapies often require long-term, time-intensive and costly commitment from the patient and have variable degrees of success. There remains an ongoing need for better therapies, including complementary medicine approaches that can effectively reduce PTSD symptoms. While anecdotal evidence suggests that routine practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) can reduce symptoms of PTSD, there have been no formal studies to address this. Materials and Methods This study was approved by the University of South Florida Institutional Review Board (#PRO00019430). Male US active duty service members and veterans from the Tampa area participated in a 5-month (40 sessions) BJJ training program. Before beginning and again midway through and upon completion of training the participants completed several validated self-report measures that addressed symptoms of PTSD and other co-morbid conditions. Effect size and 95% confidence intervals were determined using a within-person single-group pretest–posttest design. Results Study participants demonstrated clinically meaningful improvements in their PTSD symptoms as well as decreased symptoms of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety and decreased alcohol use; effect sizes varied from 0.80 to 1.85. Conclusions The results from this first-of-kind pilot study suggest that including BJJ as a complementary treatment to standard therapy for PTSD may be of value. It will be necessary to validate these promising results with a larger subject cohort and a more rigorous experimental design before routinely recommending this complementary therapy.
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Drawing on qualitative interviews with Mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes and stakeholders, this study aims to investigate the relationship between, on the one hand, MMA as a spectacle and imaginary world, and on the other, the fighters’ experiences of violence, pain and ‘the real’. Analytically, we are influenced by the literature on the spectacle and on hyperreality. The results show that athletes’ negotiations concerning the sport largely connect to a particular way of approaching violence – culturally and in terms of physical experience. On the one hand, there is a desire to portray MMA as a civilized and regulated sport. The athletes develop different strategies by which to handle or renegotiate the physical force and violence in the cage. On the other hand, however, the fighters’ bodily control and management of their fear sometimes breaks down. When the spectacle of the octagon becomes ‘real’, the legitimacy of the sport is questioned.
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A cross‐sectional study was conducted with 605 practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) to test hypothesis that high arousal rituals promote social cohesion, primarily through identity fusion. BJJ promotion rituals are rare, highly emotional ritual events that often feature gruelling belt whipping gauntlets. We used the variation in such experiences to examine whether more gruelling rituals were associated with identity fusion and progroup behaviour. We 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. However, across the full sample we found that positive, but not negative, affective experiences of promotional rituals were associated with identity fusion and that this mediated progroup action. These findings provide new evidence concerning the social functions of collective rituals and highlight the importance of addressing the potentially diverging subjective experiences of painful rituals. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Martial Arts and combat sports (MA&CS) are the subject of a dispute. On the one hand, they have been considered an ideal means to acquire emotional self-control. On the other hand, they have been considered aggressive practices which may promote violent behaviors. The current systematic review aims to analyze the evidence of the effects of MA&CS participation in anger and aggression, and the quality of this evidence. The review was conducted according to the PRISMA-P protocol. The studied variables were study type and aims, sample, interventions and procedures, measurements and outcomes. Nine studies (three cohort studies and six randomized controlled trials) were selected for inclusion. The following results should be viewed with much caution, as the volume of studies and the methodological quality of most of them is not optimal. Training in traditional martial arts seems to be an effective means to lower levels of anger and aggression. Regarding the age of subjects, there is a predisposition to reduce anger in the adult population. In addition, young subjects with violent or behavioral problems show a positive response to working with martial arts. However, the available evidence, overall, shows no relationship between MA&CS practice and anger and aggression levels.
The growth in mixed martial arts (MMA) gyms worldwide, along with adjunct media discourse has been matched by the number of participants, characterized by the dedication and sacrifice imbued. These factors catalyzed this research which sought initially to understand the motivations of MMA gym members and the role that the training plays in their lives. Through an immersive participant ethnography lasting 3 years, the author trained, socialized, fought, and competed with members of an urban MMA gym in the United Kingdom. The findings focus on the subculture of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu existing within and alongside MMA and where men of diverse ages and creeds follow a path to improved mental health. Drawing from the salutogenic health model and the sociology of health literature, this paper shows that through membership of an MMA gym and dedication to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, participants embody a version of health that is closely aligned with Antonovsky’s theory of salutogenesis. This theory of health helps explain not only the dedication of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners and the growth of MMA more broadly but also posits a fresh perspective on the role of alternative physical activities in male mental health redress.
Objective Mental health issues are of increasing public concern, however are often untreated for a variety of reasons. While limited, the research examining the relationship between mental health and martial arts training is generally positive. This systematic review and meta-analysis explored whether martial arts training may be an efficacious sports-based mental health intervention. Design The meta-analysis used a random effects model and examined three mental health outcomes: wellbeing, internalising mental health, and aggression. Data sources During January to July 2018 the following electronic databases were searched: CENTRAL, EBSCO, Embase, ERIC, MEDLINE, PUBMED, and ScienceDirect. Eligibility criteria Eligibility criteria included: (1) martial arts was examined as an intervention or activity resulting in a psychological outcome, (2) the study reported descriptive quantitative results measured using standardised scales that compared results between groups and (3) studies were published as full-length articles in peer reviewed scientific or medical journals. Results More than 500,000 citations were identified and screened to determine eligibility. Data was extracted from 14 eligible studies. Martial arts training had a significant but small positive effect on wellbeing (d=.346, 95% CI=0.106 to 0.585, I²=59.51%) and a medium effect on internalising mental health (d=.620, 95% CI=0.006 to 1.23, I²=84.84%). Martial arts training had a minimal non-significant positive effect in reducing aggression (d=.022, 95% CI=-0.191 to 0.236, I²=58.12%). Summary/Conclusion Whilst there is considerable variance across the studies included in the meta-analyses, there is support for martial arts training as an efficacious sports-based mental health intervention for improving wellbeing and reducing symptoms associated with internalising mental health.
The literature gives some indication that martial arts (MA) practice can influence youth development positively. However, previous reviews have shown that the outcomes of MA practice are still ambiguous. Furthermore, the ‘black box’ of MA practice is not yet fully understood and described. This review contributes to unpacking this black box for youth, by providing an overview of, and describing, the recent research on MA practice for youth development. The literature data were collected mainly through systematic computer searches of journal articles and dissertations, together with a manual search. After the exclusion of articles that did not meet the inclusion criteria, 17 articles were selected for this review. The results show that many positive developmental outcomes of MA have been found in recent years. The most common research topics are prosocial and antisocial behaviour, aggression, and resilience. There seems to be a growing consensus on the potential of MA for positive youth development. Furthermore, this review shows very clearly that the main effect of MA practice is attributed to the coach and his/her teaching style.