From Mat to Life: the Empowering Journey Through Jiu Jitsu

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By Luciana Oliveira

2022 was a tough year. I was broken, exhausted and depressed. I often found myself feeling lost, detached, and heavy. A thick fog of desolation clouded my days and made me a stranger to myself.

However, somewhere in that relentless darkness, I stumbled upon a beacon of hope, a lifeline, a path towards the light that I wasn’t even sure existed…the martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Table of Contents

From Darkness…

It was during this desperate search for meaning and community that I stumbled upon an offer for a free trial at RGA Chester for Jiu Jitsu. At that point, I had nothing to lose.

My fitness level was far from optimal, and my emotional state was ruined by extreme depression and a deep-seated sense of hopelessness.

I was frozen and confused. But something stirred within me, a spark of curiosity that encouraged me to give it a shot.

As a single mother, balancing the weight of the world while trying to foster a nurturing environment for my daughter, was a task that seemed more daunting with each passing day.

Yet, when I first entered the dojo, little did I know that my life was about to take a transformative turn. I was setting foot into an arena that would not only reignite my spirit but also make me feel empowered in ways I never imagined.

It’s been a journey of self-discovery, of redefining personal limits, and of cultivating resilience in the face of adversity.

The Background

The moment I stepped onto the mat, I felt undeniable curiosity and connection, a sense of belonging that none of the churches, temples, or spiritual groups I tried could foster.

Jiu Jitsu became my refuge, my place of solace and growth, replacing despair with hope, and depression with a newfound zest for life.

As a child growing up in Rio de Janeiro, the idea of learning Judo or Jiu Jitsu always lingered at the back of my mind – especially when the Gracie Family became mainstream – I was drawn to the grace, strategy, and discipline that these martial arts embody.

However, my mother, out of concern for my safety and the fear that I might get hurt or land in trouble, discouraged me from pursuing these interests.

The longing to learn, though suppressed, remained dormant, waiting for the right moment to awaken and come to fruition. And now, as I cross the path of Jiu Jitsu, I feel a sense of deep connection with my roots and a fulfillment of that childhood aspiration.

The journey has been challenging, transformative, and deeply rewarding – a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. I am 40 now and just getting started.

The Art

Embracing the physically demanding world of Jiu Jitsu, my body surprised me. I found myself getting a little fitter, stronger and a bit more agile.

This physical transformation transcended the mat and sparked a mental clarity that made my professional and personal responsibilities seem more manageable and less daunting.

I was, and still am, on a fitness journey, but every fall, every bruise, every tap brought me closer to finding the peace I yearned for. Jiu Jitsu isn’t just a martial art to me anymore; it is my therapy, my community, my sanctuary.

The exhaustion that consumes my body at the end of each Jiu Jitsu session is an odd blend of draining fatigue and invigorating fulfillment.

Every drop of sweat, every sore muscle, and every aching bone stand as witnesses to the physical and emotional journey I’ve embarked on.

Yet, amidst this exhaustion lies an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. Each time I make it to the end of a session, no matter how weary or bruised, I’m met with a profound sense of satisfaction.

There’s a strange tranquility in the weariness, a sense of pride and joy in having pushed my limits, in having endured.

….to Light!

There’s a lightness, too, a distinct shedding of the weight I walked in with, replaced by a sense of liberation. The mat doesn’t just bear the imprints of my physical exertion; it absorbs my worries, my anxieties, my fears.

As I step off the mat, exhausted yet fulfilled, I carry with me a sense of peace, a vibrancy that paints my world in hues of hope and positivity.

Despite the bruises, despite the fatigue, I walk away happier, lighter, and more in tune with myself, eagerly looking forward to the next challenge that awaits.

One of the fascinating aspects of Jiu Jitsu is that the learning never stops. Every training session is an opportunity to learn something new, something profound and to be humble.

I’ve found inspiration in the remarkable legacy of the Gracie family, pioneers of the art who relentlessly pushed boundaries and proved that physical size and strength could be overcome with strategy and technique. Their journey continues to motivate me to persist, to grow, and to better myself.

The Progress

A recent milestone in my journey has been earning my first stripe – a moment that filled my heart with an overwhelming sense of achievement.

This tiny piece of tape is a tangible reminder that this journey of Jiu Jitsu is uniquely and entirely my own, a personal journey that offers balance and grounding amid the chaos of life.

Every time I step onto the mat, there’s this profound sense of being part of something bigger than myself. It’s a community, a fraternity bound by respect, honour, and shared passion.

I’ve been warmly welcomed by the kindest of souls – fellow members who’ve shown nothing but support and patience, and incredible coaches whose kindness and wisdom have been instrumental in my consistency and progress.

Overcoming Blockages

With every session, I’ve managed to overcome fears, discomfort, break mental barriers, and push the boundaries of what I thought was possible for my body and mind. It’s been a thrilling revelation.

I often chuckle to myself, amazed by the sheer number of ways one can choke, twist or break another’s limb. It is truly fascinating and sometimes terrifying.

Looking back, I realize that I hadn’t felt this alive in decades. I was yearning for meaning, for purpose, and I found it on the Jiu Jitsu mat. Jiu Jitsu didn’t just offer me purpose and meaning; it introduced me to a version of myself I didn’t know existed.

The shared laughter, sweat, tears, the rituals and attire, created an endearing, cult-like charm, making this soul tribe one I’m ecstatic to belong to.

The Sense Of Belonging

Entering the mat, I experience an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being part of a larger community bound by shared passion and respect.

The camaraderie of fellow members, their warm hearts, and our shared commitment to learning have helped me feel more at home than I’ve felt in a long time.

The incredible coaches, through their kindness and wisdom, have played an instrumental role in shaping my journey.

One of the most powerful life lessons that Jiu Jitsu has imprinted on me is the art of falling and getting up immediately.

Falling isn’t just a physical event on the mat; it is a metaphor for the trials we encounter in life. In Jiu Jitsu, each fall is a lesson in humility, a reminder that there is always more to learn, more to experience. The essence lies not in the fall, but in the swift rise that follows.

Get Back Up!

You fall, you shake it off, you listen and learn from your misstep, bump fists and then you’re back at it, ready to face the next challenge. It’s a dance, a rhythmic cycle of trial and error, of resilience and persistence.

This philosophy, deeply embedded in the heart of Jiu Jitsu, has seeped into my daily life, empowering me to face my struggles head-on.

Each time life knocks me down, I find myself drawing on the resilience I’ve developed on the mat. I shake off the defeat, I learn from the situation, and I rise again, stronger and more determined.

This simple yet profound lesson has radically shifted my approach towards life’s challenges, turning each setback into an opportunity for growth, and to push myself to always get back up, no matter how hard I fall.

Jiu Jitsu is addictive. It’s not just a sport or a hobby, it’s a lifestyle that has become an integral part of me. I’m eagerly looking forward to stepping back onto the mat, eager for the camaraderie, the lessons, and the excitement that each session brings.

This journey from shadows to strength has been transformative and, as I look forward, I can say with confidence – I’m not stepping off this mat anytime soon.

A Thank You To The Team

Lastly, I cannot express enough gratitude for the INCREDIBLE team of coaches at RGA Chester. Their relentless support, kindness, patience, and inspiration have played a pivotal role in my journey.

They see potential in me when I struggle to see it in myself and guide me patiently as I stumble and gradually find my footing in this new found world.

Every single one of them has made me feel seen, welcomed, valued, and alive again. The dojo, thanks to them, has become more than just a training space; it has become a second home, a beacon of hope and resilience that shone brightly even on my darkest days.

To the amazing team at RGA Chester, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Through Jiu Jitsu, you’ve helped me find not just a sport, but a lifeline, a source of joy, and most importantly, a sense of home. Steve, Phil, Damon, Jamie and Luke….THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Final Thoughts

I am committing to this path irrespective of the challenges and the trials it presents. I look at them and don’t see defeat, but progress. My journey in Jiu Jitsu is has no destination or an end goal.

I am not striving for a certain belt or a specific technique mastery. The journey itself has become my goal. The intent is to make no excuse, keep showing up, time and again, regardless of the circumstances.

Whether I am exhausted, disheartened, or joyful, my resolution is to step onto the mat, to continue learning and evolving.

Every time I show up, I’m honouring a commitment to myself, a promise to persist in the face of adversity. With each class, I am reminded of my strength, my resilience, and the joy that Jiu Jitsu brings to my life.

This constant presence on the mat is not just about physical training; it’s a symbol of my mental fortitude and my journey towards reclaiming my life.

It’s a powerful reminder that no matter the circumstances, I have the strength to keep moving forward, to keep showing up.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Levels

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Luciana, a proud Brazilian, blends her passion for jiu-jitsu with a deep-rooted connection to spirituality and well-being. Her dedication to the martial art reflects not just a physical discipline, but a holistic approach to life, seeking balance in mind, body, and spirit. Whether on the mats or in meditation, Luciana embodies the essence of harmony and inner strength.

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