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When looking to relieve stress and anxiety, activities like yoga, running, or any other leisurely workouts may first come to mind. Probably missing on most people’s stress-relief short list is learning how to calmly fight their way out of a rear naked choke hold.
If you’re unfamiliar with martial arts, it may seem a bit counterintuitive—even a tad crazy—to try Brazilian jiujitsu when looking for a calmer self, but that’s exactly what’s happening to the many men—and more and more women—who choose this combat sport as a way to battle and become better at dealing with life’s hard moments.
BJJ has a unique way of not only aiding in stress reduction but teaching everyday people how to thrive under pressure and feel confident in their own skin.
Raquel Canuto, a six-time BJJ world champion, and owner of Hybrid Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas, is one whose life has been touched by martial arts, and her passion for the sport inspires many to climb out of their comfort zones and onto the mats.
Before BJJ stole the heart of Canuto, during her time in MMA, the black belt experienced some losses by submission and decided it was time to give BJJ a shot. Taking one year to focus on jiujitsu, Canuto fell in love with the art of BJJ and began splitting her time evenly between both MMA and jiujitsu.
Eventually, Canuto moved to Las Vegas so that she could have better training and be closer to all the major competitions, “It was the best decision I’d made for myself,” she says. And now, Canuto is a six-time world champion—three of those coming in the black belt division. Canuto started training for BJJ in October of 2012 and became a black belt by August 2017 which is an incredible accomplishment.
Being a black belt, although impressive, isn’t all Canuto has accomplished in BJJ. The discipline has helped her gain more confidence, mental clarity, and the passion for others to share in the benefits of this combat sport.
Here are just some of the benefits of Brazilian jiujitsu.
Exercise boosts endorphins which make the body and mind feel good, that we know, but the interesting aspect of BJJ is it not only provides a full body workout but also gives your brain a strength training session as well. “BJJ challenges your critical thinking, problem-solving, and even your natural instincts,” says Canuto.
During BJJ training you’re constantly moving, thinking, and problem-solving while surrounded by like-minded people. This is a winning combination that promotes stress relief and a sense of accomplishment in oneself, strengthening both your body and mind.
Even today Canuto has those stressful days in which taking a day off seems like a necessity—but instead trained anyway. “I left feeling lighter, happier, and completely forgot about everything I was dealing with.” She says and had a moment after class where she realized how she felt before the mats and after were completely different—in the best way!
Relaxing in stressful situations may seem imposible, but in BJJ you’re given the tools to succeed. When Canuto first started training, her professor used an analogy that she’ll never forget. He said, “Being stuck under someone in side control is a lot like life: You have to be calm, react properly, and eventually, you will get out,” she recalls.
Although being pinned down to a mat may cause instant anxiety, in the sport of BJJ it teaches you how to remain calm in a stressful situation. “If you freak out you might make it worse.” Says Canuto which can be a lot like stressors life can throw your way. “So, you have to stay calm, breathe and wait it out – Eventually the storm will pass,” says Canuto. Jujitsu is a lot like life in many ways and provides a priceless tool that is born on the mat and utilized throughout a lifetime.
Young or old, male or female, Canuto believes BJJ is for everyone, and the bonus: self-protection. “I think in the day and age that we’re living in it is important for women to know how to protect themselves,” she says. “Not only physically but the self-awareness it teaches and not putting themselves into situations that may threaten their wellbeing.”
And you don’t have to be a black belt do to so.
“Growing up I was very shy, timid, and insecure. I found a lot of confidence through Jujitsu because of the simple fact that I knew I could take care of myself if ever needed.” Says Canuto. “ I walk into any room with my head held high because I have a skill that I can use if needed and teach others.” She says.
Unlike other martial arts that focus only on one part of combat, Jiujitsu covers all aspects. Attacking and defending from standing, on the ground, when someone is behind you or when you’re behind someone. “It teaches you how to escape bad positions, get to good positions and be offensive,” she says, so you will learn everything you need to be successful in any situation.
“The culture of jiujitsu worldwide is kind, encouraging, respectful and so many other things I needed at the time (and still),” says Canuto. And when looking to give BJJ a try, Canuto recommends you “Find a gym and instructor that feels good and can help you be successful on your Jujitsu journey.” An important part of learning Jujitsu is finding a good space for you to learn and grow