As a parent of 3 kids (ages 11,7 and 4) it can often be tricky to find something that we all enjoy doing together. The eldest is on the cusp of thinking he’s pretty grown up (most days), and the youngest has only just started school. One boy, 2 girls, and again you can run into problems with activities that they can all happily engage in.
3 years ago my husband started a jiu jitsu class for the eldest one. As the terms went on, the younger 2 were pleading for classes for themselves too, and so the academy grew. And fast-forward a little further, rather than feeling left out, I decided that ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, so I took the plunge and did a beginner’s course. At 39, it felt very crazy to be entering into such a physical sport, and I can’t deny I was a little hesitant at being in quite such close proximity to complete strangers!
I honestly thought that I’d just survive the 8 week course, and say to my husband something along the lines of ‘I’ve given it a go, but it’s not really my thing..’ and go back to life as usual. Surprisingly (to me), I was hooked. There were days when I didn’t really feel like going training, but after each session I would come back feeling relaxed, stress-free and happier. Exercise is well known to help lift our mood, and in many ways jiu jitsu has become my source of meditation. When you’re pushing your physical limits to their maximum, there’s very little room for complicated thoughts, and my mind becomes incredibly peaceful. Plus there’s the bonus of endorphin release, and the amazing camaraderie that happens on the mats.
There are very few sports where you have to really trust the person you train with. There’s little room for egos – this is not a sport you can brag about being amazing at – the mats have a very levelling effect. At just over 5′ it might seem an intimidating environment to launch yourself into, but I’ve never felt anything other than safe whilst training, and have only the greatest respect for my training partners, who usually let me go fairly flat out, whilst taking care not to squash me!
We have mats at home, and put them out in the garden in the summer months. The kids love playing around on them and watching them try out their new moves on each other is fantastic.
Being mum to an 11-year-old boy has its bittersweet moments. There are days when I feel he needs me less and less, and it can be difficult to ‘let go’. Having a sport where he actually asks to train with me is incredibly special and I feel that it’s provided a bond at a time when those invisible strings of childhood can become a little lost.
They’ve learned a new set of skills too; not just the physical ones. They are now an integral part of the kids academy and help set up the mats, hand out stickers at the end of class, and know to be extra gentle if there’s a new kid that joins. Of course it doesn’t have to be jiu jitsu – any sport that the whole family can do together is going to having a uniting effect and very positive results. But I think there’s something very special about this sport that is known as physical chess, as it stretches you both mentally and physically. And, for us, the family that does jiu jitsu together, is a happier, more united family!
Clare Barton is a white belt in jiu jitsu and author of In the Zen Garden
Jiu Jitsu Life Lessons
Jiu-Jitsu Can Change the World
The Spirit of Jiu Jitsu