Jiu-Jitsu at the Office

Over the past year I’ve spoken specifically on “Dealing with Executive Stress” and more generally on personal performance. In today’s blog I’d like to talk about something I feel has been exceptionally helpful in dealing with stress as well as helped me develop skills that have enhanced my personal performance in the workplace. About four years ago I got started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’d played basketball for years in an attempt to stave off weight gain, relieve stress and get some exercise but my body was breaking down on me. My knees hurt, my back ached and I generally worried that my body was going to give out. I have loved playing basketball since I was a kid even thought my career ended when I stopped growing as freshman in high school. My wife pushed me to try a class at NOVAMMA where she was taking a boot camp for crazy mom’s willing to get up at 5AM and get yelled at to run faster. I did and fell in love with this low impact sport that combines physical and mental execution. So how does this map to personal performance or organizational transformation? Well…

There is no doubt that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is great for the body. Over the past four years I’ve dropped 50 pounds and I feel better than I’ve felt in 20 years. But I also feel better prepared mentally to be able to engage at the office. Here’s why:

  1. Human Chess: BJJ forces you to think, react and act while you aren’t at your best. It forces you to push your body through aches, pains and physical exhaustion all while thinking about the next move or how best to deal with the current position you are in. This ability to focus under pressure has a direct relationship to my work.
  2. Physical Endurance: Executives live grueling lives occasionally. Being physically fit is an advantage. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t have time for exercise but I think maintaining a certain level of fitness enables you to push harder when you need it and helps you to have a physical reserve you can draw on in order to push through a particularly tough negotiation, proposal or other on the job emergency.
  3. Stay in the moment: Success in BJJ is often predicated on your ability to make decisions in the moment. I think this is very important in business where so often the temptation is to create an ingenious plan that extends too far into the future. I believe in planning, but I also believe in staying focused on the moment so that you give yourself the best possible opportunity to achieve each step of that plan in turn.
  4. Always have a plan B (and C): I talked above about the ability to stay in the moment, however BJJ also rewards planners and succeeding often means being able to chain together several movements that will entice your opponent to counter until you have put yourself in position the to win.
  5. 1% Everyday: This is perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned from BJJ. Our instructor is constantly telling us to find a way to get a little bit better everyday. If you can’t attend class then you should watch video, if you can’t watch video then you should work on visualizing technique. No matter what there is something you can do every day to get a little bit better.
  6. 6. Enjoy the Grind: Getting better at BJJ and work can both be a grind. If don’t enjoy what you are doing you probably won’t end up being that successful in doing it. I enjoy the grind and hard work that goes into getting a little better at BJJ everyday the same way I enjoy working to improve the skills I bring to the office. I believe one of the keys to being successful in any endevour is either figuring out how to enjoy the process of improving or figuring out how to do something where you will enjoy the process of improving. It takes a lot of hard work to get good at something as I mentioned in “5 keys to mastering anything.” If you don’t enjoy it you probably won’t put in the time necessary to succeed.

I certainly don’t think Jiu-Jitsu is unique in providing this type of benefit to work life. I’ve talked to plenty of friends that play golf, hockey, chess, and many other endeavors outside of work and many report a carryover effect from their hobby or activity to their work life. For me Jiu-Jitsu has become something that gives me a physical release from the stress of work, provides a real health benefit by helping me stay in shape and has helped me to continue to refine habits around hard work and mental focus that pays real dividends in the office. I think the real take away here should be that I believe it is important that people have things outside the office that provide a healthy break from that part of their life while still building good skills, habits and enhancing their ability to execute in the office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a Jiu-Jitsu class feeling the incredible stress of a hard day at the office and walked out feeling relaxed and ready to take on the world the next day. What do you do to relive stress? Do your hobby help you on the job? How?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

I’ve been wanting to get into a martial art, but didn’t know which one to try. This one sounds promising.

For me, running has been the primary stress reliever. It works wonders in terms of (a) being in nature, (b) engaging in physical exertion, (c) giving me time to think creatively.

Talent Team Recruiter

Joshua! I totally agree with you. Right after I earned my first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do at 44, I felt the exact same way – using the parallel’s with martial arts and the office. I’ve taken up something a little more introspect for stress relief – yoga. You should share your insight of this blog post on LinkedIn. cwl