When I was in college at UCLA, I had the great opportunity to participate in what my current working mom self remembers nothing about: recreation. UCLA is not only a fantastic university academically, but it’s also known as one of the finest sports universities around. UCLA has won 11 basketball championships. About 30 alumni are currently in the NFL (National Football League). More than 260 Olympic medalists and 90 NBA (National Basketball Association) players claim UCLA as their alma mater.
At UCLA, I enjoyed recreational classes such as yoga, where, for the first time I learned about downward-facing dog and cat stretch and a little thing called breathing deeply during shavasana or corpse pose. I also took figure drawing recreationally and decided that it is most certainly strange to sketch naked people, no matter how much I tried to pretend it was just art and not sexual. (I guess I’m not a very developed being or am basically immature at heart, which is fine!) I learned the beauty and calm that comes from weight lifting, and I gained a lot of confidence as pretty much the only female most times I was in the weight room.
It was this confidence that inspired me to sign up for Brazilian jiu-jitsu at UCLA which I took for two years. The classes were taught in the style of Rickson Gracie, one of the world’s best-known and most impressive practitioners of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. (Here’s a clip of him doing his thing.)
I had never taken martial arts and knew very little about them when I started in Jiu-Jitsu. I was the only female for my first year and was one of two females my second year, the other being a fellow scientist from my department (go figure!).
I could wax poetic all day about how incredible Brazilian jiu-jitsu is, but here are the highlights:
- Increased strength: The training you receive from any martial arts program increases your strength and stamina and it encourages you to exercise muscle groups you never knew existed. You also get stronger mentally because of the discipline and encouragement to push your body to be stronger.
- Increased confidence: Knowing what your body can accomplish with skills rather than brute force is empowering, especially for me as a woman. Knowing what I can do is as important as knowing what I can’t do. For example, I don’t want to be told I can beat up a man if I can’t. Martial arts are very specific about letting you know what your body can and can’t accomplish, and how to best avoid conflict in general.
- Mad skills: Being able to lock someone’s arm out in a triangle hold is just an awesome skill which is super fun to talk about at bars and at parties. The skills you learn teach you about anatomy and psychology all at once. Good stuff.
- Getting out aggression: This is very important for graduate students. And especially for people who have…shall we say, anger issues. Martial arts helps you focus this energy and transform it. I found this particularly liberating.
Here is a link to the UCLA Martial Arts Page if you’re curious to see what UCLA does, but there are tons of resources for martial arts all over the country and world. I’m partial to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but I encourage you to consider any martial arts program for you or your children as a way to increase physical and mental strength, encourage discipline and focus energy in positive ways.
Grok with us: What physical and mental exercises and activities keep you strong? What other kinds of practices make you feel powerful?