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Is Jiu Jitsu Spiritual in its Roots?

This article is written for Christians who have concerns that Jiu Jitsu may have a spiritual side that is in conflict with their beliefs. Having myself grown up as a devout Evangelical Christian Protestant, I understand these concerns. Christians don’t want to unknowingly take part in anything that might be demonic or Satantic or have origins in a religion that goes against Christianity. In this article, I will do my best to answer these and other related questions and explain why Jiu Jitsu and Christianity are, in fact, compatible.

Why Christians Are Concerned About Jiu Jitsu

Many martial arts incorporate concepts from Eastern spirituality. For example, students of Kung Fu, a Chinese martial art, learn to harmonize and direct the flow of “chi” energy and incorporate this skill into their fighting techniques. Because the concept of “chi” comes from Taoism and other Asian religions, some Christians feel that it is an erroneous and even dangerous teaching that could possibly be demonic, and therefore may choose to avoid martial arts that incorporate chi, meditation, and other practices found in Eastern religions.

Even though it’s not a martial art, the popularity of yoga in North America and Europe has put many Christians on guard, since yoga originated as a Hindu spiritual practice that is now being advertised as just a way to exercise and build flexibility.

Therefore, it’s understandable why some Christians may wonder whether, like yoga and kung fu, Jiu Jitsu might have a “spiritual side” that most of its practitioners are unaware of.

The Roots and Origin of Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu itself is not a religion and never has been. Going back as far as we can trace, Jiu Jitsu has always referred to a collection of fighting techniques used in hand-to-hand combat. In Japan, Samurai warriors used many of the techniques that Jiu Jitsu students learn today. The word “Jiu Jitsu” means “the gentle art,” and refers to the fact that in Jiu Jitsu one learns to use leverage and efficiency instead of relying on strength to defeat an opponent.

All of the techniques learned in Jiu Jitsu are based on physical mechanics. Jiu Jitsu does not teach any type of spiritual practices such as moving chi, nor does it acknowledge any diety or spiritual tradition. Instead, Jiu Jitsu techniques include various ways to pin a person to the ground and choke them or break an arm or a leg.

Is There Anything Spiritual in Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a modern form of Jiu Jitsu that was founded in the early 1900’s by brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie. To this day, their sons and grandsons are well-known instructors in the Jiu Jitsu community, and many Jiu Jitsu schools proudly trace their lineage to some member of the Gracie family.

Because Jiu Jitsu practitioners are often very loyal to their lineage, and because Gracie Jiu Jitsu schools are very strict about how they teach Jiu Jitsu and who they allow to use the Gracie name, some people jokingly refer to Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a cult. However, Gracie Jiu Jitsu has no ties to any particular religion or spiritual tradition, and the techniques they teach are purely physical in nature.

Is Jiu Jitsu Against Christianity?

Some Christians teach that practicing martial arts as a sin, and because they don’t know the difference between Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts, they might condemn Jiu Jitsu along with all the others.

As we’ve established, Jiu Jitsu has no connection to any religion and does not incorporate any spiritual teachings or practices. Therefore, there is no reason to think that it is Satanic or demonic. But, are there other reasons that Christians shouldn’t practice Jiu Jitsu? This will depend on one’s particular Christian beliefs.

For example, some Christians are pacifists. Sergeant Alvin C. York, an American veteran of World War 1, applied to be exempt when he was drafted to fight on the basis of his Christian beliefs, because he believed that the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder” applied in times of war. Although he ended up changing his views, many Christians are still against the idea of any type of fighting, and for this reason may want to avoid Jiu Jitsu, which teaches one how to fight.

However, most Christians agree that fighting is permissible when done in self-defense or to protect another innocent person. Since Jiu Jitsu students learn to defend against and control an attacker, this martial art is not in conflict with how most Christians understand the Bible. Additionally, one could argue that even a pacifist could learn Jiu Jitsu, because its goal is to disarm and control an attacker WITHOUT needing to use lethal violence.

Jesus Has Your Back rash guard
One of my Christian BJJ training partners has this rash guard from Summo Sports.

Is Bowing Required in Jiu Jitsu?

In many martial arts, students bow to their instructor at the beginning and end of class, bow to a photo of the founder of the martial art when stepping onto the mat, and bow to their opponent before beginning a match. This can be concerning to Christians because the Bible teaches that one should bow only to God, and even includes a story of men who were willing to endure torture and death rather than bow to a human king.

In Asian cultures, bowing is a sign of respect, much like shaking hands in Western culture, and does not carry the same religious connotation that it does to Christians. Many Christians believe the context of bowing in a martial arts class is different than bowing as an act of worship as prohibited in the Bible. However, some Christians are still not comfortable participating in this tradition.

If you are a Christian who attends a traditional Jiu Jitsu school and are not comfortable with bowing to your instructor or when stepping onto the mat, you should let your instructor know, and most likely it will not be a big deal if you don’t take part in this tradition. Most of your fellow students will probably not even notice.

Additionally, many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools these days do not follow these traditions. Particularly Jiu Jitsu schools who only train “no-gi” instead of wearing the traditional martial arts uniform tend to be less formal and to not follow these rules.

Regardless of where you train Jiu Jitsu, you will not need to bow to your opponent at the beginning of a match, because Jiu Jitsu matches traditionally begin by shaking or slapping hands and/or fist bumping instead of bowing.

Christians in BJJ

Many Christians view Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as an opportunity to live their values in everyday life. Some Christians enjoy wearing Christian-themed Jiu Jitsu apparel as a way to share their faith at the gym.

Some Jiu Jitsu schools, such as Trinity Jiu Jitsu in Spring Branch, Texas, use Jiu Jitsu classes as a way to teach Christian values and help their students build Christian character. The Jesus & Jiu Jitsu Community and Podcast brings Christians who practice Jiu Jitsu together for fellowship.

Hopefully, if you’re a Christian considering trying out Jiu Jitsu, this article has helped you better understand Jiu Jitsu so that you can feel comfortable trying a class without worrying that you might be doing something sinful that would go against your faith.

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