When you’re a kid, friendships (or rather, the opportunities to make friendships) come easy. You’re constantly placed in different groups with your peers at school, daycare, and extra-curricular activities. Even though not all of these settings are specially designed to foster meaningful friendships (shout-out to math class for being a black hole for joy), many others encourage kids to play and talk together. For some, these opportunities extend into college, where students are further encouraged to join groups that interest them and immerse themselves in a very social environment.
As an adult, though, these opportunities start to disappear, and thus, so do our social lives. For many adults in their mid-twenties and older, work is the most opportune place to socialize… and let’s face it, not all of us want to be BFFs with our coworkers. Outside of work, though, life can be lonely. Many of us go home to empty homes or apartments, partake in solo workouts such as running or going to a traditional gym, and get much of our human interaction through the internet. Yes, many people have significant others, roommates, and/or children to go home to as well, but the days of being thrown into group interactions are mostly long gone.
Those of us who do jiu-jitsu, though, have a different experience. We’re not only involved in a group activity with other people who enjoy the same hobby, but we’re forced to interact with each other (for better or for worse). We don’t have the option to come into class, exchange a polite nod with a few people close to us, and then leave without any further interaction. The nature of our sport requires us to get up close and personal with our teammates and talk with them both to problem-solve and to simply make it less awkward when we’re squishing each other in side control.
Once you’ve spent a few years training, and especially if you make the effort to dive deeper into the sport, jiu-jitsu can become the backbone of your social life. You may find that most of your social media connections were made through jiu-jitsu, and you might even meet your significant other on the mats.
One of the most beautiful impacts that jiu-jitsu can have on your social circle is the way that it expands it on an international level. There’s a unique camaraderie that exists between jiu-jitsu practitioners that ensures we’re never completely alone no matter where we are in the world. Even if you’re from a middle-of-nowhere academy in the midwestern USA, you can travel all the way to Europe or Asia or Australia and find a place to train. Many gyms hosting visitors also go beyond the call of hospitality, inviting guests out to dinner with the team after training or even offering their spare room or couch if needed.
Maybe it’s the unique nature of our shared passion, maybe its the inherent intimacy and trust that goes into freely placing your safety into another person’s hands, or maybe our brains just associate the rush of endorphins and adrenaline with the people we train with, but friendships just seem to form more organically in jiu-jitsu than in many other social settings.
Not all of our teammates will turn into lifelong friends, but some of them might, and the rest at least give us an opportunity for meaningful face-to-face human interaction.
Personally, I owe most of my best friendships, my relationship, my career, and countless travel opportunities to the social nature of jiu-jitsu. I don’t know what kind of people would be in my life had I not made the decision to sign up years ago, but I’m sure grateful to be surrounded by so many high-quality people who just happen to enjoy choking me.