Jiu Jitsu, Humility, and The “Big 5” of Academic Psychology

Updated: Oct 14


Jiu Jitsu is the vehicle through which we achieve self-mastery. It’s complexity and difficulty create the perfect environment to mold our character.

While I was writing On Jiu Jitsu, I found that much of my writing centered around the theme of humility. Since we were kids, humility has been praised as a divine virtue, but other than the social benefit, it isn’t immediately clear as to why it’s beneficial to be humble.

Enter Academic Psychology

In academic psychology there is what’s known as the “Big 5” character traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This is a commonly agreed upon codification of the most fundamental dimensions of personality.

There is a strong correlation between openness to new experiences and humility; the more receptive you are to alternative ideas, the less you are likely to cling to rigid modes of belief and more likely to learn from new experiences.

The sincere study of Jiu Jitsu is a crash course in openness. With so many variables to attend to, with seemingly countless positions and styles of game play, the vastness of Jiu Jitsu accentuates our limitedness as a practitioner. We all, no matter our experience level, have glimpsed a small portion of grappling.

Training with teammates who embody different techniques, tactics, body types and strategies forces us to “open” ourselves to alternative styles of gameplay, reminding us that our own style of grappling is a way, not the way.

From Jiu Jitsu to Life

When our ignorance and subjectivity are illuminated in Jiu Jitsu, it is a short leap to see this truth in the rest of our lives.

My teammate and I (we call each other “teammates” as opposed to business partners; the juxtaposed connotations of each proved this to be a worthwhile change in vocabulary) live by the following dictum:

Strong Ideas. Loosely Held.

This is the real value of humility: to dissociate yourself from the ideas you possess, allowing the information at hand to serve you rather than yourself serving a false or sub-optimal ideal. Humility means to be open to experience, to let go of your preconceived notions of reality to make way for better ones: to be free of yourself so as to become a better self.

Jiu Jitsu, better than any activity I have ever experienced, reveals our weaknesses. It is only after we admit such shortcomings to ourselves that we can hope to transcend them. And it is these subtle, daily changes, moving us further along the humility-pride continuum, that are the real fruits of our labor.

It is such a pervasive and gradual change that such benefits are hard to notice, but they are there and they matter. And I am beginning to see they matter much more than we can consciously understand.

Post Script:

If you want to read Chris’s latest book on personal development, check it out here.

If you would like to be coached by Chris personally, click here.

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