Jiu-Jitsu: Its role in Comprehensive Airman Fitness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ethan Spickler
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

At the 445th Civil Engineer Squadron, one Airman combined his passion for fitness and love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to provide comprehensive fitness development opportunities for members while deployed.

Jiu-Jitsu focuses primarily on defensive moves and involves grappling until the opponent can be placed in a position where they cannot inflict damage. Unlike some other combat disciplines, it doesn’t rely on striking to incapacitate an opponent.

“Martial arts form a solid foundation of self-confidence,” said Master Sgt. Sean Sullivan, 445th CES assistant fire chief of training. “They are mainly defensive arts, and they aren’t meant to give someone the ability to go and create conflict; they are a means to prevent conflict.”

While it does involve physicality, it requires a dedication to learning how to set up submissions and put learned moves into practice, explained Sullivan, who has been doing Jiu-Jitsu for 11 years.

This is why Jiu-Jitsu can encompass all four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness – physical, mental, social and spiritual.

In Sullivan’s experience, martial arts training bolstered his ability to manage stress and helped build positive relationships with other like-minded martial artists.

“There is so much mutual respect shown between people who practice Jiu-Jitsu,” Sullivan said. “One of the things that we say is that you never leave the mat angry. In my experience, I leave feeling that a great weight was lifted from my shoulders because grappling forces me to mentally and physically shift gears.

“It forces you to rely on your own ability to learn and implement that knowledge,” Sullivan continued. “The mental aspect of martial arts is that it forces you to rely on others for training, but it also forces you to rely on yourself when putting that training into practice.”

According to Sullivan, the “wide variety of people,” both on deployment and at home in Kentucky, is critical to the social pillar.

“The biggest advantage to having such a diverse group of people involved, learning while pursuing this common interest, is that we were able to build relationships that extended beyond the mat,” said Sullivan. “Lifting in the gym, running, these are great tools for improving yourself, but I wanted to do something different as well.

“It ends up becoming a bonding moment for a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have interacted with each other in any other setting,” he explained.

Jiu-Jitsu achieves more than the physical, mental and social aspects, it can also center and ground those who participate, adding the last pillar of CAF.

“We were able to use training Jiu-Jitsu as a destressing moment, temporarily shutting out the military, the location we were in and everything else we had going on,” Sullivan explained. “Once you crossed the threshold to the mat area, your rank didn’t matter, but we still focused heavily on respect. We had officers, enlisted, contractors and joint forces members training together. We put all that to the side to focus on Jiu-Jitsu.”

Airmen are encouraged to pursue opportunities to improve resiliency and fitness, and there are many options available, including Jiu-Jitsu. “Anybody that asks me about it, I say they should at least give it a try,” Sullivan said. “Like any other rewarding activity, the quality of what you put into it influences what you get out of it. With Jiu-Jitsu, there are so many positive aspects to what it can do for you if you put the work in.