Categorized | Coaching, Featured, Sport Psych

Why BJJ is Addicting, Maslov and the Hierarchy of Needs, and the Jiu-Jitsu Journey

TL Naples BJJ and BJJ Engineer: Why BJJ is Addicting, Maslov and the Hierarchy of Needs, and the Jiu-Jitsu JourneyNot too long ago I started to wonder, Why so many people are addicted to BJJ?  Why do their lives change more and more as they embark on the journey? Why do priorities shift to make more space for BJJ? And why, at the same time, are there some students who never get caught up in the lifestyle and move on?

Helio Gracie said in his documentary “Hélio Gracie a hístoria do Jiu Jitsu no Brasíl”:

Attempted Translation: “Jiu-Jitsu is an art so efficient, and it gives people so much confidence/security that it don’t matter if the person studies 3,4,5,6,8 or 20 years…couldn’t translate ( my Portuguese needs work)… It is this simplicity and great efficiency of defense that everyone regardless of the reason ……couldn’t translate ( my Portuguese needs work)…that anyone that trains jiu-jitsu will imporve his way of thinking by 50%.”- Helio Gracie

And I couldn’t agree more, but why?

TL and BJJ ENgineer: Maslov and Hierarchy of Needs

Back in college, I came across some of the work of the physiologist Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970). In his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” I learned about his idea of self-actualization and thehierarchy of needs.

Maslow, a psychologist, studied those he considered “exemplary people,” including Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass, rather than mentally ill or neurotic people. “The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a crippled psychology and a crippled philosophy,” he wrote. From his studies, he developed what he called the hierarchy of needs.

Lets take a look at the pyramid.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are the “deficiency needs,” which are physiological and the top level representing “growth needs” that are associated with psychological needs. The lower the level, the more importance it is: deficiency needs must be met first. The higher needs or levels in this hierarchy can only be focused upon or achieved when the lower needs/levels in the pyramid are met. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. For example, if you are struggling to manage to put food in your table or pay rent, the idea of having a functional relationship will not be crossing your mind anytime soon.

Now, if a lower set of needs is no longer being met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level. For instance, say you are a serious Jiu-Jitsu competitor at the esteem/self actualization level and you suffer a major injury. You will temporary visit level 1 (physiological level), and try to meet those deficiencies, but in the back of your head you will be very well aware that your competition is gaining ground on you. Therefore you will still train to the best of your abilities, do your research etc…

Some readers who saw the pyramid can probably already think of examples of how Jiu-Jitsu can help at each of those levels. This small discovery and connection to BJJ, while simple, is so enlightening because it easily explains why so many people restructure their lives completely once introduced to a good program that allows them expand on each of those areas.

Let’s see how BJJ helps each of these levels.

Deficiency needs

The lower four layers of the pyramid are the “deficiency needs” (physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, and esteem). If the deficiency needs are not met the individual feels unhealthy, anxious and tense. These deficiency needs are:

Physiological Needs

Most people who train BJJ have most of their basic physical needs satisfied, especially in the “First World.” Nevertheless, Jiu-Jitsu allows the individual to improve fitness levels, engage in good nutrition, and understand that good rest is as important as hard training. Jiu-Jitsu helps any individual not only satisfy this level, but to excel at it.

Safety needs

With their physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs take over and dominate their behavior. These needs have to do with people’s yearning for a predictable, orderly world in which injustice and inconsistency are under control, the familiar frequent and the unfamiliar rare. In the world of work, these safety needs manifest themselves in such things as a preference for job security, grievance procedures for protecting the individual from unilateral authority, savings accounts, insurance policies, and the like.

Safety and Security needs include:

  • Personal security from crime
  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being
  • Safety net against accidents illness and the adverse impacts

Obviously Jiu-Jitsu can help you feel more assured when confronted in a self-defense situation, but is that all? The practice of Jiu-Jitsu and the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle allows individuals to live healthier lives. Training translates to better fitness levels, causing the individual who trains to feel healthier than who do not.

Once the practitioner makes Jiu-Jitsu a priority in his life, he realizes that he does not really need expensive cars, clothes, houses, to be happy. This helps with the financial security aspect of this level. When you have very little to pay and owe very little you feel less worried about your finances and you can save more. This provides a safety net against accidents/illness and the adverse impacts.

Security of employment is also helped. Why? Well if you have little to pay now, you don’t need to be CEO of a big company and have those pressures to pay your bills. There are few CEO jobs out there, but a lot of blue collar jobs. So you are not worried at all when a recession hits, because you will still be able to afford to train and live your dream lifestyle.

Security of family should be an easy one as long as you are in the right school. If you train hard and your school trains hard, you will find friends and a family there, even if you lack a big biological one.

I like this quote a lot and it think it helps understand what Jiu-Jitsu does for a practitioner:

Social needs

“The richest man in the world is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least” –Unknown.

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a large social group, such as clubs, office culture, religious groups, professional organizations, sports teams, or small social connections (family members, intimate partners, mentors, close colleagues, confidants). In the absence of these elements, many people feel loneliness, social anxiety and clinical depression. This need for belonging can often overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer pressure. An anorexic, for example, ignores the need to eat and the security of health for a feeling of control and belonging. Many good teams allow you to belong to a great cause, which is your Jiu-Jitsu improvement over the years, and also to be a part of an environment where because everyone is there for that same reason. As I mentioned earlier, the room and the mats become a second home for many of the practitioners. A lot of self-respect is given to everyone that trains, espeically the most experienced and best competitors, instructors, and masters. There is a hierarchy on the mats just like in a household family.


All humans have a need to be respected, to have self-esteem, self-respect, and to respect others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel accepted and self-valued, be it in a profession or hobby. Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. People with low self-esteem need respect from others. They may seek fame or glory, which again depends on others. It may be noted, however, that many people with low self-esteem will not be able to improve their view of themselves simply by receiving fame, respect, and glory externally, but must first accept themselves internally. Psychological imbalances such as depression can also prevent one from obtaining self-esteem on both levels. At a good school you will be respected for your efforts to learn Jiu-Jitsu and improve your life. Now you can take this to higher and higher levels as you progress through the belts, win competitions, develop other students, gain experience, run your own school, etc… The more hard work you put in, the more esteem you will receive from your peers. But remember, just by coming in everyone will think of you as part of a family.

Aesthetic needs

Goals! The motivation to realize one’s own maximum potential and possibilities is considered to be the master motive or the only real motive, all other motives being its various forms. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for self-actualization is the final need that manifests when lower level needs have been satisfied. In BJJ this is what every you want to accomplish, the World Championship, become a legit black belt, own your own school, etc..

Self-transcendence and Success of offspring

Near the end of his life, Maslow revealed that there was a level on the hierarchy that was above self-actualization: self-transcendence. “[Transcenders] may be said to be much more often aware of the realm of Being (B-realm and B-cognition), to be living at the level of Being… to have unitive consciousness and “plateau experience” (Asrani [serene and contemplative B-cognitions rather than climactic ones]) … and to have or to have had peak experience (mystic, sacral, ecstatic) with illuminations or insights or cognitions which changed their view of the world and of themselves, perhaps occasionally, perhaps as a usual thing.”

He stated that the achievements and success of his offspring were more satisfying than the personal fulfillment and growth characterized in self-actualization.

Have you ever heard of the old martial arts movies like:

Where the old teacher says you still have a lot to learn grasshopper and is found meditating at the top of a mountain and one day becomes the day where the student “surpassed the teacher.”

I learned a while back that this while funny because of the nature of kung-fu movies is really true. Understanding that Jiu-Jiutsu is more than about being the best ion the world, having this many world championships, etc… it’s about personal growth it’s a huge step. One may be able to comprehend it but not necessarily achieved it. The sign of a good teacher is one who is able to produce students who eventually surpass him and teaches them that it is their job to do the same, at the same time, feeling better about his students accomplishments than his own. This Jiu-Jitsu continuity allows for the art to keep getting better. I always say at 70 years old (well I borrowed this idea from my instructor Julius Park), no one will care about how good your BJJ was, many few will be remember after 100 years even 1000 years in the Jiu-Jitsu history, but what you get to keep is the growth you achieved through your engagement in Jiu-Jitsu and the challenges it brought you.

3 Responses to “Why BJJ is Addicting, Maslov and the Hierarchy of Needs, and the Jiu-Jitsu Journey”

  1. André Tauk says:

    Very good

    I am from brasil, and i love jiu jitsu
    and i am studing engeneer too
    this report (i don´t now how i white this) is great
    and this site is great too

    jiu jitsu lifestyle is one of the grataste things in my life
    and help me in all litle thigs that i do in my day


  2. Michaelo says:

    I have no idea, maybe you just need to wait a little longer. Dont be so impatient.


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