“Jiujitsu and Vedanta: Four Yogic Paths to Mastery”

There are many approaches regarding the correct or best way to practice Brazilian Jiujitsu. A high-level coach will state that he/she has the best path, while another who went through a different path will say that her/his is the right one. When we step back and analyze their point of view, we will come to the conclusion that they are all correct. In the same vein a Kimura can be called a double-wrist lock, key-lock, or ude-garami, the various approaches all lead to mastery and eventually to becoming a black belt.

Truth is One, sages call it by various names. This is from the Rig Veda, a Hindu text written over 3,000 years ago stating that as long as a path is seeking the truth, it will eventually lead to enlightenment. Yoga established four paths to enlightenment that all lead to the same truth of self-realization: Bhakti (belief), Jnana (knowledge), Karma (work), and Raja (concentration). According to Vedanta any combination of the paths or any one path by itself is enough. I will attempt to show that the different approaches to attaining mastery of this gentle art are all equally correct.

Bhakti Yoga (Belief):

This is the path that emphasizes devotion, trust, and belief. The person in this path enjoys participating in the more formal and traditional aspects of the art and has complete trust in their teacher. They usually bow in and out of the mats, and look forward going to team events and competing. They embody Titiksha, or patient endurance, meaning bad weather and feeling slightly tired will not deter them from getting to class early. Even when injured, they may still attend class and participate by watching and taking notes.  

The student has complete trust in the knowledge of their coach and attempts everything the instructor says. This allows for direct communication and seamless transfer of knowledge from coach to student. They will learn through a tested process everyone in that lineage went through. Benefitting from those who came before and guidance from their coach mastery is attained.

During a tournament, I had just taken my opponent’s back but was getting reset back in the middle of the mat. My coach Tracey Taylor asked me, “what day it is?” I loudly replied that it was “C-Day”. Everyone around us was confused. However, in our gym “C-Day” was the day we practice back attacks. This trust and direct communication allowed me to re-center and eventually win the match.

Jnana Yoga (Knowledge):

This is the path of knowledge and wisdom. Through logic, reason, and experience one discerns between true and untrue and between permanent and temporary. This practitioner enjoys figuring out the minute details of a technique and strategizing. They enjoy figuring out the most effective techniques based on physical attributes and level of experience. They are open to suggestion but will take it with a grain of salt until they can actually implement it while rolling. 

Learning and growth becomes the priority while training. As such, they enjoy rolling with more experienced teammates and welcome starting in disadvantageous position. They will even play “games” only known to them like only using one hand or only finishing with a certain type of submission just to see what will happen. They put a lot of time and energy to fully grasp one technique. This enables them to transfer what works for one technique and apply it to other techniques as well as situations outside the mat. This practitioner gains mastery of the art by thoroughly understanding principles and concepts.

Another coach of mine, Matt Ricehouse, is one of the most analytical and cerebral practitioners I have ever met. He is able to distill complex techniques into simple concepts. He can tell you minute details of grip-fighting, and we go over those as well, but he just mentions “don’t let them touch your face.” If the opponent can touch your face, that means you’re getting punched or they have control of your collar. Prevent this and you are in good position to grip fight.

Karma Yoga (Work): 

This is unselfish action and practice without seeking or expecting any payment or reward. Often volunteering their own time and resources, they gain enjoyment from helping others. They train for the sake of training and put full effort in all aspects of the class, including the warmups. This practitioner is usually considered a great training partner. They are unselfish with their time: when they see a new person, they welcome them and help them get situated; they offer advice to less experienced practitioners; they sometimes volunteer to come early or stay after class to help sweep and mop the mats. All these are done without asking for or desiring any compensation or special privileges.

With this unselfish nature, almost everybody enjoys training with this person. Being turned down for a roll or not having a training partner is rare, allowing for more rolls and reps in the long-run. A rising tide lifts all boats. By unselfishly focusing on the improvement of their team-mates’ game, they gain mastery by indirectly forcing their own game to evolve and improve. 

This unselfish nature is found in most coaches and instructors who have already mastered the art. They share their knowledge to anyone wanting to learn. They help the community by providing their services, by participating in fundraisers, other unselfish acts. There are many stories of coaches influencing someone troubled or on the path to being criminal into someone who became positive role model and a credit to the community. 

This path ring true with our head coach Mike Rogers. He has unselfishly given so much time and resources to those in need. He’s offered free training, a roof over people’s head, and used his connections to help people get jobs or discounted services. 

Raja Yoga (Concentration):

The highest meditative state of Raja Yoga is called Samadhi. This can be compared to the state of Zen or the “flow state”. When the physical body, breath, mind, and consciousness are perfectly aligned, all distinctions between them disappear revealing the person’s true nature. In order to experience this state the mind must be steady and focused. In order to steady the mind, the breath or pranayama must be steady. In order to steady the breath the physical body must be steadied. All who train are on this path. Every class or open mat is an opportunity to practice controlling our physical bodies, our breath, and mind. Pranayama, breath control, may not be formally taught in most BJJ academies, but we are always reminded to breathe with our movements. 

Although Yogi’s usually meditate by being still, this out-of-body state can also be experienced while rolling: when the grappler does not experience any association with their body nor their mind, but as pure consciousness observing the match. They then return to body after the match or competition is over. They do not remember any details of the match(es) but they are standing on the podium with the gold medal. This art is a moving meditation, which explains why most practitioners exude a calmer, more aware demeanor after a few months of training. With constant practice and concentration, we increase control of our body, breath, mind, and awareness eventually mastering this gentle art.

All are paths equally important, and the path(s) we take are based on our own individual tendencies, environment, and experience. Fortunately, we have the benefit of finding the truth through sparring and competition. As long as we seek truth, we will eventually experience that highest self-realization.

When you get someone who embodies all four paths to highest degree you get someone truly special… you get someone like Rickson Gracie, a true master. In the documentary Choke he demonstrates complete physical and mental control during the lead up the first Pride tournament in 1997 (Raja Yoga). He has unselfishly shared his knowledge to countless students and given so much to our community (Karma Yoga). Throughout his life and even to this day he is improving upon and evolving BJJ techniques and concepts (Jnana Yoga). Following the lead of his family, he still follows the key traditional aspects to the letter, even initially refusing the 9th Degree red belt in 2017. With complete trust in Jiujitsu, he is the living embodiment of this gentle art (Bhakti Yoga). I’ve heard Rickson and many of us in this journey saying “Jiujitsu for life.” We are fortunate that Jiujitsu is great microcosm of life that teaches us to search for the truth not just in this art, but also within ourselves. ~Namaste

Four Paths of Yoga


Rodgrigo Vaghi BJJ

Bluebird Yoga