By Seth Waggener: Originally Appeared in DEVOTION 'Zine: Issue 4
Like many jiu-jitsu practitioners my age, I was introduced to the idea of using cannabis during training, by Eddie Bravo.
The 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu founder wrote multiple books discussing the perceived benefits of using the psychoactive plant, and would often promote it on Joe Rogan’s podcast and other media outlets.
I purchased two of Bravo’s books at the beginning of my jiu-jitsu journey.
Thinking I would skip right past all the boring fundamentals of the art, and simply become a master of the rubber-guard (in reality I had just taken the first step in becoming a decade long blue belt because of my lack of fundamentals - but that’s a story for another day.)
In addition to my now black belt knowledge of Eddie’s early music career, which seemed to take up an irrational amount of space in one of his books - I was also interested in exploring the use of marijuana in training.
At the time, I was not a frequent user of the plant - I had smoked a lot in high school, but had pretty much stopped using it altogether by my early 20’s.
I also only had the kind of weed that you could buy in the 90’s in Wyoming. Meaning I had only smoked ditch weed loaded with stems and seeds and reeking (and sometimes tasting) of diesel fuel, after the long trip up Interstate 25 from Mexico, taped to the inside of a semi-truck’s gas tank.
As you can imagine, the quality left a lot to be desired.
Could have been the weed, could have been the poisonous chemicals soaked into the weed, but it would knock you on your ass - probably due to the brain damage from inhaling diesel fuel, no way to know for sure.
When kids today tell me, “this weed is GAS!” I always laugh.
“Try smoking actual gas, nerd.”
Suffice it to say I could not imagine training after taking a few hits of this shit.
I was sure it would simply make me lazy and disinterested in learning a new technique or rolling hard with one of my training partners.
For many folks out there, this may be true.
We each have a complex Endocannabinoid System (ECS) - that is designed to intake, process and use cannabinoids like THC, and it’s non-psychoactive, square, yuppie brother, CBD.
These cannabinoids impact the user in different ways, and for many, the anxiety brought on by cannabis use could make it counterproductive to use in training or combat of any kind.
The ECS regulates emotional processing, sleep, memory, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses - so you can see why humans have used this plant for so many reasons throughout our history.
High Rollin': One of the pages from the original publishing of this article in DEVOTION 'Zine: Issue 4
While many of our readers may be suspicious of marijuana’s ability to aid their training - one thing we know for sure, is that warriors throughout history did not share this view of the plant.
Today’s view of the plant is jaded by law enforcement and government propaganda, long since debunked, but clung too by the masses.
History shows us that for thousands of years and throughout multiple ancient cultures, men who sought to destroy their enemies in combat, have used cannabis.
Most people today however, think it has only been used by men who seek to destroy their careers and jars of peanut butter.
In ancient India, it was believed the plant was discovered by Shiva and brought to the people as a gift.
They consumed marijuana in a drink known as bhang which was used both medicinally and in religious practices.
For the warriors, a dispensary “budtender” named Trey would concoct a stronger beverage called ganja - and would have the soldiers sip both beverages before battle to alleviate fear and calm their nerves. (I can’t confirm the budtender part - but it seems logical based on my experiences in Colorado’s dispensaries)
The warrior drink was eventually given the nickname Vijaya, meaning “victory.”
The Chinese have a long, well-documented history of cannabis use, which also included consumption by its warriors.
In 2019 a 1,320 year old Tang dynasty tomb was discovered, with large amounts of cannabis seeds and other paraphernalia, suggesting the warriors inhaled the plant as part of a pre-battle ceremony to instill valor in the user.
Cannabis consumption by warriors was not relegated to the Far East.
The word hemp is derived from the Old English haenep, which comes from the Proto-Germanic hanapiz - from the same Scythian word that cannabis is derived from.
The deeper study of these languages and how they were carried over from civilization to civilization, offers even further evidence that cannabis was used by these tribes as far back as 500 B.C.
The warrior history of the plant did not die in ancient times, continuing all the way through use of our soldiers in the Vietnam War…and more current conflicts in the middle east and beyond.
The counterculture social revolution of the 1960’s brought cannabis to the beaches of California and Hawaii, the drained pools of the seminal skateboard scene, and the high rock races and campgrounds of the vagabond rock-climbers in Yosemite.
The surf scene in Brazil was not immune to this influence - and many of those surfers had another hobby as well - practicing a martial art, brought from Japan and honed by The Gracie Family - Jiu-Jitsu.
Earlier on, there was a much larger divide in gyms across America when it came to cannabis use - but like the changing attitudes across suburbia - most gyms and professors accept that many of their students use the plant for a host of reasons and benefits.
When I began training in 2008, it was not uncommon for me to be respectfully hushed by a coach or senior member of the gym, when I got a little too loud talking about marijuana with my training partners.
I would even be taken aside by coaches in both jiu-jitsu and CrossFit gyms, and told to refrain from smoking right before training in the parking lot, in plain view of the other members coming in.
None of these situations has happened within the last few years - and most of the coaches I have trained under have even joined me in my pre-training ritual in the parking lot.
Weed, like Jiu-Jitsu - has gone mainstream.
So what can we learn from this history, and how can we, as a warrior culture of our own, benefit from this ancient and, in many ways still, mysterious plant?
CREATIVITY AND FOCUS
Jiu-Jitsu is a chess match, a war of the mind, the body and the soul - and one that awards technical creativity.
Marijuana is what is known as a “novelty” substance - in the sense that it temporarily allows you to see the incredible or simply interesting, in everyday things you may not notice otherwise.
This is the reason many users like to listen to music while using it, or in the more stereotypical stoner world, a smoker finding it “amazing” how his hand can open and close.
Comedic or not, that same side effect is one of the reasons it can be used to your benefit in training.
Seeing angles you did not see before, moves or sequences that eluded you in a more sober state.
One of the cues that has worked best for me in training is that often the only difference in positions is the location of the floor.
Nothing has helped me turn my thinking upside down, to see that my closed guard is the same as mount - my back is just on the mat, than cannabis.
It allows me to see these positions more clearly - even if I am viewing the positions through burning red eyes and insatiable hunger for peanut butter scooped out of a jar with a bare hand.
Cannabis allows you to enter what is known by many jiu-jitsu players as “the flow state” - allowing you to focus and be perfectly present in the moment. You are not distracted by the outside world - and can simply work on what is in front of you.
Anyone who has ever rolled with an overzealous white belt (is there any other kind?) can tell you the benefit of being able to relax and breathe through a roll.
One of the greatest benefits I have personally seen from using cannabis as part of my training, has been in this realm.
Last night I smoked an unusually large amount of weed before I hit the mats.
I am someone who can struggle to stay relaxed once I am in a bad position, or start to feel fatigued.
I was immediately struck by how well I was able to hold my same pace, and ended the night having rolled for more than hour with almost no breaks,
Not a single time during the evening did I feel out of breath or fatigued. My game felt extremely tight and a number of my partners complimented me on how tough I was to handle.
One of the most important aspects of your journey in Jiu-Jitsu is staying healthy. If you can find me purple belt or higher who has not sustained dozens if not more, injuries over the course of their career - give me his number so I can learn his magic ways.
Injuries are a part of any sport, let alone a combat sport like Jiu-Jitsu.
Recovery is key to staying healthy and cannabis, not just THC, but CBD as well, can aid in this effort.
Your ECS regulates your sleep and immune response - in addition to dealing with inflammation and other stressors.
Using both CBD and THC can provide the user with a powerful recovery tool.
There are a myriad of studies you can find showing the incredible benefits of CBD as a sleep aid and anti-inflammatory.
CBD companies across the world are sponsoring professional athletes and sports organizations, as more and more people discover the benefits of this compound.
Even if you shy away from using THC for whatever reason, whether legality or otherwise, CBD should be in your toolbox as a recovery aid.
Utilizing plant-based aids in our training should not be something we do just to be better at jiu-jitsu, or simply to “get high”. It should be used as part of a spiritual mind-body connection, one that is honored and used with respect and intention.
The intention to become the Neo-Samurai. The warrior on a path to enlightenment and glory like so many of our ancestors before.
The next time you take a flame to that bowl, or spark that joint before training - remember the warriors who came before - and picture yourself ready to take the field of battle - healthy, rested, calm and focused - on to Vivaja - on to Victory.