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Trauma-Informed Coaching Techniques for BJJ Instructors

Trauma informed BJJ coach in action

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) offers a unique blend of physical challenge and mental discipline, making it a powerful medium for personal development. However, for students who have experienced trauma, navigating the close contact and competitive nature of BJJ can be daunting. Trauma-informed coaching techniques can equip instructors with the tools to create a supportive environment that fosters safety, trust, and empowerment for all students, including those healing from trauma. This blog post explores effective trauma-informed coaching techniques for BJJ instructors, aiming to make the dojo a safe space for everyone's journey.

Understanding Trauma and Its Impact

Trauma can profoundly affect an individual's psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. It can alter one's sense of safety, leading to heightened states of anxiety, difficulty in trusting others, and challenges in managing physical closeness. Recognizing these impacts is the first step for BJJ instructors to support their students effectively.

Trauma-Informed Coaching Principles

Trauma-informed coaching in BJJ requires more than just an awareness of trauma. It involves actively integrating principles that address the needs of trauma survivors into every aspect of coaching. These principles include:

1. Prioritize Emotional and Physical Safety

Safety is the cornerstone of trauma-informed practice. Instructors can create a safe environment by:

  • Clearly explaining drills and exercises, providing students with a clear understanding of what to expect.

  • Offering alternatives for students who may feel uncomfortable with certain positions or close contact.

  • Ensuring the gym is a physically safe space, free from hazards.

2. Foster Trust Through Consistency and Transparency

Building trust involves consistent and transparent communication. This means:

  • Being consistent in rules, expectations, and class structure.

  • Explaining the reasons behind training methods and decisions.

  • Being open and approachable, encouraging students to share their concerns.

3. Empower Students

Empowerment is about giving students control over their training experience. This can be achieved by:

  • Allowing students to set their own boundaries and choose their level of participation.

  • Encouraging students to express their needs and preferences.

  • Celebrating individual achievements, no matter how small.

4. Promote Choice and Collaboration

Giving students a voice in their training process promotes a sense of agency. Instructors can:

  • Involve students in setting personal goals and planning their training path.

  • Encourage peer support and learning within the class.

  • Facilitate group discussions on techniques, strategies, and personal growth.

5. Recognize and Respond to Signs of Distress

Being able to recognize signs of distress and respond appropriately is crucial. This involves:

  • Learning to recognize non-verbal cues of discomfort or anxiety.

  • Having a plan in place to support students who may become triggered.

  • Providing resources for additional support outside the dojo.

Implementing Trauma-Informed Techniques in BJJ Training

With the principles of trauma-informed coaching in mind, here are practical techniques BJJ instructors can implement:

Creating a Welcoming Environment

  • Begin each class with a brief check-in, allowing students to share how they're feeling and any concerns they might have.

  • Introduce new students to the class, fostering a welcoming community.

Adapting Teaching Methods

  • Use clear, precise language when demonstrating techniques, avoiding jargon or overly technical terms that might confuse or overwhelm.

  • Demonstrate techniques on a variety of partners to show adaptability and inclusiveness.

  • Offer verbal descriptions and visual demonstrations, catering to different learning styles.

Managing Physical Contact

  • Discuss the importance of consent and personal space before practicing drills that involve close contact.

  • Allow students to choose their training partners, giving them control over their level of comfort.

  • Introduce a "tap out" system not just for submissions but as a signal for any discomfort or need for a break.

Supporting Individual Needs

  • Offer one-on-one sessions or smaller group classes for students who may feel overwhelmed in larger groups.

  • Be available for private discussions before or after class for students who may need to talk.

Fostering a Supportive Community

  • Encourage a culture of respect, where all students feel valued and supported.

  • Highlight the importance of teamwork and mutual growth, emphasizing that every student's journey is unique and valuable.


Adopting trauma-informed coaching techniques in BJJ can transform the dojo into a nurturing space that supports healing and personal growth. By prioritizing safety, trust, empowerment, and collaboration, instructors can help students navigate their training with confidence and resilience. Ultimately, trauma-informed practices not only benefit those with trauma histories but enrich the learning environment for all students, creating a more inclusive, supportive, and empowering martial arts community.

Interesting in reading more? Check out Transforming Trauma With Jiu Jitsu  by Jamie Marich and Anna Pirkl.

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