Tourettes is a syndrome that affects a person’s nervous system and causes them to make sudden repeated twitches, tics and vocal sounds. Every case of Tourettes is different to another as certain people may only have motor tics while others may only have vocal tics and certain people may have both motor and vocal tics.
Generally 60% of people with Tourettes will also suffer from ADHD as well as OCD and it is very common for people with Tourettes to have learning disabilities. Although Tourettes is not a fatal disease, it is a very difficult syndrome to live with, especially for children who often feel that the world is against them due to constant ridicule from people about their tics.
Perhaps the most hard hitting statistic about Tourettes syndrome is the fact that people suffering from Tourettes are 4 times more likley to commit suicide than those without Tourettes. Children with Tourettes are much more susceptible to depression and anxiety as they often feel they cannot go outside in the world, they are afraid of what others think and afraid to be in public due to strangers looking at them due to their tics.
Children and in some cases adults can suffer from sudden “rage attacks” due to the overall stress on their nervous system as well as emotional system due to the tics and the societal response to their tics. Often people with Tourettes are alone and due to a combination of their want to not be in public combined with their rage attacks on those around them.
There are many ways that modern science tries to help those with Tourettes such as with medication, Botox injections, CBT and CBIT treatment. Some of these treatments are effective but the scientific community still does not know enough about Tourette’s syndrome in order to come up with a fool proof treatment that works 100%.
BJJ, Wrestling and Grappling Arts for Tourettes
I myself have Tourette’s syndrome and suffer from very bad tics as well as ADD and the thing that helps me alleviate my tics is working out hard. Working out has always been a great solution to reducing my tics and the harder I sweat and workout, the better the alleviation of tics I get.
I have noticed something over the decades of working out which was that when I did any form of grappling such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Freestyle Wrestling or Submission Wrestling that my tics would start to reduce in both severity and frequency.
This did happen after one practice to a small extent but after several weeks of hard BJJ and Wrestling sessions, I would always see my overall tic frequency become lower.
This naturally led me to think of why is this alleviation of tics more noticeable after a BJJ or Wrestling practice than if I worked out at the gym (I would still see some alleviation of tics after the gym but nowhere near the alleviation I see when I wrestle or do BJJ).
I have come to the conclusion this is for a few specific reasons, I am not a doctor but I do suffer from Tourette’s, I understand my body and after living with Tourettes for 40+ years I feel there are several combined reasons that when someone with Tourette’s practices BJJ, Wrestling, Judo, Sambo or any Grappling art that they have the possibility of improving their tics.
The first item that I will talk about is the fact that when you wrestle with another individual in a match (even a practice match), your body thinks it is in a life and death scenario and due to this, it is forced to completely be in the moment and not focus on anything but winning.
Even though it is a sport, the body does not know the difference over that of a confrontation in the wild. Your body will fill with endorphins, adrenaline and other chemicals during the process and in this time it somewhat overloads the nervous system and in a way minimizes tics over what it thinks is more important – fight or flight – in this case being “fight” and survival. In the case of BJJ it is most evident as in BJJ, you are allowed to apply submissions such as chokes, strangleholds and joint locks. When the body is being choked with forceful intent and pressure (in a controlled safe environment of course) it cannot tell the difference between if it is a real lie and death situation or just a competitive roll (roll is a term used in BJJ for when 2 BJJ practitioners spar). This leads to the body wanting to get out of that position ASAP and forgo every other thing it is doing at the moment, in my case being performing tics.
The second item is related to the first item and that is the fact that after a hard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu roll or Wrestling match, the body is often left with adrenaline at the same time being very warm and needing much deep breathing to catch one’s breath back. This leaves the body (especially in my case) in a state of awakened relaxation – where you feel relaxed due to the physical stress of the actual session while at the same time feel awakened due to the adrenaline dump you have received from your body thinking this was a life and death altercation.
The third item is that when grappling, wrestling and rolling in BJJ, the body relies heavily on breathing and controlling the amount of Oxygen within the body in order to keep the heart rate down as much as possible. As a person gets more experienced in the grappling arts, they will generally start to breathe more with their nose and through their diaphragm and not through their mouth and via the chest. This leads to a much more effective means of breathing and overall better utilization of oxygen as well as a better overall relaxed state after the session is over. Add on top the fact that that type of breathing will continue until the heart reaches a normal level and this enters a person into an excellent state of relaxation, both in body and mind.
The fourth item is the fact that any type of grappling is a full body exercise requiring much motor movement and coordination and this requires the body to take focus off of things like tics and into controlling ones body in order to beat the opponent. This applies more to during an actual sparring session and practicing of grappling moves that require multiple movements at the same time with different muscle groups, spatial awareness of the opponent as well as complete awareness of both your balance and the opponents. This once again tricks the body to focus everything on the associated imminent task rather than on tics.
The fifth item and subsequent to practicing a Grappling based martial art is the fact that as you train more and more in your grappling art, you will become much more confident. This leads to a change in how your self esteem is and in the case of someone with Tourettes, this can make a huge difference in their overall social life. One way is that through constant having to spar, a person becomes less concerned with confrontation and the “what if’s” if confrontation, which ultimately means that they know they can deal with whatever confrontation they encounter and they know that no matter how bad it is, they can handle themselves (this does not just mean physically but in any type of confrontation, even with a simple one as someone laughing at their tics). Being more confident will help them also alleviate anxiety which leads to creating a better environment for the body to deal with Tourettes as there is no doubt that a relaxed body and state of mind will be much better to deal with Tourettes than an over anxious body and state of mind.
The sixth item and an especially important one for children is the fact that in a BJJ class for kids, Judo kids class or wrestling class for kids they will develop friendships that are real as there is no time for kids to ridicule one another when they are trying to throw one another, force a tap and score a point. They will learn to respect one another for their efforts on the mat and the fact that they sweat together, have fun together and grow together (hopefully attaining higher belts together too).
In no means am I saying that practicing BJJ, Wrestling or any Grappling art will cure Tourettes, I am saying that it dramatically ahs made a difference in the severity of my Tourettes and the general scientific community as well as Tourettes community should take a look at the use of training in Grappling based martial arts for treatment of Tourettes and BJJ for improving one’s life who suffers from Tourettes.
It is said that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, Sambo and other grappling arts are a way of life and I truly believe this. They let us learn much about ourselves, they help us defend ourselves and help us create a healthy body and mind.
In the case of Tourettes, especially with children who are having the hardest fight of their lives each and every day, just wanting to be normal, asking themselves why this is happening to them, the grappling arts can truly be an amazing outlet for them to grow, to understand they can overcome, to build the body and mind up as one that is strong and to alleviate symptoms associated with Tourettes.
Perhaps the greatest thing that studying a grappling art is not the fact they can defend themselves but the fact they will develop the self confidence to simply walk through a school hallway, ride a bus, sit in a restaurant while there may be others that mock their tics while simple knowing that just as when they get thrown on the ground or tapped out by a choke, it is part of life and they can simple stand up to start again. Life throws us all to the ground at times but it is those who can stand right back up that rise highest and in the case of Tourettes is is daily, hourly and sometimes non-stop, yet with grappling training they will learn to step up quickly, brush the dust off their shoulder and move forward with confidence.