BJJ: I Have the Touch

No one get excited, I am not saying I’ve got some sort of magic touch in BJJ. I’m not even good at BJJ, much less magical.

What’s on my mind lately is “positive touch” and how BJJ provides that contact we social creatures crave so much. And how much that’s helped me personally in the last year or so. I found myself telling my “touch-starved” story twice recently and it dawned on me just how much BJJ had helped me.

Touch Deficit

At the beginning of last year, I was with a partner who had depression and wasn’t dealing with it. It wasn’t healthy for him and it wasn’t healthy for me either. I’ve had clinical depression nearly my entire life, I’ve got enough work keeping myself in good mental health – I don’t need to be trying to prop someone else up too. Nor could I, not really. I’d brought it up multiple times and it was always that he’d just change his routine, add in a little more exercise, etc, etc. The last time I recall asking about it, I asked if all his own ideas kept failing, at what point was he going to get help? He said he didn’t know.

His depression had all the usual symptoms of withdrawing, being quicker to anger, all that typical hallmarks of the disorder. But the thing that really pushed me to the edge was that he stopped touching me.


Not like he didn’t hug me as often or want to hold hands anymore – he didn’t touch me. No hugs, no hand on my shoulder or resting on my thigh as we watched TV. Nothing. Sometimes for more than week at a time. The only contact he would initiate was one little chaste peck on the lips as we left for work. It was so habitual it had lost its meaning, but he insisted on it. If I touched him, there was polite receiving or reciprocation, but it didn’t really break the surface.

When I rolled to my side in bed each night, I lay there hoping to feel a hand on my waist or my shoulder – something that used to be common. Just a soft relaxing touch, a moment of comfort as we settled in for the night.

I brought up this touch “deficit” several times. He felt like I was accusing him because I had counted the days since his last touch. But I had been tracking it because I was quietly, desperately hoping that the pattern would break sooner this time. I was aching for contact yet mentioning it only made things more unpleasant.

What makes this all the more heartbreaking is that his touch had always had a special effect on me. For the majority of our relationship, one touch and I would feel my whole body relax. He didn’t have to do anything special, just rest his hand against me, and I’d feel the tension release like coil gently unwinding.

While I focused on my own journey in the initial post about our breakup, this issue of touch was another main driver. Two days before I broke things off, when the lack of sleep was take a serious toll, he playfully put an item on my Google calendar: “Massage to Relax, Sleep Better” for 9pm that night. As the night wound down, I felt a glimmer of hope. We got to bed at about 9:15. I looked at him hopefully. He grumbled something about it being later than he planned, gave me a very brief half-hearted shoulder rub, then complained he was tired and rolled over. This from the man who’d previously given me back rubs so lovely and long that I had actually gotten a bit bored, to be honest. I was crushed.

Filling the Gap

OK, so this all very sad, but what does it have to do with BJJ? Well, one of his complaints during this touch-starved time in our relationship was how much time I was spending training. And looking back now, a year plus later, I can see that positive touch was one of the reasons I threw myself into the sport so vehemently. In addition to the nearly constant necessary physical contact during training, there was also the touch-based nature of the community. Bro hugs, high fives, nudges, even the occasional playful “knife hand” to check your reflexes. A community bonded by contact, by “combat cuddles” as a friend called them, where touching is as natural as breathing.

I mentioned in the initial breakup post that I hadn’t lived truly alone for more than 2 weeks as an adult. That meant that for 17+ years I had nearly constant access to positive touch at home. Even when my ex-husband, Aaron, and I were sharing the house mid- and post-divorce. We were amicable enough that we could offer some sort of contact if one of us was having a rough day. A small thing like a hug or a pat on the shoulder because we still cared about each other. I recall a summer evening I was stretched out on the couch despondently, hurt by a dating scene I didn’t understand. He reached down and squeezed my foot. Simple yet comforting. For this past year, I’ve been living alone or with a roommate who mostly keeps to himself. It was my first year of life without “at home” access to positive touch.

In that time I also traveled for work. A lot. Like interfering with my training time, barely sleep in my own bed, don’t know how to “office” anymore level travel. I wasn’t far away, I was just far away enough to screw with everything in my life. Between hotel sleep and food options on the road, I was left feeling pretty worn out a lot of times. But when I had to give up my regular training too? Those stretches were miserable. At the time, I just thought that I needed an outlet for my frustration and some healthy exercise. That is true. But looking back, I see that during those days or weeks, I was once again touch-starved.

I’ve been learning the lesson for over a year and it’s made me realized the truly important role positive touch plays in my life. And in everyone’s.

Look at your life. Where do you get your touch from? Are you getting enough? (If you find you’re lacking, might I suggest some jiu jitsu?)

By the Way…

PS: If the title of this blog didn’t put the song into your head, I’m disappointed in you. I don’t care if it’s Peter Gabriel or Heather Nova’s cover, that song should totally be on repeat in your brain right now. I have a slight preference for Heather Nova’s only because it brings up images of the quintessential angsty 90’s teen girl movie, the Craft. Because nothing says 90’s like Fairuza Balk looking all Gothed up and crazy.

Fairuza Balk looking all Gothed up and crazy
Do you have the touch?

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