UFC legend Georges St-Pierre explains how mixed martial arts can improve mental health

"It’s a therapy, it helps me be a better person," said UFC legend Georges St-Pierre on the benefits of MMA on mental health. The Montrealer discussed his early struggles and how MMA was there for him in challenging times. Tehosterihens Deer reports.

Georges St-Pierre, arguably one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, opened up candidly on his early struggles and how MMA was there for him in challenging times.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Hall of Famer said he started martial arts as a defence tool because he was a victim of bullying as a young child.

“It’s a therapy, it helps me be a better person because I can put all my ‘aggressivity’ and negative energy in it. And when I’m done, I just feel better. It’s a therapy in a way for me,” St-Pierre said.

St-Pierre says many people struggle with their mental health, and finding something that makes them feel passionate can be beneficial for health overall. St-Pierre says he’s no stranger to that, as he struggled with his mental health after his victory over Johny Hendricks in 2013.

Georges St-Pierre opened up on his early struggles and how Mixed Martial Arts was there for him in times of need. In Montreal June 7, 2024 (Hayder Mahdy/CityNews)

Building confidence

“I was scared, I felt I was in the middle of a depression,” St-Pierre said. ” I was too afraid to admit it because I was afraid of people saying ‘oh he’s champion, he’s rich, what’s he complaining about?’ I was ashamed to talk about it, but now I regret it.”

St-Pierre says during that time, he was able to explore other passions, something he always encourages people to do. “If you’re struggling, it’s because sometimes you feel empty. Maybe you haven’t found your passion yet, but there’s no shame,” he said.

St-Pierre believes the one thing any martial art teaches is building confidence, calling it the most important thing to have.

“It’s a little like an analogy, someone who has a lot of money in his bank account but has no way of accessing it,” he said. “You might have a lot of potential, but if you don’t have the confidence to come with it, it’s nothing.”

Black belt instructor Glen Mackenzie of Renzo Gracie in Île Bizard has seen first hand an improvement in some of his students thanks to martial arts, with some drastically changing their lifestyles for the better.

Describing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as “Life stress times one thousand” Black Belt instructor Glen Mackenzie of Renzo Gracie Île Bizard credits the sport for his drive in helping others when dealing with stressful situations. In Montreal June 18, 2024 (Martin Daigle/CityNews)

“The number one thing is having that disconnect that you need in life,” Mackenzie said. “We’re kind of bombarded with social media, with the false positives of life. Jiu Jitsu kind of gives you that break. When you go and do your martial arts, you’re not thinking about anything else.”

Mackenzie says he has seen kids come out of their shell, with many dealing with anxiety or a lack of confidence, only for their lives to change for the better. Mackenzie says the Renzo Gracie youth program was created to provide children aged three to 15 with an environment that allows them to experience and understand the values of focus, discipline, and respect.

“When they’re getting bullied, even if they try to stand up for themselves, they tend to get into trouble, right? So what’s great about Jiu-Jitsu… it kind of passes the accountability. I had to stand up for myself, I didn’t hurt the kid, I just stood up for myself.”

Discussing the many benefits of mixed martial arts and athletics, clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Russell of the McGill University Health Centre department of psychology says she saw a vast difference in one of her patients’ behaviour and overall drive once they picked up martial arts.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Russell of the McGill University Health Centre Department of Psychology, has seen first hand the changes in patients overall drive and motivation once they picked up a martial art. In Montreal June 13, 2024 (Martin Daigle/CityNews)

Challenges are opportunities for growth, not obstacles

“Martial arts teaches discipline and self control and there’s a real focus that I think is required in the learning and also in the practice and that’s something that, number one, could help distract a person from maybe the stressors that they have outside of the gym,” Russell said.

“But number two, it could also translate into healthier strategies, better strategies for helping them manage emotions like anxiety or depression outside.”

Russell says one of the reasons why many see martial arts as a benefit for their mental health is because it sets up a growth mindset. In a clinical matter, Russell says there is a correlation to focused and intense physical activity with the release of endorphins, the natural mood lifters.

Black Belt instructor Glen Mackenzie said he emphasizes the importance of standing up for yourself in the instance of bullying and knowing how to handle stressful situations. In Montreal June 18, 2024 (Tehosterihens Deer/CityNews)

Justin Mancini, a student at Renzo Gracie in Ile Bizard and owner of LGBTQ and All, an online wellness hub and resource for mental health, encourages people of all ages to do martial arts. Like Mackenzie, Mancini had a student who was being picked on and he noticed a significant change once he was immersed in various martial arts.

Justin Mancini, owner of LGBTQ and All, an online wellness hub and resource for mental health encourages people of all ages to do martial arts. He believes they go hand in hand and have become a great resource in his life. In Montreal June 18, 2024 (Martin Daigle/CityNews)

“I trained him everyday in kickboxing, martial arts, karate for six to seven months and I find he became more positive, more energetic,” he said. “Martial arts really helped him and changed his life.”

St-Pierre said people of all ages should learn a martial art for their overall health though stresses that any physical activity or creative expression can become a gateway to dealing with emotions. He stresses that in order to succeed one must embrace failure when dealing with loss.

“I’ve lost many times, I got humiliated multiple times, I took a lot of hits and when I say hits, I’m not talking about physical… like emotional hit,” St-Pierre said.

“Every time I was able to analyze, standup and come back stronger. Every single time. So that’s the spirit you need to have if you want to achieve something in life.”

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