Student Services Overview

DATE: Tuesday, June 10, 2014
TIME: 9:30 a.m
PLACE: Studio, Lambert Road campus
CANDIDATE: Holly McClung Reusing
DISSERTATION TITLE: "The Language of Martial Arts: The Transformative Potential of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Through the Lens of Depth Psychology"
CHAIR: Dr. Aaron Kipnis
READER: Dr. Maurice Stevens
EXTERNAL READER: Dr. Jarrod Williamson

Reusing, H. (2014). The Language of Martial Arts: The Transformative Potential of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Through the Lens of Depth Psychology (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2014)


Although Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell were both avid athletes, research and theory around engaging in sports as a valuable psychological process is quite rare. Athletic experience has hardly been looked at through the lens of the archetypal hero’s journey, or the path of the warrior, in spite of the fact that mythology and literature are filled with stories of such characters and they are often the primary subject of contents of dreams, reverie, and active imagination. Given that martial arts is steeped in rich cultural traditions, and intertwined with political history as well as mythology, this lack of study creates a gap in Jungian literature, particularly with regard to the archetypes of initiation and individuation.

This phenomenological hermeneutic study explores the lives of five Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt professors. The Literature Review was framed around historical perspectives of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Jungian psychology and somatics, sports philosophy, phenomenology, and hermeneutics. It provides an in-depth perspective of lived experience of a very popular martial art used for self-defense. Brazilian jiu-jitsu was chosen for a variety of reasons, including the ability to teach highly dangerous techniques to a wide range of participants, and because the rapid growth of jiu-jitsu may indicate places where collective energy is moving.

The implications of this study and the qualitative data gleaned from the interviews show that the practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu can offer a great deal to individuals and communities, and can impact either, depending on intention. The practice, as lived by five interviewees and many other practitioners who were consulted, offers a safe environment for personal transformation, coupled with a spirited playful atmosphere, and an emphasis on social values, and teamwork. With these structures in place, Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools frequently become a place to improve quality of life and to inadvertently address a wide variety of maladaptive and clinical issues.

Keywords: martial arts, Jungian psychology, jiu-jitsu, phenomenology, sports, archetypal


Please note: All oral defense attendees must shuttle to the Lambert Road campus from the Best Western Hotel in Carpinteria. Parking on campus is not available.