Chiwetel Ejiofor Uses Martial Arts to Train His Mind

12 Years a Slave star lives for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Before 2013, mainstream media wasn’t that familiar with the name Chiwetel Ejiofor. But after the heartfelt, award-winning film “12 Years A Slave”, the British-born actor is known worldwide. In subsequent interviews after the film, he said that storyline at the beginning of the film, “is seen as a man who is trying to gain his freedom. But as you watch the film, it’s really a battle over his mind and how to keep his sanity amid slavery.”

Just four year earlier, Ejiofor began to toughen up his mental muscle when he began training using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He admits that he never imagined he’d be learning the ins and outs of Jiu-Jitsu, but the prospect of being immersed in the sport for the movie, RedBelt, was one of the main reasons he was excited about being cast.

Ejiofor’s character, Mike Terry, is a Jiu-Jitsu expert who trains police officers and others to be able to handle themselves in difficult physical situations.

“It was great to be able to work with some of the best practitioners that there are of Jiu-Jitsu, and to learn about it as a philosophy, to learn about it physically and mentally,” said Ejiofor.  It’s that mental workout that often goes unnoticed. Below are some of the mental benefits to this ancient art:


Winning the fight isn’t just about strength. Like the old Chinese proverb says, “A tree that is unbending easily falls.” Focusing too much on strength misses the point that you need to apply that strength in all directions, and that’s why you need flexibility. 

Beyond the obvious benefit of physical flexibility, mental flexibility is a skill that applies broadly. If straining with all your strength can’t win the match, maybe you need to change the direction of your force. And if the guy that’s trying to twist your arm off your torso is stronger than you, maybe you can let him twist a bit while you come at him from a different angle.

Read more about how martial arts helps actor Chiwetel Ejiofor at BlackDoctor.Org.

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(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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