By Sara Halcumb

The idea of ‘third place’ may be unsettling to jiu jitsu practitioners, especially when they are thinking of competing or training for an upcoming competition. Let’s be honest, we all want to reach the top of the podium, not settle for third. The good news is that the notion of a third place has nothing to do with competing and everything to do with community. The concept of a third place is somewhere that is not your home (first place) or your work (second place), where you go to socialize and interact with other people over a shared interest or hobby.

The idea is not new, in fact it was first defined in 1982 by American Sociologists Ramon Oldenburg and Dennis Brissett as crucial places for the public to go where they can interact, gather, meet and talk. They found that a perfect third place was somewhere anyone can enter, all are welcome, and people come and go as they please. When you step on the mats at your favorite academy, it doesn’t matter what your story is, everyone is there because of their shared love of jiu jitsu. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the coveted third place and why a jiu jitsu gym is the perfect example of one.

A Deeper Look at a Third Place

When you think of a third place, most people conjure up images of the beloved coffee shop in Friends or a pub like Cheers, where “everybody knows your name.” These two places have a few things in common, the first being the people who frequent these spots are regulars. Secondly, people are socializing together enjoying a shared activity (drinking coffee or doing a sport), often with conversation and friendly banter. The atmosphere is lighter, people are happier, and building relationship is at the forefront. While coffee shops and local pubs are notable examples of third places, there are many others within your neighborhood and communities. A few examples include libraries, wellness spas, recreation centers, parks, churches, and gyms (we’ll get to that soon).

Now that the pandemic is over, we can really see how important a third place is for our mental wellbeing. The pandemic absolutely wiped out third places, and we reverted to communicating via digital spaces within our homes. Sometimes our work or school was even brought into the home by means of remote status. We all saw how well that did for our mental health… not good.

Dr. Narae Lee, a postdoctoral scholar at the Population Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University conducted research on the impact of third places. She notes that our environment and the places we frequent have a direct effect on our mental health. The place of leisure provides psychological benefits when people have somewhere to go to recharge. We see in her research that third places are imperative to our quality of life.

You’ll be happy to know that this research points us in the direction of your favorite place to frequent- the jiu jitsu mats!

Jiu Jitsu Gyms as the Perfect Third Place

Lee notes in her research that the ideal third place can include direct or indirect social interaction. Just being surrounded by people who have a shared interest with you conjures up improvement to your wellbeing. When you walk into a jiu jitsu gym you will see people of all walks of life together on the mats drilling, rolling, studying tape, talking about life on the sidelines, and laughing while trying to choke each other out…it is a beautiful thing. Friendships are formed on the mats, connections are made, and families are often seen training together. At the end of the class people often stay after and chat with friends, help clean up the facility, check in on one another, and slowly make their way back to reality. Additionally, as more people realize the health benefits of decreasing alcohol consumption, gyms and wellness centers are replacing bars and pubs as an alternative third place.

It’s one thing to just come to class, train, and leave- but what will keep people coming back to class over and over again for years to come is in part due to the camaraderie and friendships formed on the mats.

So next time you find yourself walking into your jiu jitsu gym, remember that you are at the perfect third place for your mental and physical health.