According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well being. It affects how we think, feel, act and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health is an important aspect in our day to day lives and equally important is finding ways to promote and maintain our well being. For U.S. Army 1LT Morisa McAulay, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, practicing martial arts like jiu jitsu is how she fortifies her mental health.
McAulay’s journey into martial arts began before her military career, when she was still in high school.
“Growing up I struggled with expressing my emotions, I was very introverted, I’m still kinda introverted, so I got into the idea of putting myself into uncomfortable situations, that’s when I joined the wrestling team,” said McAulay.
After joining the military and moving to Fort Stewart, McAulay accomplished her goal of learning jiu jitsu after she found a gym only a couple of minutes away from her apartment. It was an important accomplishment for her, not only because it was something she had strived to do for a long time, but also because martial arts was her way of improving herself and her mental wellbeing.
“I do favor martial arts for people struggling with mental health, because it teaches you to slow down your brain because with every move there’s a set up for another move, in jiu jitsu you have to be thinking several steps ahead,” she said.
It was very difficult for McAulay to learn jiu jitsu at first. It was different from wrestling and only after consistently training did she begin to get comfortable with it. She continued to practice for several months and saw an opportunity to apply what she’d learned at a combatives event at Ft. Stewart during Marne Week. Marne Week is an annual event, hosted at Ft. Stewart, which celebrates the fighting spirit of soldiers and hosts numerous events like a combatives tournament, which is a type of fighting style taught to soldiers.
McAulay participated in the event despite knowing little about combatives because she wanted to continue to expose herself to new things.
“I was introduced to striking, I didn’t know that hitting was a thing to be honest. Just knowing how to take a punch is a game changer, and that day I took a lot of punches,” she said when recalling how that event went.
In the end it was worth it though since she learned and grew from her experience and applied what she learned towards her next event at the Newbreed World Championship tournament in Florida. To her surprise, she ended up doing very well and even won a couple of medals.
Now McAulay works towards improving not only herself but the rest of her unit by setting up opportunities for them to learn jiu jitsu while she is on deployment to Poland.
She encourages others to learn some type of physical sport especially if they struggle with mental health.
“There’s something about training a martial art sport whether it’s jiu jitsu, combatives, that gives you a mental and physical toughness that allows you to push yourself out of your comfort zone, meet new people and create an environment for your mental health that is healthy,” said McAulay.