Erin Herle - Submit the Stigma & Mental Health in Martial Arts

I talk to Erin Herle, a BJJ black belt and the founder of #submitthestigma, a mental health advocacy group for combat sports and Jiu-Jitsu.

We discuss the work that #submitthestigma does and the interplay, boundaries, and roles that Jiu-Jitsu training can play in mental health, the mental side of the competition, and fighting. We also discussed ways to become confident, have a strong sense of self-belief, and how to build beneficial connections with training partners through communication.

Erin also shares her own Jiu-Jitsu competition experience and how that has affected her and her transition into MMA.

We also dive into heavier topics like depression and suicide and why Jiu-Jitsu shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for therapy.

“A boundary is not just about the self. A boundary affects other people too. And where you put that boundary could either create growth or stifle growth.”

– Erin Herle

Listen to Erin Herle



[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 045
[03:44] – Erin’s Background in MMA and Jiu-Jitsu
[06:16] – Why She Used # In the Name of Submit The Stigma
[10:20] – What Caused Her to Start #Submitthestigma?
[14:25] – How Is Mental Health Synonymous With Sports?
[18:04] – Professional Athlete in Jiu-Jitsu Is Just a Mindset
[21:54] – How Confidence Can Overpower Techniques
[24:50] – How a Psychiatrist or Psychologist Is Going to Help You?
[27:08] – How Does Jiu-Jitsu Help You Mentally?
[28:21] – How Does Erin Take Care of Her Mental Health?
[31:49] – The Similarity Between Depressed People and Cats
[33:56] – Why Should People Normalize Talking About Their Feelings
[37:54] – How Does Erin’s Organization Help People With Mental Health Issues?
[42:17] – How Does She React to Unsolicited Advice by People?
[44:02] – How Does She Handle Awkwardness With Her Training Partners
[46:27] – A Great Advice She Got From Audrey Winters
[51:03] – The Challenges That Female Jiu-Jitsu Athletes Face
[52:52] – Best Ways People Can Train With the Partner of the Opposite Gender
[56:20] – “Female-Only Classes Are Great, but Don’t Stay There.”
[1:01:24] – How to Build Beneficial Connections With Training Partners Through Communication


Erin Herle’s Background

Erin is a BJJ black belt. She got her belt in 2017 from Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. She started training jiu-jitsu in the summer of 2009, and she started competing right away. In 2014 she started training with Marcello Garcia. Since 2016 she began teaching in international seminars. She did workshops in Paris, Wales, Madrid, and Barcelona, etc. In 2015 after when her dad died by suicide, she started the NPO #submitthestigma.

The # in Submit The Stigma

Erin says, “the hashtag is there because I want it to be shared. I want it to be a connection and to build a community for people who have mental illness not only within the Jiu-Jitsu but also the people that need mental wellness.”

Mental Training In Jiu-Jitsu

There’s a lot of mental learning in Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a lot about will. It’s not the same as a dancer team. We’re learning techniques in Jiu-Jitsu. But when you’re actually applying them, someone else is trying to screw up your dancer team.

It’s not as clean-cut. So when you’re drilling a technique, you have to think about all the possible options, all the possible moves that your opponent is going to do. And when you learn something in Jiu-Jitsu, it’s part of a whole system. You’ve to learn a lot of stuff in Jiu-Jitsu, and it’s all mental, especially when you’re working with other people.

Being a White Belt Helped Her in Other Areas of Life

Erin says, “learning how to be a white belt helped me in every other area of my life. So, being a white belt again means accepting that you don’t know anything.”

Mental Health Is Synonymous With Sports

She relates mental health in terms of performance, in terms of liking yourself, and just being happy with yourself. Many of the training camps that she came up with were like “you’ve to suffer.” If you’re not suffering, then you’re not training hard enough. If you like what you eat, you’re not dieting hard enough. So mental health is just synonymous with sports.

The Professional Athlete in Jiu-Jitsu

She says, “Many people say that to be professional, you get paid. I guess it’s just a mindset. But it’s hard to say about Jiu-Jitsu because the only governing authorities like the IBJJF are for-profit companies. They regulate us only because we choose to.”

Jiu-Jitsu Allows You to Put Yourself in Stressful Situations

It’s not fun work to be in a bad position and try over and over again. And maybe your partner is choking you the exact same way, seven different times. But how lucky are you to have that person choke you in the exact same way seven different times? The information that you gather from that is going to be good. So Jiu-Jitsu allows you to put yourself in stressful situations. And then, in a moment of calm and an environment atmosphere of learning, you are able to learn so much about how you react and why you’re reacting.”

Technique and Confidence

At some point, belief and confidence can be more important than techniques themselves. If someone has good technique, they can lose to someone who has more of a belief in themselves. And that belief in that confidence can somewhat overpower techniques sometimes.

Take Time Instead of Just Reacting

Take the time instead of just reacting to everything in life. That’s unexpected, but this way, you have more time to think about why you’re doing what you do. And instead of just reacting, you respond. And then when you respond, you’re going back into the technique that you were taught, or the knowledge that you have, or the previous experiences you’ve had in this position. In this way, you’re able to create a good response.

Jiu-Jitsu Is Not a Replacement for Therapy

These days a lot of people say, “Well, I go to jiu-jitsu. That’s my therapy. And there are people on Instagram who are like- I know everything about psychology. Just go to the spa. Buy yourself some stuff. That’s all crap.”

The best way that Erin has found is that anecdotes and stories help so far.

She explains this by giving an example “Say you’re standing in a line. But you and the dude in front of you are just like totally irked peeved like; I don’t want to be there. And someone just says, man, last time I stood in the line this long, I shit my pants, and then you’re like, Oh, my God, me too. And then you have this instant bond. It’s like being able to share that you’re not alone. Or maybe you can tell a tremendous drunk story. And sometimes, maybe there’s no help to be given. It’s just hear me out. Let me tell you; you’re not alone.

The Similarity Between Cats and Depressed Humans

When a cat sense death, it just accepts it and hides itself. Depressed people share the same characteristic. So, people who feel depressed or have issues feel like a burden. They don’t want to burden someone else with their problems. And so they usually turn inward and feel alone and isolate themselves.

Don’t Feel Bad About Losing

When you lose a game, you could either say, wow, I lost. I didn’t get first place. I’m second. I’m the first loser. Or you could say how many people had to lose in the bracket. So there are 16 people in the bracket. Yeah, 15 people lost. Go talk to those people and feel less bad about losing. Or you can go to another person to say, Yeah, I have a world title. And I’ve also lost a world title in the final. So, it makes you realize that you’re not going through something that’s never happened before. Like, it’s not uncharted territory. It didn’t happen to you because of you.

Erin Herle Resources

Erin Herle Quotes

“It’s okay to fail. You have to fail. Failing is part of learning. Failing is part of growth.”

– Erin Herle

“People will die by their own hand because they feel alone.”

– Erin Herle

“No role is useless.”

– Erin Herle

“If you hurt someone in jiu-jitsu, you’re doing it wrong.”

– Erin Herle

Erin Herle Links

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Erin Herle Interview On Submit The Stigma