GP Life: The Ju Jitsu GP

Dr Elliott Singer, a GP in east London, explains why he practises Ju Jitsu and how martial arts can benefit GPs of all ages.

When did you start training in Ju Jitsu?

I have been training in the art of Ju Jitsu since 1986, so have now been practicing this martial art for almost 29 years. 

Like many young teenage boys, I had excess energy which wasn’t always directed in the right way. A good friend of mine told me that he was going to go to Wanstead Ju Jitsu club and asked if I wanted to go. We trained together for a couple of years, he then stopped but I carried on.

What does Ju Jitsu involve?

I was very fortunate in the club that I went to. My sensei (teacher) has always been very clear that Ju Jitsu is more of a mental discipline than a physical one. 

It is in fact very physical as it involves blocks, strikes, locks and throws however if a practitioner doesn’t work on the mental aspect of their training (focus, relaxation, intent) they will only be able to develop as a martial artist in a limited way. 

Ju Jitsu is one of the oldest Japanese martial arts, the throws of Ju Jitsu became Judo and the movement to use their strength to your advantage and locking techniques to restrain became Akido. 

The literal Japanese translation is the art of flexibility, however the aim of the Ju Jitsu practitioner is to remain calm regardless of what is going on around them.

Are there different levels of Ju Jitsu?

Ju Jitsu does have a coloured belt system, with various colours until the grade of black belt. A black belt is considered an instructor, following this there are then Dan grades which are levels of instructor. I am a black belt third Dan.

When did you start teaching Ju Jitsu?

In my Ju Jitsu club, all grades help those of more junior grade, so I have always helped others to learn Ju Jitsu even when I was relatively inexperienced. However, I first became a Dan grade in 1992, it was at this point that I started teaching on a regular basis.  

Myself and a fellow instructor teach children (from about 5 years) and adults in two separate classes on one evening. This crosses over with my professional life. As a GP I teach medical students, am a GP trainer and for 10 years was a VTS course organiser. 

Like any educationalist I get as much, if not more, out of helping someone develop as the trainee/student gets from being taught. This is no different in teaching martial arts, I forever have to review and reflect on my techniques and how I demonstrate and explain these. 

Has Ju Jitsu influenced you as a GP?

One of the key things to learn from Ju Jitsu is remaining calm in any situation. In the Ju Jitsu Dojo (training hall) this will revolve around people trying to attack you, sometimes just one opponent, and other times multiple opponents, sometime armed with a weapon sometimes unarmed. 

Fortunately it is very rare for doctors to be attacked in general practice, so I don’t need to use the physical skills that I have learnt from Ju Jitsu. However, general practice is a very stressful environment. As a partner I am also trying to run the practice, dealing with various staffing issues, complaints etc.  

Ju Jitsu has enabled me to remain calm while all this ‘chaos’ is going on around me. I believe this ability to remain calm that has improved me as both a clinician and a manager.

Do you think Ju Jitsu could benefit other GPs?

A lot of GPs do not physically look after themselves. The job is also mentally exhausting.  I believe we need to take care of ourselves both mentally and physically. 

I frequently see colleagues PDPs that state how they are going to develop themselves as a doctor but rarely mention how they are going to maintain good health so as to be able to practice medicine. 

Partaking in martial art training is both mentally relaxing and physically beneficial and I would strongly recommend the benefits of starting training at any age to my colleagues. 

There are many types of martial arts, some are more suitable to fit and agile people whereas others can help develop core stability, proprioception and muscle strength so would be suitable for people not used to physical activity.

If anyone is interested in starting Ju Jitsu training in their area, please contact me at to be put in touch with an appropriate local club.

Does your work as a GP influence your Ju Jitsu training?

Martial arts are about balance. Studying medicine has enable me to remain balanced, as my students joke: ‘I may hurt you but at least I can fix you afterwards!’ 

Medicine has given me an appreciation of the body and how it functions. Having a knowledge of the elbow joint and how it works enables me to explain to students how to maximise the effectiveness of an elbow locking technique while minimising the force that needs to be utilised.

Why did you decide to become a GP?

I am currently a part-time GP partner in Waltham Forest, east London and I am a medical director with Londonwide LMCs.

When I qualified as a doctor I thought I wanted to pursue A&E as a career. I was encouraged by a consultant to apply for a medical rotation and while studying for my MRCP during this rotation I made probably the first active decision of my career.

I had a young family, was working long hours and studying as well. I realised that something needed to change.  After speaking to a couple of GPs, I decided that I would change career paths and become a GP.  It is a decision that I have never regretted.

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