WHY You Get Injured in BJJ

I asked a student recently, “What would be a benefit of quitting BJJ?”  They answered, “I wouldn’t have to worry about getting hurt.”  My heart sank when I heard that answer.  Then I thought, why would you assume you’re going to get hurt?  Well, the answer is clear because we constantly read about Jiu-Jitsu injuries on BJJ forums and Facebook posts or  hear about them in the locker rooms.  BJJ people like to brag about injuries like two old sailors sharing war wounds.  And yes! Injuries are a problem in BJJ.  Remember, why you started in the first place. Probably to learn something new, lose weight, have fun, meet people…that sort of stuff.  Not to have multiple injuries, surgeries and arthritis.  Remember, you’re not getting paid to do this…you’re actually paying to do this.  Don’t pay for it by destroying your body.  Instead of asking, ‘When will I get hurt?’  The deeper question is WHY?

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This first thing to be aware of is that Jiu-Jitsu and grappling is a high contact sport.  The act of grappling requires that you make contact with another resisting person (who in some cases may be much bigger and equally as clumsy).  In addition, we are grabbing, twisting and contorting each others joints into unnatural positions that are meant to cause injury.  With that being said, Jiu-Jitsu has a high potential for injury.  But that doesn’t have to be your path.  You CAN navigate these treacherous waters by just being more conscious of how you play the game.

Let me start by sharing a personal story that changed my Jiu-Jitsu career.  A few years ago when I was still a brown belt I popped my rib pretty bad.  We were getting ready for a tournament and I was grappling from the feet with a tough purple belt.  I heard a coach yell thirty seconds left.  My partner shot for a blast double and dropped me onto my butt.  Immediately I was mad at myself for getting dropped so fast, so I threw up a quick triangle.  He was trying to stack me as time was ticking so I squeezed harder than I have ever squeezed before and popped my rib out.  I was so knee deep into trying to finish the triangle that I didn’t even feel the pain… well not yet.  Of course I didn’t end up competing that coming weekend and spent the next three months in terrible pain and off the mats.

The lesson for me wasn’t about properly defending a blast double…no the real answer went much deeper.  It wasn’t a technical error that I made, but rather one of the ego.  In that moment of getting taken down by someone who was a lower belt than me, really flared up my ego.  When we grapple from a high or low emotional state we are never serving our higher good. I have a saying, no highs or lows when I roll.  What I mean is that when I am grappling I don’t get upset when things don’t go “right” and I don’t mentally celebrate when things do go “right”.  If you are rolling and you get swept and you are mentally still focused on being swept, then you are not mentally in the present moment.  This immediately puts you one or two steps behind your partner.   When you emotionally grapple you begin to force things.  Forcing a technique is literally like swimming against the current, it takes a ton of energy and you won’t get far.  When you operate from the present moment you are a state of flow.

If you are injured right now or have been in the past, perhaps it’s time to truly explore the why?  Not just following the herd who says, well it’s contact sport what did you expect, but truly getting to the ‘why’?  Yes, sometimes accidents do happen. But generally speaking an “accident” is usually the result of carelessness.   You can go on and keep getting hurt and there will be plenty of doctors and surgeons who will be there to glue and tape you back together.  (But remember, you’re not indestructible)  Plus you’re still not getting to the root of why you’re getting injured in the first place.

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Tips to avoid injury:

  1.  Takedowns – Be very careful practicing live takedowns.  I am a big believer in students having the ability to properly execute takedowns.  But you have to be very careful “fighting” for takedowns versus “training” for takedowns.  Do you see the difference?  Competitively “fighting” for takedowns usually doesn’t end well for one person.  When you train takedowns there’s less focus on competition (which lessens the chance for ego-flares) and more focus on the proper execution of a technique.  The very act of competitively tackling each others legs is relatively risky… so train with caution!
  2. Be careful with Joint locks – Joint locks in general are where most injuries tend to happen in BJJ.  It’s the arm-bar that gets pulled too hard to fast…or a quick turn in the wrong direction with a leg-lock.  Either way when you play with fire you’re bound to get burned right?  Well, maybe.  Think of any joint lock as happening in three phases:  Pressure – Pain – and Injury!  Take the arm-bar:  first you feel the pressure of the leverage being applied to the joint.  This is where you tap.  After pressure you feel pain as the lock is being applied beyond the normal range of motion.  Then just slightly beyond pain is injury.  Leg-locks offer an even greater degree of danger.  With leg submissions there’s very little space between pressure – pain and injury.  With leg locks specifically most people never tap at pressure because the legs feel so powerful and you feel like you can escape.  Plus there’s very little pain that accompanies the pressure therefore when you defend you feel relatively safe.  But all it takes in one wrong turn or quick squeeze and you may face a serious knee or ankle injury…and now you can’t walk.  I personally love leg submissions but here’s the rules I play by.  Rule #1:  I let go if they don’t t tap right away…even to the point where they don’t even know that I am letting go…and I even lose position. Rule #2:  If I get caught in a leg submission I tap right away.  Rule #3:  I never get into leg submission battles where it’s a war to see who can squeeze faster and harder!  These rules are a great guideline that will protect you and your partner.
  3. Release the Ego!  The ego can get you into a lot of trouble in Jiu-Jitsu.  I believe that most injuries have way more to do with the ego than anything else.  When we start to relate our self-worth to whether you can tap someone out we have lost sight of why we started in the first place.  When you started BJJ it wasn’t so you could finally beat that purple belt “Frank” who always punishes you on the mat.  It was never personal, so don’t make it that way now.  When you roll with someone don’t think of them as “Frank” the purple belt, but rather a set of limbs and a neck.  In other words, don’t make it personal…grapple their Jiu-Jitsu, not them.  This also means that it’s okay to give up position and tap when you need too.  The ‘tap’ is a great tool, it’s not the enemy.  The tap is our ‘out’ when we need it.  It’s there to teach us lessons and show us a better way, not to punish us.

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Now go and train Jiu-Jitsu!  Happy and safe training Ninjas.  Be sure to check out our sponsors:  Origin Maine for the Best Gi’s, Gear and apparel – all made in the USA!  Also check out our newest sponsor, People Putty™!   An external injury liniment specifically designed to assist the body in the repair and rebuilding of injured tissue (bone, flesh, or tendons), noticeably accelerating the speed of recovery, especially in sports related injuries.

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