Hey friends in the BJJ community! Today we are going to go over one of the most relatable topics in Jiu Jitsu culture, that is the topic of injuries, or more importantly how they can be prevented. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of life whether we choose to recognize it or not. There is a risk associated with any endeavor we choose, whether it is the golf course, or the gym to the car we get into and drive every day. Even walking there is a risk involved, however there are definitely some decisions we can make that will significantly lower our risk and allow us to enjoy the things we are passionate about such as BJJ or Jiu Jitsu. For example, we believe that a healthy culture of learning and developing skills over time while learning to keep your ego in check is one of the solutions to “overdoing” it, especially in the beginning stages. Ultimately, to learn and receive the many amazing benefits of this amazing art, you will need to train consistently for quite some time. In order to do this successfully, you will need a strategy that can help you avoid and prevent nagging injuries that can arise and put a halt on your progress. Not only is it discouraging to be kept from training but for many of the students we have who work hard every day to support their families, longevity on the mats must absolutely be their one hundred percent focus. This benefits not only the students and their families but also the instructors and academy owners who are making a living by sharing this incredible art and empowering the community.
Let us start by touching on what we believe to be proper training culture and etiquette. Most academies will have a code of conduct displayed to help guide students on how to have a healthy relationship with training and most importantly their partners. As instructors these rules are in place to prevent injuries, hard feelings, mat infections or anything you can think of that might poorly affect the students’ journey. Examples include having good hygiene, wearing a clean uniform, avoiding bringing bad odors into the academy, refraining from swearing or being distracting, etc. While this may sound like a huge “Do not” list, these rules are critical in order to promote an ideal learning atmosphere and help students make progress by maintaining good relationships with each other, a necessary component for growth of the school and the student base as a whole. Friendships are an important part of Jiu Jitsu because friends care a lot more about each other and are less likely to allow their egos to get in the way which will hold everyone back. Friends will also help push you and motivate each other when we are having bad days. They are also part of creating a healthy competitiveness that will bring out the best in each of us by challenging us to reach further and farther for ourselves and the ones we love.
Another important aspect of creating a good culture is developing a mindset built towards improving through training versus winning. This distinction is important because as much as we want to win and know that our skills work in the class, when you are trying new things, you will find yourself outside of your comfort zone and are more likely to make errors. It is here where we stand to experience the most growth by exposing ourselves to new ideas, positions, techniques and challenges. While this isn’t the most fun, it will benefit you the most in the long run by allowing you to consistently work on your weak areas. Many practitioners avoid working their weak areas to avoid losing in the short term, this leads to unfamiliarity in positions which raises the chance of moving incorrectly, should you inadvertently end up there, which can result in injury. Another part of this “improving versus winning” mindset is learning to “tap out” early and often to avoid getting injured. A tap out is what you do when you are placed in a joint lock or a choke hold and you submit to your opponent after which they will let go. As much as no one likes to give up and tap to their training partners it is important to live to fight another day and choose to learn from your mistakes rather than risk an injury. Tapping out is also important for our ego because it reminds us that there is always someone better and even when there’s not we can still make mistakes and get submitted, especially if we are focused on challenging ourselves. Getting tapped out can also be a good way to incentivize improvement if you have the right mentality in regard to training and getting better. You can think of it as a transparent reminder of an area you need improvement in, and when you’re just getting started, there will be lots of those areas but don’t worry, every black belt was there once.
Another important area is to avoid moving too aggressively which can result in a trauma injury, like a ligament tear or a joint dislocation. While this seems blatantly obvious and sometimes unavoidable, there are definitely precautions that can be taken to significantly reduce your risk of something popping, snapping or tearing. Again, we’re talking about daily training for your common practitioner not a professional athlete competing at the highest level. An example of how you can avoid a serious injury is understanding the concept of “flow” and trying not to muscle techniques which rely heavily on strength and forcing movements. This is very important, especially early on when your knowledge base is limited. Jiu Jitsu is called the gentle art because it is based on leverage and timing to defeat a bigger and stronger opponent, so we must always treat it as such. We can often allow our ego to get the best of us in sparring and get so focused on winning or beating our opponent that we rely on our physical abilities which can sometimes work against us. It is important to remember that the most important aspect of any practitioner’s journey is to be the best student and focus on learning and perfecting our mindset and techniques, there will never be a shortcut to this process. Another way to reduce injuries is by focusing on learning the fundamentals which often revolve around having good positioning and defense, this will prevent you being in awkward or risky positions where there is a chance that something goes wrong. That is why we offer a beginner’s program to help students start off on the right foot with the correct understanding of the journey and the most important techniques to master first.
As you continue your path of self-improvement, you may begin to develop chronic injuries especially for older practitioners, such as a bad back, shoulder, hip or knee. This is when it is important to listen to your body and avoid sparring on days where there is a high level of inflammation and possibly supplement your training with physical therapy, proper hydration, good nutrition and strength or mobility training. It’s easy to be so focused on making progress that you lose sight of the long journey and that some days it is better to attend class and watch rather than miss completely. Some of my biggest breakthroughs in learning have come during time of injury where I watched class or tournaments. While it is easily more fun to be on the mats, keeping your mind active and engaged around the art is certainly more conducive to progress than eating junk and watching Netflix. Nothing can quite compare to time invested in the art, so make sure that your decisions always promote a longer journey, just like the Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise.