One of the largest fears about beginning Jiu-Jitsu is the chance of injury. Like all sports and combat sports especially, you will take damage. I wish I could promise the opposite, but it is going to happen. Do not take this as the grim reaper of your training. You can take extra measures to lower the risk of suffering a serious injury.
Unlike other combat sports, BJJ has an extremely rare aspect of being able to practice it at 100% and full speed. There are few sporting endeavors around that can promise the same. Even at this intense level of practice it is fairly safe. There are rules; don’t hold on to a submission past the tap, no slamming, no twisting of the knee, and other specifics put in place to keep both competitors safe.
Here are a few ideas to help in preventing injury in training and improve your Jiu-Jitsu Health.
1: Joining a Well Disciplined Academy with Great Instructors
Now, I have had the fortuitous nature to have trained under great instructors, coaches, and professors. When you first walk into an academy or gym for your first lesson or introduction, get a sense of the place. If you have trained before you will know the feeling. You can walk into some locations and known right off the start that this won’t be a harmonious location to develop. Whether it is egos, pompous attitudes, low level training or lack of training partners, which could forcible push one out the door. Counterparts to that experience; when you find the right place you also know it instantly. Recently I was met with this feeling again after I had an unsuccessful venture to another gym that did not have the correct vibe for practicing Jiu-Jitsu. I came in to Gracie Barra Santa Barbara and was greeted by the receptionist who was quite lovely and friendly to me. Instantly, doing her job perfectly, by making a potential customer feel at ease and relaxed. I was then greeted by the academies owner and black belt Rodrigo Clark, who introduced himself not by title, owner, black belt, or even by a formal full name. Just friendly introducing himself as Rodrigo and welcomed me into Gracie Barra. He asked general questions about my combat sporting past and I explained my travels from through multiple gyms and martial arts. But it wasn’t just mindless conversation; he seemed to actually care about each and every one of his students. This became more prominent the more I trained there, always greeting me by name and asking about my day, work, and family life. It is seldom feeling, when you know someone genuinely cared. Back to when got ready and got on the mats with the other students for the first time. This place exemplified what a “Fighting Family” is really all about. I was met with, “welcomes” and “glad to meet you,” from all of the students regardless of belt and rank. Everyone at this academy aimed to improve their partner skills as much as they did their own.
2: Picking your Partner Wisely and Controlling Yourself
Even in the best academies, there can still be a few discrepancies. Most of the time is comes from overzealous beginners who don’t understand their own strength and tend to spaz at any hint of danger. Flopping and bucking wildly like they were just electrocuted. These tend to be pretty manageable and can be tamed fairly quickly by just informing them that they could hurt themselves as well as others. The real danger is those few athletes in the gym that missed this talk and graduated up the rank. They could carry any belt and still not truly understand their own ability or power. So for general advice, if you’re just starting out or just an everyday practitioner, be wary of the those who may be notorious for going hard or treat every sparring session as if they are at the Mundials. But, remember the same applies to you. Just because you can demolish your partner doesn’t mean you have to. What will be gained from that? Instead, why not change the focus of the sparring session if you’re going with someone who isn’t as experienced as yourself. Try going 100% technique or purposely putting yourself in horrible positions and having to escape them. This way you can develop skills no matter who you go with. There are no cameras in practice, there are no medals or trophies, no sponsors watching over the Monday roll session at the local Jiu-Jitsu Academy. It is just you and your partner trying to improve one another.
3: Warm Ups, Cool Downs and Stretching
I can’t stress this one enough! And I know is has been repeated to the point of exhaustion, but warming up and stretching to begin a workout, and cooling down then stretching at the end, is the best way to ensure longevity in Jiu-Jitsu. Now, don’t complete a full stretch until after warm ups. This may be slightly off putting but let me describe it the way it was to me. As an athlete we have more active muscles, tissues, tendons, and ligaments; now think of all of them as a rubber band. If a rubber band is cold when you stretch it, it will snap. But, if the rubber band is warm, then it can stretch further. So don’t begin the full stretching motions until after warming up with some light jogging, jumping jacks, jump roping, or other calisthenics. Also when you begin to roll and spar with your partner, start at 20% and slowly crank up the intensity as time goes on. At the end of the training session send a few minutes cooling down with walking around the mats, light crunches, light calisthenics or flow rolling. Then complete with your final stretching process. This is when you should be pushing your flexibility, as this will help in your recovery. Shortly we will have an article on the difference between dynamic, ballistic and static stretching. If you stick to a constant process of warm ups, cool downs and stretching you will increase flexibility, range of motion, cardio, and recovery.
4: Fundamentals and Tapping Out
What tends to injury people most is pride and ignorance (who would have thought that!). Trying moves that are unfamiliar can lead to poor positioning and injuring yourself in the process. So stick to what you know and practicing the fundamentals. If the setting is right to practice new moves then do so, but it is not recommend when going 70-100% sparring speed. Remember that this is practice and there is nothing to prove. Like stated earlier, you won’t get a medal or discovered because you didn’t tap when someone locked in a submission. It is a hard pill to swallow at first when you have been caught and have to tap, but that lesson needs to be learned to improve. I had an incident with a brown belt. He is a great athlete and knows a vast amount about Jiu-Jitsu, as a coach and an athlete, always looking to improve those around him. I had the privilege to roll with him, he got me in an armbar and I was being too stubborn and didn’t wish to tap. Though he had my arm at the point of full extension, he knew any further and my arm would become damaged. So he wisely stopped the submission and stopped the roll. Then explained to me what I am now sharing to the readers. There is no need to prove your toughness, because if you get injured then you don’t get to come in to practice, and if you can’t practice then you can’t get better. So by tapping, your Jiu-Jitsu game is improving and you’re giving yourself more time on the mat.
5: Tape is a Jiu-Jitsu Students Best Friend
This should be in everyone’s bag before they leave for training. Tape is my best friend and it should be all athletes. Head down to the local sporting goods store and buy up a few rolls. Color is up to the user’s preference, I tend to stick with white. Tape can help prevent injury and preserve your body if already injured. Tape can secure joints, heal sprains, stop bleeding, and help restore any other injuries plaguing the system. In the future there will be an article on taping and taping techniques. Always carry tape because there will be a need for it if you’ll be stepping on the mats.
Finally, just remember to take a rest every once in a while. Let the muscles heal and the joint replenish. The human body is magnificent and can’t heal many injuries on its own. But, it has to be given time and proper help to succeed in doing so. Don’t let the possibilities of injury scare you off the mats, they will happen and there isn’t much that can be done to stop that. If you use proper technique and prevention tactics then the chance of being severely hurt will drastically decrease.
GO GRAB YOUR GI!