Dealing with injuries in BJJ
If you train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu long enough, you will get injured. How you handle that injury really will determine your overall success and longevity in BJJ. Dealing with injuries in BJJ is just part of what you sign up for, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t do anything when you are injured.
Like everything else in life, I am a slow learner. It took me ten years to learn that injuries in BJJ are no reason to skip going to class. Now this doesn’t mean I turned uber macho and just started rubbing dirt on it and getting back in there. It meant that I started refusing to let an injury prevent me from continuing in the momentum and ritual of coming to class and being engaged in what was happening.
It all started about ten years ago when I had just moved to Austin. I was a purple belt and it was my third class in a new school in a new town. I was trying to make a good impression on people and make some new friends. Like many of you out there, BJJ was my way of networking and meeting people. Well after a good training session, I changed clothes, put my gear in my bag, and headed towards the door.
I took a step down and “rrrrrip”! I felt an awful tearing feeling in my left knee. Being an expert in bro science, I immediately thought, “that’s not good.” The knee swelled up and after a few weeks, I got an MRI and was told I had a bucket handle tear in the meniscus. Given my love of strangling people, the Dr. said I should get it operated on and have the tear removed.
I remember thinking, “Shit, there goes my chance to meet people. I won’t be able to train for months and then I’ll be around a bunch of people I don’t know as a purple belt.” I was sad and probably listened to some early 90’s Morrissey to cope.
It certainly wasn’t my first injury in BJJ. And the reason I was so bummed is my normal protocol was just to start lifting weights more often or do some other exercise to fill the void. It was part of a larger story in my head that I would never really be good at BJJ because I just too frail.
But since I was so motivated to meet people, and I had a fairly open schedule, I decided to do something different this time: I kept going to BJJ class. Instead of letting the injuries in BJJ keep me away from class, I decided to double down. The twist was that I just showed up to watch. And I showed up to every class. I had been involved in BJJ for a long time, but this was taking it to a new level.
I would watch one person spar like I was playing a video game and they were the character I controlled in the game. I learned something pretty quickly: I was pretty bad at that video game! There were so many moments in a single match where I didn’t know what my “character” should be doing. I thought about what I would be saying to them if I was coaching them and I had no idea what good advice would be.
For some reason this feeling of helplessness made me want to come to class even more so I could become a better coach in my head. I would watch one person for a match, then switch to “coaching” the other one. I started to notice people’s habits and games in a way I had never really thought about.
By the time I was able to get back on the mat, I did pretty well against people right away simply because I knew a lot of things they were going to do and I had been mentally preparing for several months.
It also started a new mentality for dealing with injuries in BJJ that I have continued to this day. No matter what I show up to training. There are days where I only shadow box. There are days where I just drill a certain technique. There are other days where I pick the scariest guy in the room and get smashed for an hour. But no matter what I show up. When I feel tired or worn up, I show up. I want my bjj to work against stronger, more athletic, younger, and any other person on this earth. But I want my BJJ to work when I am hurt, tired, and mentally weak.
You would be amazed at how doing many days of very little adds up after a while. A wise man once said, “80% of success is just showing up”. So that’s what I keep doing.
My 2 cents for today.