Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BJJ and Injuries

Injuries are part and parcel of doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu simply because of all the dynamic sparring we do, and the realistic damage the submissions we do can cause.

In BJJ, I would divide the injuries to minor and major injuries. The minor injuries like sore fingers from mat burn, gripping too hard, bruises all over your body or even cauliflower ears are common. They are minor and in some cases easily preventable (for example by wearing earguards and mouthguards and other protective gear, or learning how to grip). 

I will focus more on the major injuries that will require time off the mats, or even surgery. Major injuries are the main reason serious BJJ exponents never last to black belt, or won't be practicing BJJ till their old age. 

Unless you partner someone malicious and out to hurt you, nearly all major injuries are by and large mostly caused by accident. However that is not to say that most of these cannot be prevented, and seriously most of it is down to the instructor, and the culture of the gym set by the instructor

The most obvious and common way is that the instructors must teach and enforce the principle that you should take care of your training partner while grappling, and that you should respect the tap. Respecting the tap means letting go of the submission the moment your partner taps, not letting go when you think your partner should tap or only when they feel pain.

Another common way to avoid injuries in the gym by the instructor is by banning certain moves that are too dangerous to be used in active sparring. Sure, they should teach you those moves, to recognise them and learn how to apply and defend against them. But there are some submissions that does not give you enough time to tap, or causes injury before pain is felt. Moves like heel hooks and neck cranks IMO cannot be used in a dynamic spar without eventually causing a serious injury. 

However, in recent times, more and more injuries are caused by the very nature of the training. In this, I mean the gyms who are overly competitive, train conditioning for hours, and roll till they puke. It is not wrong to train hard, and it is not wrong to be competitive. However, it becomes a problem when the training and mindset is overboard and there starts to be too many injuries. I have met so many people in person and on the net who have had to retire because they broke their necks, have to fuse their spines or their knees too damaged to continue training. 

Let me add a caveat, that choice of gym depends on your motivation and ambition. If you are intending to be a full time professional MMA fighter, or full time world champion BJJ competitor, perhaps these gyms are better suited to take you towards your ambitions faster (that is not to say the other more gentler gyms wouldn't). Be aware too that many a professional MMA fighter and BJJ competitor get seriously injured too. 

From Bas Rutten's interview at mmafanhouse:

You’re actually younger than Randy Couture. Is there any chance that you could fight again?
No, there’s not. My knees are a mess. I have no cartilage in both my kneecaps. Zero. Bone on bone. It’s really bad. There’s nothing they can do, except surgeries, until that stem cell stuff. People think a knee replacement, but you can’t do a knee replacement. You can have the best surgeons on the planet, which I already went to, and they say, “Bas, it’s a really bad problem.” …

I can’t do any ground work anymore. If I bike, I have to have a bike with a high seat. I can’t run at all. If I jog half a mile, I can’t walk for five days. It’s so bad sometimes when I walk down my driveway I walk backwards.

Do you think that 10, 20, 30 years from now, we’re going to see a lot of former MMA fighters with serious, long-term injuries?
No. Everybody is training smarter. I have so much explosive power that what happened with me is my training scraped my kneecaps up. People like Randy Couture are training smarter. If you train smart, you’re OK. I was a maniac. I went balls-out every training.

On the other hand, if you are a doing BJJ on a part time basis, meaning you have a full time job, and intend not to be injured so that you can go to work, and you intend to practice BJJ your whole life, then perhaps you may need to reconsider your intensity of training. 

Many of these gyms are run by champion BJJers and market themselves as hardcore gyms. The instructors think that such training made them champions, it should work for their students too. However, many of these BJJ champions became champions in their 20s. Oft times, now that they are instructors in their own gyms, their students by and large are not kids in their 20s. If their students are 30 and above, and their training is too intense, look out for the injury rates there. 

Furthermore, I put it out there that generally, most champions are champions not purely because of hard work alone, they are genetically gifted too. For example, the average Brazilian Top Team champion is strong as hell, and while it is no doubt they produce many champions, the same type of training will cripple the average person.

Hardcore and balls to the wall training have their place. For example if you are training for a competition, you should increase the intensity of the sparring and training to peak for the competition. But you cannot train like that year in and year out and throughout your BJJ career. And even if you do train for competitions, principles such as respecting the tap and protecting your partner should still be followed. 

How do you identify such gyms that will cause you injury? Well, first and foremost how do you feel training there? Do you feel as if every practice spar is a fight to the death? Is the instructor and are the students constantly injured? Do they allow moves like heel hook and neck cranks during regular sparring?

The Machado's have a saying, that you "Play Jiu Jitsu, not fight Jiu Jitsu". Jiu Jitsu should be about having fun. BJJ should be fun. You should feel no bother about tapping than if you conceded a point in a game in a sport, or you lose playing a video game.

Lastly, here are some well respected Black Belts, on the same topic:

Pedro Sauer

Keith Owen

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

1 comment:

burn666 said...


Its only a pity that what really drives it home is getting injured yourself... :'(