Something I’ve learned in the last five years is that really and truly, no one in jiu jitsu cares about your body. Because of that, you have to be your own bodyguard.
In some ways, I was “lucky” that when I started jiu jitsu, my physical difficulties were visible – I was overweight, huffing and puffing, and obviously physically fatigued. When I took breaks, it was clear I needed one.
In the past few years, I’ve struggled with more invisible injuries. There was the herniated disc in my back, and more recently, my shoulder. About a year ago I noticed my shoulder felt very painful. I couldn’t really do pushups or pullups any more, and the handstands were too painful to do. Raising my arm made me gasp in pain. I could no longer even lay on my left side to sleep. I refused to do any warmups or exercises that could exacerbate it, which included sometimes completely sitting out of the warmups. There were certain drills I wouldn’t do, and sometimes my partners simply couldn’t practice a technique on me. It sucked, but because I took care of it, my shoulder is a LOT better. It’s not at 100%, but I test it every now and again, and I baby it.
TRAINING PARTNERS: NOT YOUR BESTIES
Your fellow practitioners are there, as you are, for their own self-improvement. They want to improve their skills. You being injured sucks for them because it can limit how much they can do. I’ve asked partners to only do a drill on their weak side because my shoulder was so painful. Of course they don’t want to hurt you, and hopefully they have empathy for you, but realistically, unless you actually set limits for them, they will be focused on training as hard as they can. My personal strategy: Be selfish and set what limits you need to.
INSTRUCTORS: NOT YOUR MOMS/DADS
Your instructors are trying to help you be better. They want to push you, and they want you to succeed. They cannot differentiate between a mental block and an actual physical limitation. They can’t see your arthritic knees, your torn ACL, or your bum shoulder. Their goal is not to safeguard your body – it is to teach you. They are also human, which means that it’s definitely possible that they will look down on you if they think you’re just giving up. My personal strategy: Tell the instructor what your physical limitations are, and what they can expect from you.
YOURSELF: YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY
Unfortunately, we can be the worst when it comes to taking care of ourselves. I’ve seen countless people push themselves further than is actually possible. I’ve seen them decide to spar before they’re physically healed. I’ve seen them come in when they are sick. I’m not exempt. This month I was out nearly a week because my rib was so painful that even breathing made me gasp in pain. I thought “Oh man, they’re going to think I’m flaky because I haven’t gone.” My strategy: Keep in contact with your gym, and take care of your body.
GYMS: WATCH FOR RED FLAGS
Good teachers need to find the balance between pushing someone beyond their mental limits, but not beyond physical limits. I get hugely concerned when I hear folks say that no one is “allowed” to take a break at their gym, or that they will berate someone for not being able to keep up. NO ONE IS THE BOSS OF YOU. I hereby give you permission to take care of your body. I would never train at a place that was so focused on “improvement” that they ignored the physical well-being of their students. The muddy part is that you ARE paying to improve, and often a trainer’s way of helping you improve is to tell you have to push out one more rep, or you must do five more before you’re allowed to stop. The reality is that your hobby is voluntary, unlike the army where you ARE required to keep going.
HOWEVER: STUDENTS CAN EXHIBIT RED FLAGS, TOO
The reality is that very often injury is met with little to no empathy simply because everyone is in varying amounts of pain themselves. What you can handle at the beginning is much less than what you can handle later in your jiu jitsu career. You get accustomed to a certain level of pain and injury, and in general what keeps a purple belt off the mat will likely be different than what keeps a new white belt off the mats. The unfortunate reality is that if you’re staying away because you have a bruise or a sore finger, and the time you stay away is more than the time you are coming, you get written off.
tl;dr: No one really cares about your body, which is why you need to.
Jiu Jiu’s Questions: How much has your pain/injury threshold increased as you’ve trained? Do you communicate injuries to your gym/partners? How well do they support you safeguarding your health? What are their responses to injuries/physical limitations? Are you your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to your body?
That last image broke my heart 🙁
Invisible and chronic pain are things that I’m just now having to deal with and it’s a definite shift in how I think about pain. Sure, I might be able to move around and I’m not crying out in pain all day long but even a medium amount of pain over a long period of time can make you go crazy. I had a mental breakdown recently (you know the day 😉 ) because I’d just been in a moderate amount of pain for so long that it seemed 100x worse than it technically was.
People tend to always assume the worst, and in BJJ ‘the worst’ is to stop training for no good reason. Unless they can see an open wound people will always downplay your pain which can make it really hard to not feel like a crazy person (If I tell them what’s wrong and they assume I’m fine… am I actually just overreacting!?) You have to listen to your body and not let other people’s comments or judgement drive you to hurting yourself further.
This is the end of my completely unhelpful rant. In summary: I feel your pain.
I think there’s an emotional and mental fatigue that comes from being in pain or tired or emotionally abused for a long time. You just get SO TIRED of it.
Heh – I remember folks on reddit saying that women should just stop going to BJJ during their period. This was in a discussion about periods + bjj. One gal said she was in pain and so the reaction was obviously to say “just don’t go”. My response was that oh yeah SURE…let’s just give up 25% training of the month literally because we are stricken with ovaries. Niiiice. ::insert eyeroll here::
I hope you are doing better!!!
My girl trains bjj and lifts and she admits she is not 100 percent when she’s on her period. That’s OK. She minds herself accordingly. My feelings are that if you are injured enough to preface all of your rolls with ” just be careful I hurt my arm” then just stay home and heal. It’s a combat sport. Be ready for combat.
I would have to disagree with you. Lots of us would have to ALWAYS stay home and heal if we had to follow your guideline. While it may be true for some, it really does cut out all the chronically injured folks. It would have cut me out for nearly a year due to my shoulder, other folks who have arthritis or super tight hips might not be able to come at all. Yes, it’s a combat sport, but not all of us do it for the same reason, and it seems very short sighted to apply the “Be ready for combat” to everyone.
I think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about injury prevention over the years. These days I can usually recognize not only when something would immediately hurt, but also when it might cumulatively contribute to long-term injury. I adjust my rolling to avoid those situations, even if it means I have to give up position in order to avoid potential damage. I’ll also listen to my body and skip rolling or carefully choose who I roll with if I can tell that I need to on a given day. (I don’t like to do this, but I will if I can feel that I need to.)
Fortunately I’ve also learned to distinguish between discomfort and the pain that indicates actual potential injury. I can mostly ignore the former.
The folks in my gym are pretty great about respecting injuries and limitations. I’ve never had anyone give me a hard time about needing to protect a vulnerable spot.
I think that for me, age helps a bit, though it can definitely be used as an excuse. 🙁
I’ve had some MAJOR injuries – herniated disc, and some minor ones – sprained wrist. This last week I had a super painful rib, so I opted out of training because it’s SO EASY to reinjure a rib in BJJ – let’s go to technical mount or knee on belly. Ooops, now your rib is really hurt.
Thankfully, I’m high enough up the food chain now that I can pick sparring partners more carefully!
So true – excellent points – I cn relate.
Very good points made here. I hope you’re okay with me linking to this. I think it’s relevant to my latest post about my coming back from injuries.
Ruben! Link away, man!
Great post. These past few years, I have spent more time off the mats than on, due to chronic pain in both knees (only recently diagnosed as arthritis) resulting from a motorcycle accident . During this time, I have had to listen to my body, and limit myself to those things that I know I can do. This often meant skipping much of the warm ups. On other occasions, it has meant that I could not practice the technique that had just been taught (top mount position kills me), in which case I was more than happy to serve as the uke and allow my training partner the extra time to practice.
At all times, as you suggest, I think communication has been key to understanding. My instructors and classmates know my situation and that I will have to sit out, at times.
I don’t think I have ever struggled much with the mental fatigue that can result from being in pain (that you mentioned in your response to the first comment). Perhaps that is largely due to the nature of my accident. As far as bike accidents go, they get much worse, so when I find myself tiring of the pain, I remind myself that there are plenty of people who wish they were in my position.
Hi Michael, thank you so much! I was in Washington for a week, hence the late reply. I’m so sorry to hear about your knee pain! That sounds really hard. I struggle with very tight hips, so I feel your pain (albeit in a different place) when we do lots of top mount positions.
I definitely think that with some communication there is understanding. It can be hard for folks to empathize when they simply don’t know, and it’s easy for them to fill in the blanks with whatever adjective is laying around “He is ____” (so lazy, a quitter, not dedicated, etc).
[…] For BJJ – Side Hop Like Wrestling, Only Meaner: Recruiting And Retaining Women In Jiu Jitsu Jiu Jiu BJJ: No One Cares About Your Body Grapplers Planet: Guard Passing Drills Gf Team Style wbbjj.com: Dillon Danis Talks About Facing Joe […]
My mindset is that if I’m on the mats, I’m not injured enough to stop a roll. I gear up and deal with it.
My pain tolerance went way up after I had a few blood clots collapse a lung. I thought I theoretically knew what a “10” on the pain scale was, but that showed me that “10” actually moves as you get closer to it. It’s that desert mirage and instead of it being a hopeful journey to an oasis, it’s a gravity well dragging you unwillingly in. The smaller things hurt much less and at the same time, I’m much more careful about not getting hurt that badly again.
Fortunately, I’m blessed with good training partners and am skilled enough and large/strong enough that I’m not going to get hurt in the average daily practice.
For the most part, I don’t talk about injuries that moderately affect my grappling with my training partners. Most times, I’ll skip a day to evaluate the injury or take it very easy during sparring. I’ll let an instructor know before or after the session, but I don’t want to alter and slow down my teammates’ grappling patterns by having them add the extra step of “being considerate for Ben”. My reasoning behind that is predicting what they do in the normal flow of things is my best defense. Preserving that normal flow means that I get to practice protecting certain parts from injury (actually very useful skill to develop) and they can continue drilling or going for what they like. If someday, I should need to protect a certain body part outside the gym, I’ve got years of experience in pushing the action away or never allowing the action to go near it.
This has recently led me to get stuck in many omoplatas on one arm because I can’t really pull with it (americana gone a tiny bit too far made pulling and manipulating the arm difficult to do). Over weeks, I slowly put together how to not get stuck in them and polished up my escapes that don’t rely upon simply yanking out the arm. Being slightly hurt helped my game.
Serious injuries, I have only had the the collapsed lung/blood cloths, which kept me out for 6 months but wasn’t mat-related. I told my teammates about. I also had LASIK done, which kept me out for two months, but wasn’t really an injury because it’s glorious.
Moderate to mild injuries: Torn muscles in my palm from accidentally rolling over an improperly based out hand meant that I couldn’t grip beyond a baby’s strength with my left hand for a while. Stayed on the mats and missed no time. Broken bone in foot from a footlock took 3 months to heal. Stayed on the mats and missed no time. Minorly dislocated fingers were pushed back in and I balled up my fist for a week. Stayed on the mats and missed no time. I took a two week break to let a mild knee strain heal up, which it did. Ribs, I don’t even bother telling people about. I’ll skip a day if it’s bad and take a bath or two, then I’m right back in and refusing to let anyone get knee on belly or a crushing side control.
This is a great post! I have had multiple injuries; some which I can train around and some which require time off of the mats. The most chronic one involves a herniated disc in my cervical spine and a related shoulder issue. When it is fine, I just train. When it is pretty bad I stay home. But there are times when it is not sore enough to rest but sore enough to be worth saying something to my partners. Everyone I train with has been very good about working with me, going light, avoiding that shoulder, etc. And my instructors have also been good about allowing me to sit out of certain drills when I need to and occasionally even reminding others to be careful with me. All of that being said, I do believe that it is ultimately my job to protect my own body. However, I also feel that it is every partner’s job to pay attention. If you are so wrapped up in what you re doing that you don’t notice when your partner is in pain, you need to be a better partner. I feel like it is my job to make both me and my partner better every time I take class. It is not just about me.
Ironic that I read your post just before my Saturday morning class which included a sparring session. As it turned out I recieved a minor injury receiving a eye graze. I thought of your post and decided to be safe and sit out the remaining session. The instructor was very supportive and got an ice pack for me. My eye lid is now swollen and very sore however it was reassuring that my bjj school has very good practices of student well being and safety. Thanks for your post as well. p.s the student I was sparing with was very supportive as well and made sure I was ok before he left.
[…] has an interesting article on her blog about how no one cares about your body. Which, in a sense I agree with, but I would like to offer my own […]
I think I’ve gotten much better about communicating injuries as of late. I spent the first few months of my journey, trying to pretend like I didn’t have any injuries, but I soon realized pretty much everyone who trains daily has something!
well, for me bjj is being very difficult to handle. Yes, I’m only a white belt but I think it’s at this moment that difficults are more frequently, because we still don’t know basically anything. In one month I got my herniated disc in my back because a big blue belt decide to put his knee with all his weight on my back. Today 4 months later I got an armlock that almost broke my arm. When I heard the snap and felt the pain I thought “very well now I broke something”. Hopefully, I had some luck and I didn’t break anything, but still hurts, of course. The point is, in bjj for a begginer keep going the sport is very hard because nobody want’s to teach you more than break you to improve their own skills. You are not just going to learn a marcial fight but you also are going to deal with a marcial fight that you don’t know already. It makes me feel bad and frustrated.
Hi Bruno! Out of curiosity, what’s your first language? (I teach English, so I’m always curious).
One important part of this equation, though, is communicating clearly with your partners. There’s a gal in our class who has had a broken(?) back, and she mentioned she tried to talk to her partners, but they’re still hurting her. What she says to them is “Don’t roll hard with me” or something like that. Instead I suggested that when they’re STARTING to do it to tap and say “When I’m talking about rolling hard, this is what I mean. That’s too much pressure on my back.” or if she taps to it to say it afterward.
One common problem with white belts is either going to fast or not tapping fast enough. When I roll with white belts, I don’t expect them to go slowly on submissions, so when an armbar gets set up, I basically pause, waiting to tap quickly. I’m very sorry you were injured! I hope you recover quickly.
I don’t really agree with you that “nobody wants to teach you more than break you to improve their own skills.” This is not true at our gym – it might be true in yours, though. Personally, I want to give white belts enough skills that they ARE using jiu jitsu when they roll. I want to give them enough skills that I’m not just taking candy from a baby. I want to give them enough skills that they can protect themselves and not hurt others. I don’t know of people in my gym who just smash smash smash white belts.
Good luck to you!!!
I haven’t been commenting for quite a while because I was training 7 days a week often double classes for my black belt test in Mixed Martial Arts, while still doing 2 classes a week of BJJ. Unfortunately, in the Mixed Martial Arts class they have been playing around with some BJJ moves – and of course since its not BJJ instructors and the students are not primarily focused on BJJ it was less controlled. It didn’t help that the black belt I was training with and I got a little overenthusiastic with our upright sparring before the ground fighting. And somehow I managed to roll her off of me at the expense of having one rib slip under the other rib. My chest literally caved in and then popped back out again. Very freaky. No broken rib, but torn cartilage. Just one month before my black belt test.
What salvaged this situation entirely was that I already had a very good physical therapist that I had worked with when I broke my wrist snowboarding.So when I cracked the cartilage my ribs, I went straight back to my physical therapist. Because he knows me, he doesn’t charge me a fortune and he only saw me infrequently. Because I’d worked with him before, he trusted me to do the exercises he gave me on my own. It was great to have someone I trusted to help me figure out which techniques to avoid as I healed and when to add them back in. By the time I took my black belt test, I was doing everything – including the sit ups that I initially could not do because of the ribs. And my PT released me to do BJJ again.
Turns out several of the MMA guys had the same thing happen to their ribs so that helped too. B
Post black belt test, I’ve shifted my focus towards the BJJ. I added in morning training (I am NOT a morning person) 3 days a week along with the 2 nights I was doing before. It makes such a difference. And yes, I do sometimes get injured. I’m always covered in bruises. But if its ever anything I am doubtful about, something that I would worry might cause me to get worse, I’d go straight back to my PT.
For the most part, in our dojo, the atmosphere is VERY respectful. The only time that I have felt angry about someone being to rough was a white belt who had seven weeks of training and was bragging about how he was 100 pounds heavier than I am and would try squash me flat, but had no techniques. So he never caused me to submit, but he was frustratingly obnoxious. I refrained from using the “roll of quarters” technique that one of the black belt instructors in the MMA class teaches us as self defense. But I have to admit that the thought of using it was hovering there every time the dude started mouthing off about his extra 100 pounds.
Hi there! My wife and I began training in BJJ only two and a half months ago. I have a fair experience with pain over forty years of athletics – the highlights being 16 shoulder dislocations since 1989 and a screwed up “back problem” (actually an S-I issue that went undealt with for years) that kept me in varying degrees of pain for about six years, from a low grade ache to knee buckling, full back spasm, curl up and hope to die. In addition is an endless list of lower grade injuries that are part of being in sports. Now I am 44 years old, and BJJ leads to a conga line of aches – knees, elbows, etc.
One thing that, in the few posts I’ve read, hasn’t been talked about is actively following courses of therapy that will help heal your body – Physical Therapy, massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture. While finances are always a factor, I regularly go to the massage therapist, the chiropractor, and I’ve been to Physical Therapy several times in the past year for a variety of maladies (mostly lower body related – plantar fasciitis, an inflamed nerve in my foot, a torn soleus, knee pain from a variety of activities, but also from 40+ years of being a stupid guy who abused his body in all sorts of sports over the course of my life!) Participating in BJJ as an adult means that you owe your body more than just ibuprofen and hot baths.
If it all possible financially, go to the chiropractor, the massage therapist, the Physical Therapist, the acupuncturist! My plan is to roll when I’m 80. To still be mountain biking and snowboarding when I’m 80. To be out playing with my kids when I’m 80! I know now that the only way I see that happening is if I am actively working on repairing damage, NEW AND OLD. What’s the point of BJJ if you won’t be able to do it in five or ten years?! My back is now as close to 100% as it’s been since I was 24, when I originally injured it. I’ve restored range of motion and strength to my shoulder through massage therapy and physical training. My knees keep getting inflammation and stiffness, which apparently is largely due to tight, short quads, so I’m addressing that.
The goal is to be physically active ALL of your life, right? I’ve realized that won’t happen for me if I don’t spend a lot of time and money and mental energy working to right the wrongs I’ve done to my body! I too spent my 20’s and 30’s ignoring the “minor” injuries and doing stupid things with my body. Trust me when I tell you, you are doing lasting damage, and around about 40, all of those things you think you were too invulnerable to be hurt by will come knocking on the door, asking for you to pay the bill. Do it all and do it full out, but remember, you still want to be doing it 20 years from now too!
I regret those 10 years I spent sitting on a couch being inactive. 🙁 It’s come back to haunt me now. I’m realizing that we will all be in pain from SOMETHING – but we can decide WHY we are in pain. I’d much rather be in pain from doing something I love.
Thankfully as a military spouse I have access to wonderful physical benefits, which has meant being able to go to PT without breaking the bank. I hope to get some massage therapy in the future. It really is wonderful!
Agree with you on movement being a lifelong goal. Right now my joints are saying “Hmmm you have 40 coming up? Better go on strike”. Sigh.
An aside – have you two stuck with jiu jitsu?
Thanks for commenting on my comment! We have stuck with it. I am going with greater frequency than my wife, but she and our older daughter do participate weekly. I think we’re all in it for the long haul!
I love it when I hear that folks have found a new passion. Congratulations!
Nobody believes me anymore about my shoulder that I had severely injured a few months ago that constantly sends me to the chiropractor. So I’ve been *trying* to muscle through it during sparring and drills because even if I say something they still continue to go on my shoulder. (I’m getting to a point I swear)I am only 13 but I am a grey belt and was wondering could I injure this in the long run? Like obvious that’s what my brothers say but just curious from adult practitioners because I plan on staying for the long run of my life so…
Hi Taylor! One of the problems with being a girl is that it’s unfortunately the norm in American culture for the girl to claim she is injured so that she gets out of things. I did it myself. Ah well. However, IT DOESN’T MATTER if they’re disbelievers. They don’t live in your body. They get to break the windows and kick in the front door and you’re the one left with the damages.
One thing I’d suggest is talking to a Physical Therapist or a sports medicine doctor rather than just a chiropractor – they’re generally considered more reputable (my insurance covers PT but not chiropractic, to give you an idea). They may use some chiropractic techniques, but they’ll teach you exercises to help with the shoulder, and they’ll give you a proper diagnosis. Is it possible to injure anything in the long run? Of course! Don’t muscle through injuries unless you want to be injured longer. Talk to your instructor and let them know what’s going on.
I agree but also dont care about being written off or staying in touch with a gym. I look at it like this. I pay you for a few lessons that hopefully my crazy schedule will allow me to attend. My allegiance to the gym and its members extends only as far as my paycheck allows it to. In other words its up to you to go when its best for you to go and anyone an everyone else will have to accept that and when you show up the next time dont gripe about boo boos or anything else just simply take care of what you need to do (injury,work,school,relationship,family etc) because the truth is that the gym will always be there and be ready to take your money and not care about your injuries or anything else on that list and if you dont make up your mind for yourself im sure those smelly gi wearing instructors would love to make you feel real bad about how you arent helping “keep the lights on” for them.
El-Duderino, I don’t disagree with you. I think it depends on the gym and the person. Some people really want to feel connected and part of a team. I was desperate for that feeling when I joined. It was Very Important to me. Now I’m there to train. I’m friendly, but I mentally separate jiu jitsu from the other parts of my life. This was NOT the case in Korea. It was all I lived, ate, and breathed! 🙂