To me, one of the biggest parts of jiu jitsu is staying healthy and avoiding injury. In some cases, being overly cautious in trying to avoid injury can actually have the opposite effect of putting you at greater risk of it. Jiu jitsu at times, like much of life, can be a cruel counter-intuitive mistress. The way I approach it: I try to relax, quiet my ego, and focus on not hurting my training partners, and hope that they return the favor.
There are some things I noticed that I do (and others do to me) that can lead to injury (large or small). So let’s all agree to be careful with those things and use common sense. Here are five of them:
- Jump closed guard really suddenly from semi-standing exchanges such as when your partner comes up for a single. His lower back or legs might be a little relaxed and thus vulnerable to be hurt due to suddenly having to carry all your body weight. When training from the feet, most people (especially non-competitors) don’t expect you to jump guard or jump anything really. They expect you to either go for a takedown or to pull guard by sitting with a foot in the hip or some other variation of that.
- Wristlocks: I know that footlocks get a bad rep in jiu jitsu for being potentially dangerous, but I find that people are actually TOO cautious with footlocks in gyms where their danger has been drilled into people’s heads since day 1. On the other hand, wristlocks are not taught very often (even though they are legal in most divisions of most tournaments in both gi and no-gi). And when they are taught, they are not talked about as something that could potentially lead to injury. I don’t know anyone who broke their wrist due to a wristlock, but I do know MANY people that had to be out for 1-2 weeks due to a wristlock and after that still had to take it easy with the wrist for a couple months. It’s a great submission, but be careful when you apply it in training.
- Guillotines: This had to make the list, of course. The problem with the guillotine is that it has an evil brother: the neck crank. The other problem with the guillotine is that often times if you don’t finish it, you are putting yourself in a less-than-dominant position. So you really want to finish it! But sometimes the technique is a little off and you want to add a little “sauce” by pulling up. And guess what: that cranks the neck. This isn’t a problem really, except that a little tweak of the neck can often leads to pain for weeks. There’s no reason for this. On this one technique I’ll often tap a little early in training, even though I don’t like doing it. And when I’m applying the guillotine, I try hard NOT to crank the neck. If that means I don’t get the submission, I’m okay with that.
- Pulling the Turtle Backwards: A tight turtle can be a frustrating position to break open, and one of the ways that seems to intuitively make sense to people is to pull the person directly backwards over his ankles. This can actually be an effective technique (with some important details) but it’s also an asshole technique that you should save for competition-style training when anything effective goes. Like most dangerous techniques, they are less likely to cause injury when your training partner is going close to 100% and thus are more physically and mentally primed for a wider range of possibilities.
- Try Stuff You Don’t Know with the Spazzy Intensity of a Raging Bull: I would say that 90% of my training is about figuring out small details around techniques that I’m already very familiar with. That requires a little exploration: figuring out the timing, feel, and leverage of the technique. But sometimes, I explore beyond the confines of what I know, and their I proceed with caution. I know that I can hurt myself and others. I have the luxury to proceed with caution, because there are always things I can fall back on. Of course, folks that are just starting out don’t have that luxury, since most every technique and position is new. The right approach, therefore, when you start to jiu jitsu is to relax, learn, and explore with caution. The best way to halt your progress in jiu jitsu is to be forced off the mat for months due to a stupid injury.
One of the lessons I’ve learned about training is you have to be very good at reading your training partners. You have to consider their rank, their style, their current mental state, and whether they are preparing for a tournament. It’s a complicated social interaction that takes a long time to learn. This is why beginner white belts are usually the most dangerous: they are not very good at reading these subtle social cues.