The Six Stages of Grief After a Jiu Jitsu Injury

My knee popped in training (MCL sprain). It hurts, but it’s manageable. Feels unstable, but I feel that recovery is possible without taking any time off.

It seems that once people start having knee problems of this kind, it has a long lasting effect, not just physically, but psychologically. Confidence in the knee’s stability is lowered, affecting many decisions you make while grappling. I definitely feel it now, but I’m staying positive and taking it all in stride.

With any injury, big or small (though with jiu jitsu my injuries have been all small so far), I seem to go through stages that resemble the stages of grief. For the fun of it, let me try to describe them:

  1. Shock: The moment an injury happens, the pain is usually most acute. I don’t know how bad it is, but the fact that it could be very bad leaves me in a state of shock where I just remain motionless, trying not to think about anything.
  2. Anger: Once I get a handle on how bad the injury is, I realize that I can’t train any more at that moment and have to go home. That realization leads to anger at myself, at the world, at the people around me, at everything really. It’s the kind of anger you feel when you stub your toe on something and you yell out a profanity of the creative variety.
  3. Depression: Anger quickly gives way to zen-like reflection of my place in the world, and how nothing really matters. Somehow, in this case, the result of this reflection is usually a kind of loneliness.
  4. Recovery Planning: After the nihilistic depression wears out (usually after a nap and a snack), I get very optimistic, and make grandiose detailed plans for recovery. I plan on what I will do if I can’t train. I plan on what I will do if I can only train lightly. And so on…
  5. Acceptance: I prepare myself mentally for taking time off if the injury does heal without prolonged rest. I imagine myself taking several months off (which kills me to think about). I slowly accept the negative elements of the circumstance, accept the plan of action, and try to focus on the hope that such a plan provides.
  6. Game Change: During the days and weeks after the injury I experiment with what hurts and how to avoid making the injury worse. Based on that I change my jiu jitsu game.

All that sounds kind of depressing. I don’t exactly go through all those steps, but I do experience parts of each. I just like putting things into a numbered list.

Anyway, hopefully I’m lucky in this case, and will be able to at least continue drilling (and maybe training) as often as I did before, and won’t damage the ligament any further.

There are a bunch of tournaments coming up, next one in 10 days, but I’m trying not to think about the fact that I may have to miss any of them. I take solace in the fact that it’s a small jujitsu injury and not a work related one. I would hate to describe my 7 stages of grief from dealing with work accident attorneys.

0 thoughts on “The Six Stages of Grief After a Jiu Jitsu Injury

  1. Eric Silverman

    You also skipped the “taping phase” where you simply keep applying tape to the injury until you look like a zombie. I am permenently stuck in that phase. Good luck with the knee, hopfully a few days of rest is all it takes.

  2. Paul Jaxon

    Ughh. Same injury about 6 months ago. They SUCK! Hang in there! Find a decent brace to keep it stable enough to drill and come back slooowww. Too early and you’ll knock yourself out for another couple weeks or worse. Good luck, hope it heals fast.

  3. Phuong

    Hi, how long did it take for you to recover? I had the same injury back in early March. It was an MCL tear, grade 1-2, plus a ruptured capsule. I out was out of the gym for an entire month because of the pain (plus it coincided with me being overwhelmed with work). I returned to the gym by month 2 but only did the warm-ups and lessons, but didn’t roll until after 3 months. So i’ve been rolling since early June and my game has totally slumped. I’m a 2 stripe white belt that have been training for 15 months, but my performance is worse than what i was after 6 months of training. This whole recovery thing isn’t just physical, it’s psychological too because it’s affected my mental edge by making me overly cautious. I feel my knee has recovered 90%, but the rest of me still hasn’t caught up yet. What did your recovery look like?

    1. Lex Post author

      I was lucky in some sense that I was 100% after about a month, but I didn’t take a single day off. I went back and drilled, sometimes by myself, sometimes with a partner I trusted. The challenge is that it’s damn hard to find someone to drill with consistently. But you have to do it, otherwise, it’s easy to fall off the wagon and let the injury result in several months away from training. There is no injury that should prevent you from drilling. If you break both your legs, get a dummy, put a gi on it, and do 1000 cross chokes a day. I like to use an injury as an excuse to master one technique that’s not affected by the injury.


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