Death and taxes, picking the slowest line to checkout at the supermarket, and getting banged up when you train are all things in life that are pretty much guaranteed. Growing up on the football field as I did, playing though pain was a way of life. Our coaches used to ask us if we were hurt, or injured when we limped off the field. There was a difference. If you were hurt, you were advised to rub some fairy dust on your feelings, take off your dress, and end your little tea party. Hurt meant you were just being mentally weak, and you should persevere through your ouchie and continue to perform. However if you were injured, it meant you should probably go to the hospital because a shiny white bone was broken and protruding through your skin somewhere where it shouldn’t be.
Those were your two options. Feast or famine. For us or against us. Simple binary. If you chose to sit out due to being “hurt”, you were put on a short list of “Those guys” by your coaches. “Those guys” were not guys you wanted to be associated with. They were dispensable, and weak, and couldn’t be counted on. So I played. Through a number of concussions (which, as an aside, as an adult living in the current climate of football culture being scrutinized due to CTE issues, kind of freaks me out), broken bones, torn ligaments, dislocations, and lacerations; I plowed ahead. I’m paying for that mindset today… let me tell you.
Now that I’m fifteen years removed from wearing a helmet I can see the culture for what it was, and what it is. Its indoctrination at its finest. Designed to instill the overtly masculine values of toughness, teamwork, selflessness, dedication, and working toward a common goal where individual needs take a backseat to the collective good. They’re the same values instilled in military boot camp but to a much lesser degree.
In Jiu-Jitsu, getting hurt, and even injured are a way of life. It is a combat sport. Combat is brutal at times. The goals are to A) manipulate your opponents joints in such a way that they must submit by tapping or risk dislocation or breakage of their body, or B) cause them to submit by applying adequate pressure to the neck by way of a series of creative and inventive chokes which restrict the air and blood flow to the brain which will ultimately result in unconsciousness.
I guess what you have to ask yourself is: Why am I training? What is your purpose? Are you gifted enough to be an Open Division Black-Belt National Champion? Abu-Dabi? Mundials? Main stage at Metamoris? Get sponsors? Make a living at being a professional submission fighter? Chances are slim, but if you are, you’re going to push through a great deal of pain with little regard for your overall health and your ability to walk later in life. You are living in the NOW because you have a small window of time to be at the TOP of your game.
Are you just a really competitive person? Young? Aggressive? Something to Prove? Full of testosterone and youthful spongy cartilage inside your knees? If so then you may push yourself pretty darn hard. You may fight, and train, and spar at 100%. All the time. All. The. Time. The older guys in your gym look at you and wince. They watch you attempt cartwheel passes, blast through full-speed driving double-legs across the mat to take your training partner down, and arch unnaturally with adrenaline and explosive strength to escape bad positions you find yourself in. Well, God bless you. But just know that, that looks horrific from our point of view. So, so very painful. Or are you a hobbyist like me? Are you training for the great workout, the comradery, and the challenge of learning as much as you can for as long as your body lasts?
Whatever your reason, one is not any better or worse than another. I feel that you just need to understand your paradigm to know when to say enough is enough. You need to know your limits. Here is a list of things I have learned over the past 8 years. They may work for you or not, but they have allowed me to stay consistent through 2 surgeries, herniated disks, countless strains, a frightening lack of healthy cartilage in my shoulders and knees, finger and toe dislocations, and a veritable cornucopia of ouchies.
- When you get hurt, protect yourself. Change the way you train. Cater your rolling to adapt to your new limitation.
- Tell your training partner about your issue so that they’re aware of it. But don’t rely on them to take care of you. Especially if you’re training with a lower belt. During a roll, there is movement, adrenaline, and people fall into a routine where they focus on their favorite moves. If your partner only passes to their right and attacks the left shoulder with a Kimora once they get side-control, it’s your job to protect your arm or tap EXTREMELY EARLY (even before they start the submission) to avoid injury.
- Don’t be afraid to tell your instructor that you won’t be live-rolling. Ask him to pair you with a lower belt so you can roll light and control the pace.
- Give up bad positions. Let people pass if need be. Don’t fight submissions.
- Leave your pride at the door. I refer back to numbers 2 and 4.
- This one is tough. If you get injured, really injured… Stop Training. Let your body heal. When is an injury, not an injury? When it’s a chronic condition that requires surgery because you kept aggravating it and wouldn’t listen to your body. That’s when…
- Fight the irrational fear that all of your technique is melting away because you have been off the mats for two weeks and just stay home. Watch videos on YouTube to get your BJJ fix when you’re Jonesing. Or come to class, watch, and if you’re able to, drill some light technique, and then when rolling starts, go home.
- Live to fight another day. Let the little stuff go. You’ll have bad days on the mat when it feels like you’re a fish out of water. Like there’s concrete in your joints and your limbs are made of lead. People who you usually do very well against will smash you. They will cut through your guard like a hot knife through butter and to add insult to injury (no pun intended) catch you in your favorite submission. You’re endurance is non-existent. Nothing works. Everything hurts, and you seriously consider hanging up your belt. Don’t. As you drive home reflect on why you’re training. Look at the big picture and realize even though you got smashed, you got a great workout and you still learned something.
- Take sage advice with a grain of salt. Realize that some things won’t work for you. Realize that sometimes people are only speaking to their own experiences and what a 37 year old hobbyist Brown-Belt has to say may not directly apply to the entirety of your Jiu-Jitsu journey.
Then again you may be a superhuman, incredibly gifted and blessed athlete who can train at a maximum level of effort and strength for the duration of your Jiu-Jitsu career and be none the worse for it. If that’s you know that I admire your God-given ability, and that I wince in perceived phantom pain every time I watch you bridge high enough to drive a semi-truck under the small of your back.
Nick Gerasimou is currently a Brown Belt under Juliano Prado at ‘Total MMA Studios’ in Tustin, CA.
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