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How to Earn a Black Belt in BJJ: Surviving the Injury Onslaught

How to Earn a Black Belt in BJJ: Surviving the Injury Onslaught

Guest post by Bill Jones, owner and head instructor at Top Level Martial Arts in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. If you would like to learn more about Bill or Top Level Martial Arts, visithttp://toplevelmartialarts.com

 

Injuries! They sure are a pain in the butt. Sometimes they have to do with training, other times they are completely unrelated. Regardless, they will happen from time to time. The question is, how do you deal with them?

“I know guys that take time off training for every injury they get.”

I know guys that take time off training for every injury they get. Stubbed finger; two days off. Sore shoulder; one week off. Ribs ache; a week and a half off. When you add up all the aches and pains you get over the 8 to 15 years it typically takes to earn a black belt…it’s a lot. And not all of them even stem from training. Some do, of course; but some are just general issues that you would have had anyway.

Though I have no hard data to back it up, I would estimate that injury is the number one cause of attrition in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Someone has a knee surgery, takes a few months off and never comes back. They take a few weeks off to let their ribs heal off and realize it’s easier to just sit at the bar and drink beer. So this begs the question, how do you survive all the injuries you receive over the years of training.

 

“Did I stay motivated for training and work through the pain, you’re damned right I did!”
Matt Strack

matt-strack

Me at a Matt Strack seminar with a torn right quadriceps muscle. If you look close, you can see the bruising that reached my toes from where the injury internally bled. I had over 120ml of blood drained from my knee from the injury. Still trained in a limited capacity.

The exercise physiologist and medical professional in me will tell you that you should fully rest each injury and never train while injured. However, that would be a total and utter misrepresentation of who I am and how I received my black belt. Of course, no two injuries are the same and you should always do your best to follow the advice of your physicians. But I can tell you this; I’ve trained with broken fingers, dislocated ribs, broken toes, sprained ankles, torn and strained muscles and much more. Did I take it easy during those injuries, for sure. I rested to the best of my abilities by not using certain movements or techniques. Other times I would tuck my arm into my belt so I didn’t use my injured shoulder. Still other times I relegated my training to drilling techniques only. But I can tell you this; the longest period I ever went without training was 4 weeks for mononucleosis. The moment I was assured I was no longer contagious, I was on the mat. I was exhausted and didn’t do much rolling, but I was on the mat, drilling my techniques and moves. Did it hurt sometimes, yes. Did it slow my healing process, probably yes. Did I stay motivated for training and work through the pain, you’re damned right I did!

 

black belt

 

In many ways BJJ training, and martial arts training in general, mimics the training of a warrior. In the Army, you could take off time for injuries. But you knew that was time your enemy was training to kill you. That motivation kept you focused on what you needed to do. Get “mostly better” and get back to training. I believe that, to make it to black belt in BJJ, you must do much of the same. Hell, I know a guy that has blood cancer and still trains his heart out every single day. He’s a BJJ Black Belt and that’s part of why he’s made it so far!

So the next time you consider taking a day off, stop! Ask yourself, can I just skip the things that will hurt and go drill or is this an injury that really should sideline me? Maybe the answer is to go and just watch the class or record it.

“Nor is it my intent to suggest you go against the advice a medical professional.”

 

For any of my students who may be reading this. I’m not judging your commitment, that’s certainly not my intent. Nor is it my intent to suggest you go against the advice a medical professional. I’m just trying to expose what I did to get where I am now so you will, perhaps, have something to think about the next time you decide to take a day or week or month or year off training.

 

Q: “Master Rickson [Gracie],every day I wake up and have aches and pains. What do you suggest I do to avoid that?”

A: Rickson Gracie: “Join the club, my friend.”

 

See you on the mats!

 

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