I went to a Muay Thai seminar 7 to 8 years ago with a very reputable instructor, and he said, “Muay Thai is dangerous, and it hurts. As opposed to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which it’s virtually painless and safe.” I have to admit, I was perplexed that he would say something like that! He probably never spent a day on the mats if he thinks Jiu-Jitsu is safe and painless! At least that was my initial thought 7 to 8 years ago – as a white belt.
My perception of Jiu-Jitsu as a white belt was a lot different than what it is today. At the time, I relied very much on strength, explosiveness, speed, and many more physical attributes to make a technique work. That led to injuries that could have been avoided. Today, I rely on patience, proper setups, baiting, chaining, and a “fundamentals-first” mindset.
Does that mean that I never get injured? No, I would be so lucky! Injuries are somewhat inevitable in Jiu-Jitsu. We are continually contorting our bodies and struggling to escape and move from very tight spaces while having another person on top of us and added gravity. All the while, said person is trying to make themselves heavier and add top-pressure of their own. Even if you never resisted and only laid there, you would still receive some level of pain. However, you can control the severity of the injuries by minimizing the risks you take.
Your Return On Investment
Let’s face it! Not everyone in Jiu-Jitsu is a professional athlete. According to BJJ Fanatics, only 10% to 15% of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners are competitors. That’s a pretty decent number! However, being a competitor doesn’t necessarily mean you are a professional athlete. In other words, your sole income or the most significant part of it should come from Jiu-Jitsu competition or endorsements. I would speculate that only 1% to 2% of the Jiu-Jitsu population makes a living from competition performance. So, why take so much risk, when there isn’t a return on that investment?
The most likely accurate answer to that question is “our competitive nature,” also known as “ego.” But I wouldn’t associate all causes of injuries to our competitive nature. Most of it comes from counterbalancing our lack of knowledge with our physical attributes – as I did as a white belt and many white belts still do. If I had to offer advice on this, it would be – “You have a job to go to in the morning, relax, and don’t try anything that you are not sure how your body will react to.”
That’s Why They Call It “Accident”
Many injuries, as I said above, are unavoidable. You can choose your training partners wisely. You can warm-up and stretch accordingly. You can ease a little on your dynamics and perhaps not be too adventurous. And you would still be subject to an injury.
The graph below comes from Alex R. McDonald’s study. McDonald collected input from 140 people in a wide range of practitioners. From hobbyists to competitors, and several levels of health.
Notice that small joints and limbs (hands, fingers, toes, etc.) are at the top of the list. These are limbs we do not usually attack but often get stuck in the gi or bent when posting or passing. I bet, pulled hair would be at the very top if it were considered an injury! It is also worthy of notice that most injuries happen in body areas that can be braced. Whether this is good news (you can brace them and you are protected) or bad news (people are bracing them and getting too comfortable with a false safety net), well, I would leave you to be the judge of that.
Jiu-Jitsu is not inherently dangerous. We are all protected by our sacred tap and the trust factor that our teammates will not harm us purposely. We can control the intensity and how hard we roll. However, accidents will happen when you rely mostly on your physical attributes. Don’t train harder than you have to and never at the risk of safety. If you are not a professional athlete, your goal should be focused on longevity. Training for as long as you can without an injury cutting it short. Be safe and take care!