The fear of getting injured is one of the biggest obstacles that keep people from training martial arts, and I’d argue that it is especially the case with submission grappling.  Even though the term “jiu jitsu” is literally translated as “The Gentle Art,” the art’s focus on chokes and joint locks often discourages people from learning it.

Watching Frank Mir harvest Nogueira's arm at UFC 140 probably doesn't help either...

It’s true – injuries are an unfortunate part of martial arts training.  Minor injuries are the most common (mat burn, bruises, etc), but are only annoying when you shower after training.  More serious injuries are rare (broken bones, torn ligaments, etc), but can take a substantial amount of time to recover from.  However, the bright side is that while training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you have a huge amount of control over your injury rate (perhaps more than any other full-contact martial art).  If you feel at all uncomfortable, you have a 100% effective escape from any submission or position you find yourself in – tapping out.  If you keep your ego in check and tap early to submission attempts, you drastically decrease your odds of becoming injured.  You can also improve these odds by being selective in your training partners – you aren’t obligated to train with the hot-headed bodybuilder who seems to injure everyone he trains with.  Finally, by limiting your (and your partners’) speed while training, you can cut your injury rate even further.

Of course, there are injuries that can’t be avoided – sometimes freak accidents happen.  You could be rolling at 10% speed with a trusted training partner, and blow out your knee just by moving it at a weird angle.  However, I shouldn’t have to point out that this could just as easily happen while playing catch with your nephew.  And while this is legitimate (though unlikely) risk of doing any physical activity, I’d argue that the benefits of training BJJ (e.g. improved physical conditioning, flexibility, confidence, social atmosphere, etc.) easily outweigh the minor risk of an accidental freak injury.

Interestingly, this poll found that over 50% of respondents would continue to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu even if they knew it would decrease their lifespan by at least 5 years!  An additional 22% would continue to train if it shortened their life by only 1 year.  Only 25% of respondents would stop training if they knew it would shorten their lifespan at all.

Take what you will from the poll results, but it seems obvious that the respondents highly value the benefits they gain from training BJJ.  And luckily, by adhering to a few simple rules of thumb while training (e.g. checking your ego, tapping early, and being selective in your training partners), you can significantly shift the cost-benefit ratio of training BJJ in your favor.


About Dave

Grad student in Ecology, Blue belt in jiu jitsu.
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