Take care of your training partners

BJJ is an individual sport but we can’t train alone. We need teammates. So it’s critical that we take care of our training partners. If they don’t show up to train tomorrow we won’t be able to continue improving. How do we make sure they show up? By being excellent training partners, and doing our best to minimize the potential for injuries.

Sometimes injuries happen accidentally when you move your body in a way it wasn’t intended to move. Maybe you twist your torso trying to get out of side control rather than bridging, causing a torsional rib strain. Or maybe you end up with your knee in a compromised position during a scramble and you accidentally tear a ligament. Those things can happen. No one is to blame, other than perhaps one’s own inexperience or competitive zeal.

Other times injuries can happen when someone refuses to tap even though the odds of escape are zero. I would argue that the partner taking the submission shares some of the blame for continuing to apply it, but mostly those injuries are self-inflicted. If you don’t tap, you have to accept that sometimes there will be consequences.

But there’s another category of injury that is totally avoidable. Injuries that happen when someone takes a submission too forcefully and aggressively, using their physical attributes to muscle it on, and often with poor mechanics. Those types of injuries are almost always caused by inexperienced students, and they can be the most injurious.

White belts have poor technique, or sometimes no technique at all, so they tend to be the most dangerous students in any academy. The odds that you’ll injure someone diminish proportionally with your belt color. But when you have little technique, it’s very common to try to compensate for that using aggression and strength, grabbing at limbs or someone’s neck, sometimes at odd angles, and cranking way too hard. That’s extremely dangerous.

Good BJJ is controlled BJJ. A submission taken properly should have progressive pressure with good mechanics. Jiu Jitsu in Japanese means “the gentle art”. It should never be rough or overly aggressive, or put someone at risk of injury, or cause them to leave class beat up. If you’re bigger or stronger than your training partner and you use your physical attributes to submit them, did you really prove anything? Did you demonstrate that your Jiu Jitsu is better? No.

Of course on the street in a self-defense situation you should be as nasty as you need to be. Use whatever tools are needed to prevail. Or in competition, be as aggressive as possible within the ruleset. But in class that’s totally inappropriate.

If you injure someone, not only are you depriving them from being able to continue training, you’ve eliminated a training partner that can help you improve. And, if they have to take an extended time off (or if they quit entirely) you’ve just deprived the academy of revenue needed to pay the rent and keep the lights on.

Here’s the thing about Jiu Jitsu. By the time you get to black belt you will have tapped out ten thousands times. I tap every single time I train. It’s no big deal—in either direction. If I get the tap, great. If I get tapped, cool. Getting the tap only really matters when it was gained with good mechanics. Then you should celebrate because your BJJ is getting demonstrably better. But if you jerk someone’s arm off because your competitive zeal got out of control, well, that’s not cool.

So don’t be that guy. Be the kind of training partner everyone loves to roll and train with. Be the kind of training partner people miss when you don’t show up to class. If you treat your training partners with respect you’ll gain it in return tenfold.

That goes for drilling technique too. Move your body with precision and control. No need to be aggressive, clumsy, or rough. Drilling is about ingraining complex movement patterns. If you drill slowly and methodically, eventually you’ll be able to move at full speed with finesse and precision.

In auto racing they say “slow is fast”. What they mean is that the drivers who look the slowest are often the fastest. The ones getting sideways around the corners are just demonstrating their lack of skill. Be the expert driver. Move with control and precision. And leave your ego at the door. You’re not in class to win. You’re there to improve along with your teammates.

If you can do that, you’ll be a joy to train wth. And, you’ll become a much better grappler much faster.

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