The Art of Sideline BJJ

I’ve often heard the advice that in the event of an injury, you should keep going to class anyway. The thinking goes that staying in the routine of regularly attending class is important, and even if you can’t drill or roll, you can still learn from the instruction. It’s nothing like actually training, but it must count for something.

That advice never worked for me.

When I’m injured, going anywhere near a jiu-jitsu mat is intensely emotionally painful. And even when I try to avoid it while I heal up, I still end up on or near the mat out of respect for my instructors. For example, I was once asked to referee a jiu-jitsu a week after a knee surgery while wearing a full knee brace—the bionic kind that can lock straight so you walk like a pirate—and recently I refereed a tournament with a serious hernia (I’d find out later that my abdominal lining had actually become detached, which is why it hurt more than typical hernias).

Those are extreme cases, but even in casual settings, like dropping in to visit a friend while traveling, being near jiu-jiteiros getting to do their jiu-jiteiro thing is tough. Jiu-jitsu has become such an important part of my identity that I feel like I’m an 8-year-old being made to sit in a corner during the best birthday party of the year.

Here’s the thing though: This is an entirely selfish view of my relationship to jiu-jitsu that completely ignores the community aspect of training.

It turns out that when you train with people long enough, they become your friends, and they might actually miss you when you have to take time off. For my part—in large part because of my permanent social awkwardness—I missed out on this fact until someone made it perfectly clear to me.

“Hey man, I get that you are going through jiu-jitsu withdrawal,” he said, “We just miss having you around and don’t want you to do it alone.”

I had never looked at it that way before, but he was right.

Whether we are going through a layoff ourselves or have friends who are facing that challenge, we shouldn’t forget the community aspect of the sport. Yes, being around jiu-jitsu when you can’t train sucks, but so does cutting yourself off from people who genuinely care about your wellbeing. Finding ways to still be a part of the jiu-jitsu community is a powerful way to take the edge off of the can’t-train-for-a-while misery.

If you’re hurt, stop by during the occasional open mat to say hi (you don’t have to sit through an entire class). Join in on gatherings like fight nights or gym picnics. Jiu-jitsu as a lifestyle has many more components than the training itself. When you’re injured, don’t throw all of it away. And if you know someone who is injured, reach out to check on them. They are probably feeling pretty bummed and could use a kind word from someone they respect.