Injuries big and small have been a consistent theme in my jiu-jitsu writing because for some reason I am a lot like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable—minus the acts of mass terrorism (spoiler alert). As frustrating and as depressing injuries can be, they can also benefit your training. Granted, these benefits probably are not as good as the benefits of just staying healthy in the first place, but there are a few upsides that might make you feel just a wee little bit better about that injury.
An injury can force you to do two primary things: Get your jiu-jitsu game up to speed after a layoff and adapt your game to work around a vulnerable body part.
Returning from a Layoff
When you sit out for a prolonged period of time, you will probably feel slow and rusty when you get back to that mat, and the challenge is more than just a subpar cardio. Your reaction times are dulled, and your problem solving is foggy. For many, this triggers a self-review. You think back on what your A game used to be, and you start drilling, working your way through reps of the fundamentals up through your favorite set ups and counters.
When we are perfectly healthy, drilling the techniques that we do every session anyway will probably never happen, but when an injury forces you to, you might actually find that your A game is better in the long run. Those extra focused reps help you to dial-in the core of your game, bringing details and tactics that might have been subconscious (or overlooked) to the top of your mind.
For me, I feel as if my A game actually steps up a level each time I go through the process of re-drilling my go-to escapes and my go-to attacks, and I attribute that to simply taking the time to take the engine apart, clean all the pieces, and carefully reassemble everything with some updates and modifications along the way.
Adapting to Injury
Whether you do it out of necessity or out of fear of re-injury, babying an injured body part adds an entirely new priority structure to how you roll. You will probably become extra wary of certain grips or attacks, and you may have to omit specific movements or positions from your repertoire because of how they aggravate your injury. The result: You have to adapt and re-adapt your technique, making you hyper-aware of what’s happening and what options are and are not available to you at any given time.
Because of my Mr. Glass mat experience, I have a lot of examples of how this process impacted my own training. To start, my knees are bad enough that I don’t do triangle chokes, which completely transformed my guard. Where I used to insist on climbing into a high closed guard, I now play butterfly hooks almost exclusively because that guard style takes me as far away from triangle chokes as one can reasonable get from guard. When I do find myself in a triangle-esque position, I have to force the omoplata.
Before my knees went bad, I very rarely worked butterfly sweeps and only barely explored omoplatas. Now I’ve gone deep into learning and applying them.
The Opportunity in Pain
As frustrating as injuries can be, try to look on the bright-side. They can be opportunities to transform your training. Getting hurt and sitting out will never not be terrible, but if you can find some joy in the intellectual challenge of rebuilding your game or adapting your technique around your personal obstacles, your jiu-jitsu will benefit. You might still be hurt or not at your best, but you at least have the comfort of knowing your jiu-jitsu is improving.