Longtime BJJ blogger Can “Slideyfoot” Sönmez (www.slideyfoot.com) sent in a question about everyone’s favorite problem: injuries! We’ll go over how to deal with them and keep training.

If you have a question of your own, hit the “Hey!” button at the top of my site and ask it. You’ll get a reply as soon as I can write one, though with the 30+ that have come in so far, you may need to wait a week or two.

Here’s Slideyfoot’s question:

Hi Matt,

I’ll start off with a basic one. My left abductor is currently messed up,
which makes it difficult to practice back control or closed guard, and
pretty much rules out a lot of sweeps too.

I was therefore wondering if you had any thoughts on how best to train
around that injury? At the moment, I’ve been doing a lot of top side
control, along with a sort of open guard/knee shield thing, keeping rolling
very light.



Hi Can,

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of our jiu-jitsu lives. This popular image is sadly a self-portrait:

Anatomy of a Black Belt

So maybe you’re talking to the wrong person about dealing with injuries, but I’m still training somehow, so here you go:

Respect the warm-up, and do not jump into any live training cold. You’re already injured, so you’ve got to do whatever you can to avoid new problems or worsening the existing ones. Being limber and warmed up will help.

If you can’t spar much, drill more. This includes every variety of “dead” and live drills, from simple ones like shrimping and bridging, to slow, thoughtful repetitions of techniques, to speed drills where you do as many reps as possible in a set time, and all variations of isolation training and positional sparring at low to medium-high intensities.

When you can spar or do live drills, be willing to say no to training partners that are too big or too rough. In BJJ, we pride ourselves for being willing and able to spar with everyone, no matter how big or strong, but injuries will force you to be more selective. Even nice training partners can simply be too heavy to safely train with, no matter how unintentional the injuries are that they cause. Felipe Costa talks about this in a video where he explains why he created a training session exclusively for lightweight fighters.

In a recent, rare appearance on the UG, Roy Harris shared this advice:

Learn to set limits, as well as say “No” at times. Here are a few examples:

A. When that new wrestler asks to spar with you – the one who hurts everyone because he doesn’t have as much control over his body as he thinks he does – politely tell him, “No thanks.”

B. When you have an important presentation at work tomorrow, don’t try out the new MMA class and take the chance on getting hurt – or worse, getting a black eye. Wait awhile before trying out the new class. Put what pays the bills ahead of what sounds fun!

C. It’s Thursday evening. Tomorrow night, you and your girl are going out on a special date. Don’t take a chance with sparring. Learn the techniques your instructor taught and then politely remove yourself from class. Don’t take the chance of getting hurt – or getting one of those VISUAL injuries (one that she will have to look at all night. or worse, one that she might have to explain to friends or family members).

Make sure your instructor knows about your injuries so they can avoid putting you in dangerous situations. Some people get injured (or re-injured) because their instructor pairs them up with a rough training partner, and they don’t back out because they are afraid of disappointing their instructor. I’m more disappointed when someone gets injured than I am when they don’t act “tough eough,” so you can hope your instructor is similarly minded.

You’ve found side control works for you, so keep at that. My worst problem is a seriously damaged lower back. That rules out almost all high closed guard and its submissions, which was my best game through my lower belts (and probably a cause for my injury). If I do use those positions, I can expect several days of constant pain and difficulty sleeping. This forced me to redefine my game. What I have found is that passing guard doesn’t aggravate my back, since it’s better to be the one crushing the other guy than to be the one getting crushed.

Find a conditioning activity outside of BJJ that gives you a more balanced workout, or start incorporating those methods into your BJJ training. After my back injury, I have tried physical therapy, massage, chiropractic, yoga and pilates. So far, pilates is the only one that has really helped, and I owe that to being friends with a brown belt who is also a professional pilates instructor. I’ve also had luck with some rubber band exercises, like those shown here.

Here’s to hoping 2013 brings us cybernetic joints and vat-grown replacement vertebrae!