If you train long enough, you’re eventually going to inadvertently injure a teammate.
Injuries are a part of the sport, in jiu-jitsu perhaps more than in others. Unfortunately, accidents do happen and it’s not always easy to deal with them, especially those that can have permanent consequences on someone’s life.
In almost every training session there will be an accidental knee or elbow to the face, or maybe an arm lock applied too quickly resulting in sharp pain in the elbow.
On rare occasions, however, there are severe injuries that may require surgical intervention.
In previous blogs, I referenced an old teammate who had to have extensive knee surgery. But what if you were the teammate that was involved in the training accident?
While the emotional turmoil of knowing you hurt a teammate (or even an opponent) is tame in comparison to, you know, an actual physical injury, it’s normal to privately agonise over the knowledge that you accidentally injured someone.
Seeing a teammate sitting on the side of the mat with an ice pack on their elbow, or knowing that they had to take time off training because of you, can make you feel pretty bad even if you try your hardest to be careful.
Remember, it takes two to cause/create an injury; one person moves in one direction, the partner moves the other and there it is.
This kind of thing may cause you to have doubts and even knock your confidence.
Occasionally freak accidents happen and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent them. The feelings you may experience cause you to avoid places, people, training or even jiu-jitsu altogether.
It’s important to cope and come to terms with what happened to keep being functional.
So what can you do in these situations to make sure both you and the injured party have as little consequence as possible?
Whilst you feel responsible, you have to remember that you and your teammate (or opposition) participate in a combat sport, and you didn't go out to intentionally injure your teammate.
The high five and fist bump is a binding contract that acknowledges that you are going to try to best your partner and that you would acknowledge their efforts by the high five fist bump.
Beyond that it’s important to be kind to yourself. Avoid overly blaming any one thing or yourself. The discomfort you may be going through is just an evidence of your humanity and not a reason for concern.
Keep in mind that this too will pass, for the injured person and for you. As long as you followed rules of training and let go as soon as a tap was in place everything will be fine.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Perhaps not the person who you injured but your coach, counselor or a friend for some advice.
We all make mistakes. Oftentimes, through our actions, somebody gets hurt.
Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. It could’ve happened to anybody.
This in no way makes you a bad person or a bad training partner – again as long as you follow the rules everybody else does there’s an agreement between you and your training partner.
If the person you accidentally hurt is telling you “don’t worry about it,” you should normally heed their advice. However, there are some situations in which you should take a step back and let your shame teach you a lesson:
1. You were ignoring size and experience disparities.
If you’re a brown belt who wins most matches via heel hook these days, you shouldn’t be rolling with month-three white belts as though they are also leg-locking brown belts.
If you’re a 100kg blue belt, you shouldn’t be knee-on-bellying a 60kg teenager like you’re trying to help them fit into a corset.
If you have a significant size, strength, or experience advantage over your teammate and ended up injuring them, you need to ask yourself some tough questions.
This isn’t to say that you’re deliberately hurting people just because you can — it may mean that your bodily awareness needs some work.
Many practitioners don’t realise just how big or strong they are, so submissions may come on quicker when rolling with physically weaker partners, or a sprawl that may or may not work on someone their own size could completely crumple a smaller person.
Even in more advanced athletes, ego can also get in the way when rolling with less experienced partners. For example, you may be rolling with a newbie who overestimates the flexibility of their shoulders.
If you do know better, you need to show it by letting go of the submission when you know the limb is in danger rather than sending your partner to the hospital just to prove that you had it.
Yes, your teammates should reciprocate that trustworthiness by tapping on time, but if they don’t know any better and you do, more responsibility falls on you to keep them safe.
2. You were being reckless or overly aggressive.
One knee to the face in a round is an accident. Two in the same round is a coincidence. But once you get up to three or more, it’s time to ask yourself if you need to chill out.
There are bumps and bangs that can happen even during flow rolling, but if you’re trying out cartwheel passes or diving onto your training partners to gain control, dial down the crazy moves or practice them through solo drills before doing them in live rolling.
Similarly, if you’re slamming your way out of closed guard, cranking hard and fast on submissions, or are otherwise putting your partner’s safety at risk just so you can get a “win,” stop.
You and your teammate have agreed to practicing self-defense scenarios or other situations in which these types of moves may be acceptable and, you should still be doing so with care.
If you’re really doing your best to be a safe grappler, give yourself a break.
If your partner doesn’t tell you about a current injury, or if a body part just moves the wrong way (as body parts sometimes do), that does not make you a bad training partner.
Sometimes you may be applying a technique or transitioning to another position and your teammate thinks they can out maneuver you and move irrationally, this too can cause an injury.
A sincere apology and a post-training check-in are usually all that’s warranted if you hurt your teammate while training.
For injuries that require hospitalization or keep your training partner off the mats for a significant amount of time, consider doing a little something extra.
A former teammate of mine once gave me a “get well” card after accidentally hurting my rib, and even though it wasn’t necessary, it was a sweet gesture that made me a bit less salty about having to take a couple weeks off.
If there’s anything you can do to prevent yourself from hurting your teammates, please do it. At the same time, though accidents happen, and if your teammate doesn’t appear to be holding it over your head, you shouldn’t either.
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