It can happen at any time, and more often than not, it happens at the worst possible time, when you’re about to compete, breaking plateaus, or any other similar groove. Yes, there’s no good time to get injured, but ligaments, tendons, and bones tend to snap at rather inopportune moments despite your goals– resulting in you having to pull out of tournaments and put a pause on your training.
You know what they say, though, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” and taking some time off to let yourself heal won’t impact your jiu-jitsu in the long term. The good news is, there are things you can do while on the mend that will get you rolling– pun intended– at a higher level when you’re ready to go again.
It might not be hard training, which is, at the end of the day, why we do jiu-jitsu in the first place– getting hard rounds in and those endorphins flowing– but there are still things you can do. What are those things? Let’s talk about them.
Teach, Teach, Teach
Teaching is one of the best ways to improve your jiu-jitsu, and if you’re a purple belt or higher, there’s a good chance there will be teaching opportunities for you somewhere in jiu-jitsu. It could be running a fundamentals class for kids or offering free help to your instructor, but there is always something available if you look hard enough.
Teaching allows you to slow down techniques in your mind and figure out why you’re doing them. It forces you to answer questions that you may have never thought about, and you’ll simultaneously get multiple different points of view on a particular technique at once.
You’ll likely discover specific details on the fly as you explain a technique, and you’ll have to present everything you’re doing believably and convincingly– displaying with confidence that, “Hey, I know what I’m doing, here’s why.”
This trait is a skill that not everyone has– not even some high-level competitors. Still, being a good teacher can help your jiu-jitsu, and when you start, you’ll undoubtedly see an improvement.
Jiu-Jitsu practitioners often scoff at karate, specifically kata. You’ll often hear them dismiss it as an elaborate dance with no combat application– a haka with punches and kicks. It’s just something that people do to feel powerful without ever actually having to fight.
You saw the first few UFCs, right? Wrestlers, judokas, and jiu-jitsu practitioners tossed, threw, took down, and submitted just about every karateka put in front of them.
Still, good movement often equals good jiu-jitsu, and while you might not want to make movement training the sum of your jiu-jitsu schedule, it certainly can be part of it. If you have an injury, take a few fundamental movements in jiu-jitsu and just drill them for an hour a day. It could be as simple as doing a stand-up in closed guard or kneeling while facing a wall to get up without touching your forehead to its surface.
This exercise ensures correct spinal posture throughout the movement. Reinforce that, and you’ll likely have a much easier time getting up in your opponent’s closed guard when you’ve returned.
Maybe it’s inverting drills, shrimps, or something along those lines you want to practice. All of those are pretty low-impact exercises, and likely won’t jeopardize your damaged limb. And when that part of you has healed, you’ll have a better understanding of it’s movement after all that work to transpose directly onto live sparring.
This section is different than the previous one simply because drilling often implies the presence of a partner. If you’re healthy, you probably drill your A-game obsessively to keep it sharp for competition. Still, if you’re hurt, you probably won’t be competing for a while, and it’s likely so reinforced at this point that it won’t take much time to polish it back up once you’re back full time on the mats.
Injury time would be an excellent opportunity to drill those neglected techniques you’ve never tried to expand your understanding of them. If you do that, you’ll likely to at least be able to get those moves on practitioners of lesser experience than after healing. Then you can slowly work them up your technique depth chart– making your A game that much more extensive, something you wouldn’t have been able to do had you not taken that time to drill it during your injury layoff.
Still Attend Classes, Even If You’re Just Sitting On The Side Of The Mat
Keeping your routine is one of the essential aspects of improving your jiu-jitsu, and if that routine breaks, it might be difficult to restart it once you’re back and moving again. So try continuing to attend the classes that you had been going to prior. It’s a great way to stay a fixture of your gym while also getting that social element of jiu-jitsu that’s so essential as well. You might miss rolling, but you’ll get everything you can out of it.
And if you’re a higher belt, this gives you the chance to help the lower belts, drill technique, and the like– all things that I discussed in prior sections.
Don’t Freak Out. You Have Time.
It’s the most difficult to do– keep a level head. Most jiu-jitsu athletes are pretty driven, and when they don’t constantly grind to improve and see their peers doing so in their absence, it’s a good way to make the average competitor go insane. It can lead you to get into a bad headspace.
And you definitely should always try to keep a positive attitude. Even during pandemic times, there’s not a shortage of competitions and tournaments. You may have to travel a bit more for them these days, but they’re around. And if they haven’t gone away entirely in the past year or so, they likely never will.
So just relax. An injury isn’t the end of your jiu-jitsu career, and the time off might be an excellent way to reset. Often, when you’re so fixated on the grind, you get lost in your work. This mild setback could be a good way to see the bigger picture again, so give yourself the time to recover thoroughly and comprehensively. This way, when you’re back, you won’t run into the issue of aggravating or complicating what you thought was in your rearview mirror.
Jeff Nelson is a brown belt under Danilo Cherman of Team Nova Uniao. He started training jiu-jitsu in 2014, and he always complains about Star Wars on his personal Instagram account.