One thing is certain: you won’t get through your jiu-jitsu journey unscathed. Even the best preparation can’t stop inevitable frailty of the human form, and jiu-jitsu presents ample opportunity for freak accidents and accumulated wear and tear. Athletes are better prepared now than ever before — the simple wealth of knowledge available online has made injury prevention more accessible. Talk to your teammates and you will see how many of them “prehab”, lift, and have stretching routines.
While injury rates seem to be dropping, the treatment for injuries continues to advance. So all in all, we have picked an amazing time to learn a dangerous sport. Getting our bodies back on track is the easy part of injury recovery — the real unspoken challenge is dealing with the mental struggle that accompanies any injury. As jiu-jitsu is a massive part of your life, being off the mats is difficult to take, but here are some practical approaches to getting your head right while you wait to get back on the mats.
Being off the mats doesn’t mean that learning needs to stop. The devil makes work for idle hands, and too does an idle mind lead to trouble. One of my coaches recently broke his foot and was out for an extended period, but when he finally got back to training, he was noticeably better than he was prior to the injury. He devoted his time off the mats to studying techniques and revising concepts, and it helped him take his game to the next level. There has been recent research that shows that visualization can actually help you to develop skills.
We are in the golden age of digital grappling instructions, and BJJ Fanatics and Digitsu have some amazing content to help you continue to develop your game while you are injured. I have personally used my time injured to revisit John Danaher’s leg lock system, and I am finding it easier to actually engage with the concepts taught knowing that I am not in a race to learn everything instantly. Instead, I can use my time to really get to grips with the content.
Remember the world outside of jiu-jitsu
This is something that I have recently come to realize. My personality is addictive by nature, so when I found jiu-jitsu just after grad school, I immediately made it my life. Within a few months of training, I quit working as a teacher and took over managing my gym as the previous manager had quit. I had worked as a combat sports journalist for years before I started training, so working in a combat sports environment was nothing new for me, and naturally, I found myself training a lot. Since then, the sport has taken over my life and has led me to neglect other areas of my life.
Being off the mats is a great time to use the extra time to address other issues in your life. Want to start a business? Great! Want to spend more time with your wife or kids? Do it!
Jiu-jitsu will always be there. An injury isn’t the end of the journey, but it does give you the opportunity to make other aspects of your life even better, so when you do return to the mats you can do it in a more positive headspace.
Still show up
In contradiction to my previous point, if you still want to be at the gym, you can be. You can visit your team and watch practice, and if that makes you tempted to rush back to training too soon, then arrange a social event with your teammates. Why not go grab some acai bowls and shakka to your heart’s content in some restaurant? Personally, when I’m injured, I will still go to the occasional session to watch and go to see my teammates compete.
Depending on your injury, you might be able to make use of a grappling dummy to drill, or failing that, you can focus on some sort of strength and conditioning at your gym, which should aid your rehabilitation.
Focus on mental imagery
According to Jim Taylor Ph.D., one of the best ways to prevent mental blocks regarding your return to sport is to practice mental imagery. In this context, mental imagery isn’t merely visualization, but a more all-encompassing process where you vividly try to imagine training, the pressure, and the feelings related to grappling. By doing this, you will normalize training so that when you get back onto the mats, it won’t be a shock to the system — you’ll be prepared mentally to experience all facets of grappling.
If your injury was traumatic, mental imagery can also be used to ease your anxiety. Imagine rolling and getting through whatever technique previously hurt you, and allow your mind to positively remember grappling instead of fixating on how you got hurt.
At the end of the day, being injured isn’t ideal, but you can only play the hands that you have been dealt in life. You owe it to yourself to make the best of a bad situation.