5 Quick Ways To Spot A Veteran Grappler.

Photo by: parttimegrappler/ Liam Wandi

I often post on more serious topics, but occasionally I like to make non-serious ones that cause no drama or debate.

This is one of those posts.

Have you ever walked into a gym or even down the street, and been like “Yup, he is a grappler”?

The longer someone has been training jiu-jitsu, the easier it is to spot them in general.

Some of these signs are pretty easy to spot and some are a little more subtle, so let’s jump into this.

Here are five quick ways to spot a grappler.

Cauliflower Ear

This one doesn’t develop in everyone, but it is almost a surefire sign of a veteran grappler.

Years of training can take a toll on the ear. While some people take care of their ears and drain them instantly, many people wear cauliflower ears as a badge of honor.

Bruises and Black Eyes

While black eyes are still pretty rare, bruises can be anywhere and everywhere. We tend to find them randomly while changing. I can’t count how many times I have found a random bruise and been like “When did that happen”?

So, if you see someone walking around and spot some weird bruise, they may just be a veteran grappler.


Tape is our best friend. We can tape just about anything for a quick fix to train, but most commonly our fingers.

I have gotten some pretty strange looks after training when I go to the store and forget to take my finger tape off.


I have noticed a trend in my t-shirt arsenal. Over time jiu-jitsu practitioners end up with a lot of tournament shirts and academy shirts.

In fact, that’s basically all I have now.

Food Restrictions

It seems like I am always on some new diet in an effort to either lose weight or gain for a specific weight class. People who don’t train often look at me weird as some months I’ll be eating very little carbs and another they’ll see me downing a 2000-calorie meal.

These are five very common signs of a grappler. There are of course others, but I think these are pretty objective.

How long have you been training, and how many of these apply to you ?


  1. just one and a half years of grappling (but various other stuff before that)
    Cauliflower: a mild undrainable one, but noticeable if you look at me straight on.
    Black eye and bruises: right now a black eye (thanks to that guy who slammed me). Since i started training there has not been a day i wouldn’t be bruised somewhere.
    Tape: there’s the preventive kind and the treatment kind. the latter is thankfully the rarer.
    T-shirts: *looks at the globetrotters shirt he’s wearing*
    Food restrictions: I fought a division up from what I’m used to last week. Now i miss carbs.

  2. Be weary of the new guy/girl that warms up doing elbows inside the thighs stratches into a hand-stand and perfect granby rolls with forward dive-rolls even though he/she is wearing a white belt is all I’m sayin’.

  3. Haha, I can relate to all of these after five years of nogi. And I love my “baby cauliflower ear”. I would also add an abundance of grappling gear (spats, rash guards) as well as multiple gis to the clothing list.

  4. Handshake. There is unmistakable density in the hands of a long time grappler. Big or small, a grappler’s hand feels compact and thick. Feels like there is no give anywhere.

    Muscle density. A striker’s muscles tend to be lose, ready to contract and explode. A grappler’s muscles usually feel dense and a bit swollen, even without flexing.

    Calluses on the outside of the last 2 knuckles is a dead give away of someone who does a lot of gi work (judo, bjj, sambo). For nearly everyone else, calluses happen inside the hand.

    Comparatively large back muscles, especially the erector spinae, is quite typical in judoka. (A result of all the pulling on the opponent’s gi and trying to keep the balance)

    Thick necks. Either through training or selection, grapplers tend to have proportionally large, strong necks (because, well, you don’t last very long with a pencil neck).

    Signs of wear and tear on the face, somewhat thicker skin, rarely sharp features on the face. Especially true for wrestlers who constantly use their heads to push, grind, stabilize, and get pushed in the face a lot. Less true for Judo and BJJ.

    Oh well, that’s my list.

  5. Been grappling for almost 4 years now, wouldn’t believe it when you see me on the mats getting destroyed every single time. I train for amateur mma so lot of my training is also striking training, maybe that’s why.
    I recently started developing cauliflower ears and although it’s bad in the long run I’m secretly a little proud of them. Shirts… yeah. I have some. I get some bruises but usually I get questions for the little cuts I get from trainig partners who neglect their fingernail management (smh).

  6. Cauliflower ears yes, bruises not so much (amateurs get just as bruised up or maybe more in my opinion), The other things don’t mean much. The author left out the most important way to spot a veteran grappler: they know how to flow/transition with ease, they tend to be relaxed when they roll in class.


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