My Biggest Training Mistake

Internet forums devoted to bjj topics often have a thread along the lines of “What would you tell your white belt self?”
& “What mistakes did you make when you started training bjj?”

A variety of different suggestions come up:
1) not allow the ego to become so involved and discouraged
2) start doing standup wrestling / judo sooner
3) train with a legitimate instructor from the start
4) take conditioning more seriously
5) not stop training because of a girlfriend
6) Not tapping when caught in a submission

My own biggest training mistake was returning to rolling too soon after a back injury when I was 30 years old.
In training judo, I suffered an injury to my spine between T3 and T4 vertebrae.
My back became painfully spasmed and stiff and significantly limited my range of motion in my mid spine.

I sought advice from doctors, rehab specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists – all of whom had their own theory as to the cause and cure.
Most recommended avoiding rolling until it healed.

However, I was in the midst of a new obsession of training bjj.
My Brazilian instructor was not 100% certain to stay permanently in my country and I felt extra pressure to train and learn as much as possible in case he decided to return to Brazil.
I wanted that blue belt BADLY.
My mentality was “push through it!”

But every class made the pain worse and worse until finally I could not even sit on a couch and watch a movie.
I had to lay prone on the floor and gobble Extra Strength Tylenol just to deal with the unbearable pain.

Finally a rehab specialist who treated professional athletes told me that I need to COMPLETELY STOP any jiu-jitsu for 3 months.
I protested but he said that if I wanted to ever get better I had to stop training until it healed.
The doctor said that I was fortunate that I was not a professional athlete who depended on my body to earn my livelihood.

Depressed and in despair, I followed the advice and stayed off the mat for the 3 months.
It was difficult knowing the class was going on and I was on the sidelines.
I eventually recovered enough to earn that blue belt (and much later the black belt), but the injury was permanent.
I still manage the back pain and never really was able to achieve my full athletic potential because of the limitations imposed by the back injury.

My advice to those reading this cautionary tale is: Allow your injuries to heal FULLY before returning to training.
It is far better for you in the long run.

read also: A Reader Question: Persevering Through Injury


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