The Dangers Of Long Nails In Jiu-Jitsu

Wear shoes off the mats, no shoes on the mats, wear deodorant and clean gear, and keep your nails short.

These are some of the most fundamental rules of safety and hygiene in jiu-jitsu, and while they’re all pretty easy to follow, that last one is often neglected, especially by newer students who are used to having their nails grow past their fingertips or have grown attached to their acrylics. Much like facial hair or tattoos, nails can be an important part of a person’s identity and aesthetic, but unfortunately, they’re basically weapons in jiu-jitsu.

A basic rule of thumb to follow in jiu-jitsu is that you shouldn’t be able to see your fingernails at all if you’re looking at your palm, but even that can be a bit too long, depending on your nail and finger shape. Try to keep both your finger and toenails trimmed as low as you can without feeling pain or discomfort. Obviously, cutting your nails too short can put you at risk for bleeding and infection, so use your best judgment and maintain a length that will keep your digits happy without making you a scratch risk.

Why is this so important? Well, have you ever been scratched by someone before? It hurts, especially when they’re actively trying to grab you or your gi. Beyond that, though, scratches open up the skin to potential infections, and that risk becomes even greater when the open wound is making contact with other people and a sweat- and germ-covered mat.

There’s no guarantee that your nails will just scratch skin, either. It’s not uncommon for a finger to graze or jab an eye, and there’s a much greater chance for significant damage if there’s a long nail at the end of it. An eye poke is painful enough without corneal abrasion thrown into the mix.

If the risk to your own teammates isn’t enough (and to be clear, it very much should be), consider how painful it would be for your own nail to tear or be ripped clean off. Nails — even short ones — get bent back and torn all the time on the mats, and the chances of that happening dramatically increase when there’s more nail hanging over the edge of your fingers. The last thing you want is for your teammate to break your grip on their sleeve or lapel and have your entire nail get ripped out of the nailbed.

Keeping your nails short and trimmed is a must for anyone training BJJ. For some, it’s just another item on the do-to list before heading to the gym to train. For others, it’s a bit of a sacrifice, but it’s worth it. There’s nothing saying that you can’t keep getting your nails done — just keep them short. Keep a set of clippers in your gym bag just in case you forget, and if you really love your training partners, file them to smooth out the edges before you step on the mats as well. Your hands may look a little shorter and stubbier than you’d like, but at least you won’t be wounding the people trying to choke you.


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