Getting injured hurts physically, but if you have a conscience and have injured a teammate, you know that being the one who caused the injury hurts emotionally.
Although we call jiu-jitsu the “gentle art,” it’s almost impossible to train for more than a few years without getting at least one injury that takes you out of action for at least a few weeks. Sometimes, the injury is minor — a strain that requires just a bit of anti-inflammatories and rest to feel better. Other times, it’s more serious, requiring surgery and physiotherapy to even begin the process of getting back to “normal.”
I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of injuries, and, without question, I’d rather be on the receiving end every time. Just as I try my hardest not to hurt my teammates, I know that my teammates also try their hardest not to hurt me. But still, accidents happen in our beloved sport of chokey-breaky, and when limbs are tangled and bodies are twisted, even the best of intentions can lead to serious pain and an extended break from the mats. And while the injured person is, of course, the top priority, no one ever really tells the injurer how they should process such a traumatic event on the mats.
1. Talk through your feelings with a third party.
It’s okay (and healthy) to want to talk through how bad you feel about what’s happened. Being upset about hurting someone doesn’t mean you’re being melodramatic or desperate for attention — it means you’re a compassionate human being. However, the injured person has enough on their plate, and even if they know that the accident was truly just an accident, they shouldn’t bear the responsibility of helping you feel better about what happened to them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about your own feelings, but rather that you should speak with someone else about how you feel. Your coach or an upper belt teammate — both of whom have likely been in your shoes at some point in their time on the mats — can be good sounding boards to talk through your own feelings and discuss if anything can be done in the future to prevent it from happening again.
2. Respect what the injured person needs from you.
Injuries aren’t fun as it is, but there’s an added emotional component when they prevent you from doing something you love. In a sport like jiu-jitsu, with two people involved in every roll (and sometimes more, if the injury came from a collision with other teammates), there may also be blame assigned. Because of this, it’s extra important to make sure that your interactions with your injured teammate don’t put your guilt over their immediate needs. If you cranked on an armbar and didn’t give them time to tap, they may need to wait a while before they’re ready to speak to you again, no matter how much you want to apologize and grovel at their feet. Alternatively, they may appreciate you checking in every few days to see how they’re going. Feel the situation out, and if you’re unsure, ask them what they need from you, and be respectful of that decision if they say they just want space. Even if the injury was due to a freak accident with neither of you at fault, they may simply be upset at the situation and want time to cool down.
This also applies to when the injured teammate returns to rolling once they’ve healed up. It may be some time before they want to roll with you again. They may also ask you to avoid certain submissions or to just flow roll. Again, as much as this may not feel great for you, it’s what’s necessary for them to feel safe and comfortable on the mats again. Even if you weren’t at fault, they may subconsciously associate you with what happened. It’s okay to reassure them that you’ll go slow, but if they still refuse to roll with you, don’t pressure them or try to guilt them into changing their mind.
3. Ask yourself the tough questions.
Sometimes, injuries are truly freak accidents — you slipped on a sweaty patch on the mats, and that was it for your knee. Other times, the lines are blurred, and it’s worth taking a look back at what really happened to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Channel your frustration into productivity, and ask yourself the (sometimes uncomfortable) questions to see what could’ve been done differently. Do you need to slow down in your rolls? Was the person you were rolling with unfamiliar with the submission you were using? Have other people complained about the way you roll before? Alternatively, was the injured person the one who made the mistake, moving the wrong way to get out of a submission or waiting too long to tap? If you’re not sure, it never hurts to talk it through with your coach. It may become a learning experience for you that will help you become a better, safer rolling partner down the road. Otherwise, your coach may be able to talk with the injured teammate about how to avoid the same problem in the future. And, of course, in some situations, you may simply be able to sleep easier knowing that there wasn’t much that either of you could have done to prevent the accident from happening.
4. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
For people with even a basic level of empathy, guilt is natural in situations like this. Wallow in self-pity during your post-training shower, vent about it to a friend if you need to. But once you’ve done everything you can, try to let it go. Holding onto your guilt isn’t going to make your training partner better, and it’s certainly not going to make your jiu-jitsu better unless you can channel it into something productive. We participate in a combat sport, and injuries happen. The best we can do is to try not to hurt our teammates while also trying not to get hurt ourselves. Learn from the experience if you can, and then be ready to show up again as the best training partner you can be.