This week, we have a guest blogger, one of my long time training partners, Reyn. He's a BJJ brown belt and has had one of the unluckiest runs of BJJ related injuries I've ever met. Through all this, he never gave up his love of the sport. Look after your body on and off the mat, it's the only one you've got to train with. The moral of the story is, rest when you need it, do your rehab if you ever get injured, and stay alert of any pains that rise up and see a physio! Happy Grappling!
Hi there, my name is Reynold and I'm a hobbyist BJJ practitioner. I’ve been a hobbyist for the entirety of my BJJ journey, having competed only a handful of times, I am no competitor, I train for fitness and the mental stimulation and I enjoy the camaraderie in the gym and friends I’ve made.
For the gift of slight insight into the game of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu it seems the universe has seen it fit to extract some recompense in the form of physical injuries. These are not the worst injuries I have seen on the mat, nor is the list exhaustive, it is more a general sketch of my physical journey over the years through BJJ.
The AC Joint
It was the last training on the second last day of my training trip to japan, highlights had included meeting and training with Imanari at the DEEP gym and also meeting the gregarious Abe-san of AACC gym.
In this last session, in all my blue belt wisdom, decided I should take it easy, roll light and enjoy this moment before I have to come back home. On top half guard against a female brown belt I stupidly decided to give up top in order to play bottom half, my favorite position.
Unfortunately at the same time I decided to roll over to bottom half guard she decided to explode hips to off balance me, this resulted in me planting my entire weight onto my front left shoulder, it felt as if I had cracked my collar bone. It definitely did not feel right. (Un)Luckily my partner was a physio and she diagnosed it with a fairly straightforward “not broken”, I was unsure I believed her.
The flight home was the next day and it was only due to the quick thinking and patience of my training partner that I was able to have a sling (improvised from a t-shirt), for a modicum of comfort, and have someone to carry my luggage around.
Over the next few months, after visiting the physio, it turned out my AC joint had been injured, it wasn’t a severe injury but to this day if I press on the right spot enough the joint feels tender. After taking the time to let the injury settle down, it had affected my mobility on my left arm drastically, in the Americana position I could not bring my hand back towards the body by much at all, so little, that even getting the Americana grip resulted in my tapping. It took another few months of regular particular stretching to get it back to workable shape.
The Mallet Finger
My most ridiculous and annoying injury, the mallet finger of doom. During grading practice at training one night I lazily change position from top turtle head to head to side back, only leaving my hand behind, my knee crunches on my little finger right hand, it does not feel good. I check it and it is bent at the first knuckle from the tip and I am unable to straighten it, this is not good. Previously I had popped another finger out of it’s joint so I thought perhaps it was dislocated, in that case I had popped the finger back in, it was swollen for a week or so but that was about it.
This time, in a mounting but still mild panic I tried a few attempts to pop it back in, that did not work. My instructor, Elvis Sinosic, had a few goes as well but again the finger would not straighten. Thankfully Elvis was kind enough to drive me to the emergency room and sit with me while I tried not to freak out.
Turns out I had self inflicted an injury known colloquially as mallet finger, where the tendon holding your finger straight is severed and you end up looking like you have the world's tiniest mallet attached to your hand like an idiot.
After being set up with the tiniest little plastic cast on my little finger I had to regularly visit the hospital to check up on progress of the healing. The nurses told me it would have been better to break the bone rather than snap the tendon as the tendon would take a longer time to heal and would never be 100% again. I told them to cut it off while silently cursing their calm demeanors.
It was around four months later I could start tentatively training again, and to this day I have a slight bend to my right hand little finger.
What has become my white whale, my never-ending torment, the meniscus era. Many many years ago I felt a slight indistinct soreness in my left knee after training one night. After a few physio visits and an inconclusive MRI it was chalked up to inflammation, maybe the Popliteus muscle behind my knee.
Fast forward a few more years and while knee riding with that same knee my partner hips escapes and I feel and awkward internal movement and very loud clunk and pop. That was it for that session and after the swelling went down it didn’t seem any worse for wear. Only now my knee had a slight catch and clunk at certain angles, fair enough, thems the breaks when doing jits.
Fast forward a few more years and while defending a guard pass on my back my partner falls onto my hooks at exactly that wrong angle and again a loud clunk and pop, but this time there is almost immediate swelling and I can't straighten my leg. Or walk. Great.
Now we speed through a montage of me repeating the same general pattern, with visits to the physio, various rehabs for the LCL, before finally seeing a specialist and going to get another MRI. MRI shows extensive tear of the left leg meniscus, inside and to the back. Specialist recommends a repair rather than cut or shave, longer recovery and also a longer wait for surgery as it is not classified as an emergency. Ok, great. But I can’t do jits, this is an emergency for me!
Fast forward a year of very light, almost non existent BJJ, tapering down from light rolling, to only rolling from under bottom side control, to injuring it again so I couldn't walk, to only watching rolling. It feels like a slow death of my spirit, I’m also getting fatter.
I end up getting the surgery, no complications, hallelujah! I wait it out feverishly to get back on the mats, I’m told should wait at least three months. On the exact end day of that three months I make my triumphant return, only to strain my knee yet again during warm up (breaking posture with your legs in closed guard, if you were curious), I wish against all hope that it is only the LCL again, and the first few physio visits seems to strengthen that hope. Until a few months later when the physio checks my progress with a Mcmurray's test, and my knee fails like the treacherous little turncoat it is. Cue another MRI and it is confirmed, complex tear of the OTHER side of the meniscus. Is this real life?
After another deja vu inducing visit to the specialist he recommends I wait it out this time, continue with my life (sans BJJ) and once the knee performance degenerates more (locks or is painful for day to day activity) then we can talk about scheduling in a shave on the left side of my left knee meniscus. I gave myself until after Xmas 2018 and new year 2019 to see how my knee performed. But over the break I resolved to just have the surgery, until that is I discovered I have a small hernia on my upper groin right side, this is unrelated to BJJ so I won’t get into it here but this will set back and potential return by at the very least half a year I would estimate. So there it is, my ridiculous, injurious, travels through BJJ so far.
So having gone through the fairly light amount of injuries, comparatively, in BJJ, would I still do it again if I had to? Absolutely, the benefits I have gained cannot be measured easily by any metric. It’s not hyperbolic to say I would be a completely different man were it not for the lessons I have learned and things I have experienced on the mat.
What can be learned by my misadventures? From my hobbyist viewpoint, take extra time to look after your body, especially as you get older, constantly evaluate your physical circumstance and do your best to nurture and strengthen your body, however way you see fit, it is the vehicle by which you can experience this wonderful art and activity so don’t take it for granted, no matter how well it is functioning now.