How to Progress Even When You're Injured - New School BJJ Brixton | London , UK

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How to Progress Even When You're Injured

It can be heartbreaking to get injured right when it feels like your training going so well. Sadly, injury risk is just something that comes along with combat sports, and learning to navigate your recovery is another part of the path of mastery. This blog is intended to offer some insight into the physical, mental and emotional challenges you get to work through as an injured martial artist. 

The HARDEST thing for an athlete is to do is rest, especially if you’re in good energy and you’re just itching to get on the mats! The first thing to get very honest with yourself about is if you need to take time off training. 

When an injury is in the acute phases of healing, you want to avoid re-injury at all costs. It’s in this crucial period that you can turn a moderate injury into a severe one, because it is already compromised. So when the competitive part of you tries to argue that it’s worth the risk (“I’ll just strap it up and hope for the best!”), try and find that wise part in you that can see the long game. Discipline is not just about constantly pushing harder and harder; discipline involves having the wisdom and humility to rest when it’s time to rest. 

Most significant injuries will need at least a bit of time off training, because jiu jitsu movements can be varied and unpredictable. If functioning in your daily life is being affected by your injury, chances are rolling around with other adults isn’t a good idea. Testing out some of the fundamental jiu jitsu movement patterns (like squatting, kneeling, pushing, pulling, rolling) may also give you an indication of whether or not your body is up for the challenge. Swelling, bruising and heat are signs that your body is sending a lot of resources to heal the area — so let it do its job!

If you can’t train, this is a great time to be studying and mapping out your game. In fact, this “off-the-mats” work tends to be hugely neglected. Remember that jiu jitsu is an extremely technical game, and mastery requires thorough understanding of concepts and techniques. As you advance in jiu jitsu, you’ll start to specialise in movements and strategies that fit your body type, mobility, strength, agility etc, so researching systems, pro athletes and tips beyond what might be shared in class will be hugely beneficial for your development.

You could also gain a lot from still coming to training and watching from the side of the mat. Taking notes works for some people, but also watching other athletes train will help you gather data about common mistakes and innovative approaches. Plus, at least this way you’re not missing out on hanging out with the community!

When you’re ready to start moving again, it normally makes sense to avoid sparring and stick with drilling, where there’s more control and predictability. This can take some serious self-restraint for us athletes! And yet, here again we have an opportunity to advance our skill with a more thoughtful approach. When we have to be mindful with our movements, it means we have to slow down, flow more, and force less. Our head teacher, Reiss, uses this approach himself — drilling in slow motion, carefully choosing each move. The gentle pace offers time for our brain to make new connections and explore creative options. Yes, we’ll need to test out these new patterns in full sparring, but it’s the controlled, technically slick repetitions that ingrain precision and efficient movement. 

As your injury is ready to take on more and more strain, you get to practice being mindful of your body and the signals it’s giving you. Self-mastery requires you to be receptive to the moment-to-moment needs of your mind-body system, which can often be at odds with the plan your ego has for your progress and achievements. If you experience frustration, sadness or any other emotional response to being injured, see if you can shift your mindset from all the things you now can’t do, and onto all the things you can do to help your body heal, as well as the above ways in which you can still progress in your jiu jitsu. Radical acceptance for the reality of the situation can be very hard to learn for some people, but maybe this injury can be your opportunity to surrender.

You don’t get to choose if or when you might get injured, but you can choose how you approach your recovery. It’s an opportunity for you to take the lessons you’ve learned on the mats into all areas of your life — respond to what’s in front of you with the most mindful, wise and skilful response; trust in the process and be in it for the long game. 

By Eleanor Forder, Co-Facilitator of NSBJJ Embodiment Programme