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Dealing with Injuries

Recently I was asked by one of our students, as well as a prospective student, about how to train even if you have an injury.  Of course the first thing you need to do is assess the severity of the situation with your doctor, and make a determination of whether it is something that absolutely needs rest, or is something you can temporarily work around.

Let’s start with the first scenario.  Whether it’s an issue that occurred in the gym, or outside of the gym, sometimes our bodies simply need rest to heal.  HOWEVER, EVEN THAT DOES NOT PRECLUDE YOU FROM TRAINING.  So many people forget that it is our brain we are training along with our bodies when we are on the mat.  BOTH need to be trained to become a top level practitioner.  To understand how to train your brain to function at a high level, you need to understand how your brain works.

There are two main components of your brains awareness, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.  The conscious mind uses thousands of neurons to control its processes.  The subconscious mind uses MILLIONS of neurons to process information.  If you only tap into your conscious mind, you are only using a fraction of your brains ability.  It is information in the subconscious mind that drives our reflexes and makes tasks become automatic.  Until your techniques are ingrained in your subconscious mind, you will never reach a high level of practice.

So what exactly am I talking about?  Let me give you an example.  I’m guessing everyone at one time or another has played video games for hours on end.  What happens after you are done playing?  After bombarding your brain with conscious, repetitive activities, even when you are done playing your SUBCONCIOUS mind is still active, playing multiple scenarios of the game over and over in your head.  You CAN’T make it stop, even if you try.  I experienced this after a particularly successful night at a blackjack table in Vegas.  After 5 hours of playing, I could not sleep because I kept seeing cards flashing through my head like I was at the table.  I COULDN’T make it stop.  My subconscious mind had taken over.

So what does this have to do with Jiu-Jitsu?  Well, there was a study done I read about where 30 people were tested on their ability to shoot free throws.  After a baseline of 10 shots, the groups were split into 3 groups of 10 and sent away for a week.  Group A, the control group, was told to do nothing.  Group B was told to practice shooting free throws every day for ½ hour.  Group C was told to simply visualize making free throws for ½ hour every day.  At the end of the study, do you know who showed the most improvement?  Group C!  Those that simply visualized making the free throws.

Group C was programming their subconscious mind in this case simply through internal visualization.  But you can also use external visualization as well.  If you are injured and can’t participate physically, you should still be participating mentally.  GET YOURSELF TO CLASS and watch what is going on.  You will be training your subconscious mind and implanting those techniques on your brain simply by watching.  The more you do this, the more your subconscious mind takes over, and the more reflexive your techniques become.  Instead of having the random garbage of the video game running through your head, what if you had hundreds of techniques running through your head, allowing your subconscious brain to connect the pieces?

The second scenario is also one that need not preclude you from training, when you have an injury but need to work around it.  I have PLENTY of experience with this having dealt with back problems for almost my entire life.  I remember hearing a story from a lightweight UFC fighter and his perspective on the issue.  Quite simply, if he injured his arm, he would spend all his time on leg exercises.  If he injured his leg, he would spend all of his time on upper body exercises.  If you stop training every time you encounter an injury, you are robbing yourself of the limited time you have on this planet to improve and be the best you can be.

This winter my back decided to give out on me big time and I was basically bed ridden for 2 days, and barely able to get around for a couple of weeks.  However, in that span of time I did not miss teaching a single class.  Ok, maybe it’s not a fair comparison as my need to be in class is quite a bit higher to run the business.  But the bottom line is that I was there, so I know you can be too!

Every day I must be aware of what I am doing to protect the weak area of my body.  There are certain techniques that I know I simply just shouldn’t do.  Techniques I have learned just put too much stress on my lower back I simply do not employ when sparring.  You may run into those situations as well, and that’s ok!  It may take some time, but you may simply have to work around some of the weaknesses in your body WHILE YOU CONTINUE TO STRENGTHEN those weak parts of your body with supplemental weight/flexibility training.

One of my favorite exercises is actually a phenomenal exercise to do even if you can’t use either arm!  We will occasionally practice guard retention without using your arms.  It’s an incredible way to develop your legs, and once you can prevent a guard pass without using your arms, imagine how much better you will be when you get back to using your arms.

BJJ is actually a very safe sport with far fewer injuries than typical American sports like football, baseball and hockey.  But like any contact sport, injuries are fact of life.  Learn how to deal with them and not let them derail your training.  KEEP COMING TO CLASS.  Don’t break the routine because once you do it’s harder to get back on track.  Tell your coaches if you are dealing with issues so they can help you through them.  Be patient, be strong, and remain dedicated.  And remember with any injury………this too shall pass!

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