Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is probably the least traumatic of the street functional fighting arts that we can train in. However, less traumatic does not mean injury never happens. BJJ is a contact art (that is one of the reasons why it is so functional in self-defense) and pain and injuries happen. While we cannot completely proof ourselves against this, we can mitigate the risk. And with so many new people taking up training, many of whom may never have done any fighting art previously, it may be a good idea to take a look at a couple of easily implemented methods.
I speak from experience – 22+ years of doing this at one of the most hard training gyms in the world has caused me some scarring – knee surgery, and then more meniscus tearing and an MCL tear post surgery, a dislocated left shoulder, a separated right shoulder with a partially torn labrum, the two supporting ligaments on each wrist completely severed, and more minor bumps, bruises, and injuries then I can name (not one of my finger joints looks normal!). So learn from my mistakes and do what I am about to suggest, not what I did myself.
The first thing we can do to minimize injury is to understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
It is completely understandable that when someone starts a fighting art for self-defense, they want to feel like they are capable of fighting as soon as possible. However, this “enthusiasm” can easily lead to someone going too hard too soon. Perhaps when you find yourself in a bad situation, rather than tapping out (signaling that you surrender), we try to force through it because we need to become a bad ass RIGHT NOW, and that forcing through leads to some part of your body moving farther than it was designed to do. I always tell new people to tap sooner than later. Think of it this way, if you tap early, you do signal that you lost that fight, but guess what? You get to immediately go back to the fight to work on it. And you can do that over and over again. But if you try to push through, and are injured, not only do you not get to get right back to it, you might have to be off the training mat for weeks. So in the end, you only slow down your progress. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it actually is the smart way to go.
Also, going too hard too soon can cause your body to wear down faster doing too much too soon, and something will have to give, which is especially true for us older athletes.
As well, BJJ is a complex art. Trying to rush past the complexities to get to the “end zone” often leads to people missing key points of understanding along the way, and practicing incorrectly. Some of those important points might be the very thing that keeps you from being injured while training hard.
To sum this part up – SLOW DOWN! The fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is very apropos here.
The second thing is to leave your ego at the edge of the mat. Seriously, no one on the mat cares about how bad ass or tough you are when you start. We have seen tough guys come and go. No one is going to be impressed. Rather, they will be irritated more often than not, and may very well avoid training with guys like you because you tend to be spazzy and injure others as well as yourself. It is going to be hard to get higher belts to give you tips when they avoid you like a plague. Be a good partner and you will get help.
And really, do you truly expect to outfight that purple belt who is twenty years younger than you, has no injuries, competes regularly, and trains six days a week? Especially when you have about a week’s worth of training under your belt. Trying to beat him with physical attributes or a skill set you don’t possess will only end one of two ways – either he beats you so bad you have no idea how he did it and therefore you get no learning out of it, or you go so hard that something gives, which generally is going to be a part of YOUR body.
Step onto the mat with the only desire in your mind to be to get better and become more capable, regardless of how long it takes. You protect yourself and your partner, and set yourself up for long term success.
Be realistic in how you train. The beauty of BJJ is that if you are consistent and focused, you will get better, no ifs, whens, or buts. Just ignore how long it takes. Start the grind and enjoy the journey.