It Takes A Very Steady Hand, Or Foot

If you’ve trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu for any appreciable amount of time, you’ve had injuries.

Personally, I consider myself one of the more fortunate. Sure, I’ve had the occasional malady, but I have been lucky to avoid a major injury that would require surgery. Besides the pain and expense — as much it galls me to admit this — I don’t want to take the time off from training that a major injury would require.

One of the first pieces of advice I try to tell the new guys who go too hard is that injury is the real enemy: if you want to get better at jiu-jitsu, staying on the mats is job one. Especially for a guy who weighs 138, turns 40 this year and trains regularly, I’ve been very lucky.

It takes a very steady hand ...

It takes a very steady hand … and believe me, the “Skill Game Where You’re The Doctor” bit from the original game applies to our community’s rampant self-diagnosis.

That’s what I keep telling myself this month. Leading up to the New York Open, I had a nagging foot injury that I trained through. At the tournament, I re-injured it during my finals match. Now, every time it gets manipulated in the wrong way — even gently — it becomes debilitating.

But there’s the Catch-22: you can’t train without risking injury, but part of the reason you want to avoid injury is so you can keep training, especially with a tournament (like, say, the Mundials) coming up. Where is the line between being tough and being stupid?

The answer I’ve come to is that you must evaluate two factors: risk of re-injury and reward of training. When you’re nicked up, which is how I’d classify my current injury, you can still train some things. For example, one of my training partners hurt his knee and spent his healing time working half-guard. You also must evaluate your ability to protect yourself while drilling and rolling, and figure out whether you’re taking too great a chance on setting yourself back.

Naturally, figuring this out depends on the severity of an injury. I’ve had back injuries that were simple stiffness and would loosen up once I got moving, and back injuries that I’d have had to be a lunatic to train through.

Given my various experiences with being nicked up, I’ve often been surprised at how easy some injuries are to train with and how hard others are. I do a lot with gi grips, for example, but finger and hand injuries are relatively simple to train with. You can wrap ’em up and hide the injured hand. (In fact, at least one person reading this has choked me using only one hand).

The opposite end of the spectrum: rib injuries. I’ve had two ribs pop out. You use your core for everything, in jiu-jitsu and in life. One of my rib injuries was extremely painful and fairly debilitating. The other one didn’t hurt much. But then I tried to sit up and couldn’t. This foot injury has shown me — again, stupid as it sounds — just how much you use your foot, both in guard and on top. It’s harder to hide than you’d think.

After musing on which of my little bumps and bruises were hardest to train with, I made this graphic rating the injuries on a scale of 0 (a cakewalk) to 10 (sweet merciful crap, maybe we’ll stay in bed and watch videos).

This is just my own experience and is not meant to be taken very seriously. The only medical advice I feel comfortable giving is “you should eat right and train jiu-jitsu.”

This is a super-scientific image from my most recent x-ray and MRI. They combined them into an MRX.

This is a super-scientific image from my most recent x-ray and MRI. They combined them into an MRX.

There shouldn’t be many surprises here. The big muscles and joints are always big problems. I also always think it’s worth noting that if you have an infection, that’s a 10 and you should stay home, period: I raise an eyebrow at how many folks don’t get this.

One notable rating, and this might be a function of the severity of the injury: I personally found it easier to train with a messed-up knee than with a messed-up foot. Obviously, my knee injury wasn’t a major thing, but I was able to change up the things I was doing fairly effectively to protect the knee.

With the foot? Can’t be on top, you’ve got to stand on it. Can’t really keep the guard closed, and with open guard, you either have to step on hips and biceps (ouch!) or try to hide that foot by putting it further away from your opponent — which means you need to shrimp off of it (also ouch).

We all have strengths and weaknesses. In terms of the old remedy of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, my ICE game is tight, and the rest I have a problem with. (See what I did there?)

The old saying goes, “If you wake up one morning after training and nothing hurts, you died.” My hope is we all start to prove that saying wrong. Happy and healthy training to all of you.


The Thank You Post

I wanted to write this post before the tournament this past weekend.

It’s easy to be grateful when things go well. Besides, good decision-making is about putting a good process into place, not about results: if you make quality choices, quality results follow. If you’ve done all you can to prepare well, that’s really all you can hope for, so it’s appropriate to thank the folks that have helped you prepare no matter how the event itself goes.

The best laid plans go astray, though, especially where travel and making weight and living up to other responsibilities goes. So while I meant to make this post Friday, I’m making it now, and I can gratefully report that the IBJJF New York Spring Open went as well as I had hoped it would.

A longstanding goal, finally realized.

A longstanding goal, finally realized.

I took double gold, both in my light feather weight class and in Absolute. I competed in Master 2 blue belt, and got two really good, tough matches in. I don’t really talk about my goals a lot, for a variety of reasons, but I’d always wanted to win an IBJJF absolute gold. The closest I’d come was bronze at the NoGi pans last year, and I thought that might be as close as I’d ever get.

But I trained so, so hard for this tournament. Really tried to do everything as correctly as I possibly could. It took a lot of discipline, and I’d be proud of the way I trained even if I hadn’t gotten the results I wanted. You can’t control how your matches go, but you can control how you prepare, and I prepared harder and smarter than ever before.

Semis in absolute.

Semis in absolute.

No one does anything like this alone. There are a lot of people that I need to thank, and my Facebook friends have already put up with an enormous amount of jiujitsu, so I’m thanking them all here.

First and foremost I have to thank my coach Seth Shamp, who is black belt under Royce Gracie. Seth’s the best instructor a guy could ask for: technical, a gifted teacher and passionately devoted to his students. Best of all, Seth believes 100% in you. I think I could’ve been facing Cobrinha in finals and Seth would’ve said something like: “OK, Jeff. This guy’s truly great. A legend of the art. But I think you can do some things with him! We can do this! Here’s the plan.” That kind of support you can’t put a price on.

"Jeff, this guy is big. Don't sweat it. Here's the plan." -- Seth Shamp

“Jeff, this guy is big. Don’t sweat it. Here’s the plan.” — Seth Shamp

I also want to especially thank two other Royce Gracie black belts, Jake Whitfield from TJJ Goldsboro and Roy Marsh from Sandhills Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Jake and Roy live and breathe Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and each has taught me so much in the past few years, either directly (through instruction) or indirectly (through beating my ass while training). Along with Seth these guys make up my Holy Trinity of BJJ instruction.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to express my gratitude to every single one of my training partners at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Durham and Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Every day you guys and ladies work me hard, kick my butt and make me better, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful to you.

I want to shout out two guys who especially inspire me from Roy Marsh’s school at Sandhills BJJ. One is my friend Brian Freeman, who needs to get out to Durham and train with us soon. The other us Alec Cerruto, who is a great young man with sick jiujitsu and an even better attitude. Alec is donating money for every match he wins this year to help feed underprivileged kids. I’m going to add to my own Charity Challenge this year and donate $10 for every match I win to Alec’s “Submit Hunger” project in addition to my own charities. 1546056_10203210941781386_331295106_n

Alec Cerruto, submitter of hunger.

Alec Cerruto, submitter of hunger.

Broadly, I’m also in the debt of all my brothers and sisters on Team Royce Gracie in North Carolina — Chapel Hill Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Forged Fitness Raleigh and Cary. I appreciate everybody who took the time to help me train for this, including my friends at Gracie Raleigh and Pendergrass Academy of Martial Arts. We have a great jiu-jitsu community in North Carolina and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Just a couple of more important people to thank: I want to be sure to thank Boomer from Cageside MMA and Toro BJJ. Besides making great products and letting me design really fun BJJ gear, Boomer does a lot — behind the scenes and not — to help local fighters, BJJ practitioners and human beings generally. I can’t say enough good things about the gear he produces. I could say even more good things about him personally.

Finally, I’ve thanked Eric Uresk already multiple times, but for the first time I’ve been working with a nutritionist, and let me tell you — it makes an incredible difference. Eric’s a genius, and his WellFit program works. If you’re interested in taking nutrition seriously, let you know and I’ll put you in touch.

I am definitely leaving some people out that deserve thanking, but this is already long. I’ll have to leave it here and thank the rest of you in person. Rest assured, though, even if this is a one-time post, I’m grateful to all of you, all the time. So thanks.

You all make me make this face ...

You all make me make this face …

And do this when I walk through airport metal detectors.

And do this when I walk through airport metal detectors.