Before diving into my rambling, allow me to introduce a disclaimer. I am not a doctor, nor do I advise anyone to train injured. Training while injured can aggravate it further or lengthen the time that it would take to heal. But, with that said, it is silly to kid ourselves. We all know we will try to make it in and train anyway. But is it worth it?
First, let’s consider that this is not exclusive to Jiu Jitsu, Judo or martial arts in general. The majority of athletes in the whole spectrum of sports has trained while injured.
Granted, some injuries are incapacitating. But we are not talking about those. We are talking about the run-of-the-mill sprain, pulled muscle, minor hyperextension, bruise, black eye, etc. You can always listen to your body, as they say, and interpret the seriousness of the injury to decide whether it is serious or not, however we are extremely biased and will err on the side of training and against the side of safety. The best way to know is to get a medical professional to assess the injury first. Some injuries have internal implications you may not be able to notice, like a concussion for instance.
Let us assume you assessed the severity of your injury, and it is not one that you need to stay off the mats completely. What can you do?
Brain Plasticity is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself after an experience or missing functionality in other areas of your body. Brain plasticity is what gives a blind person superhuman hearing. Or someone who is missing both arms, the ability to do almost anything with their feet. If you are injured and decided that it is not threatening, doing some light sparring without the use of that limb can enhance your understanding of how you use the rest of your body. Your brain will mobilize most of its efforts to help you deal with the situation with whatever you have at your disposal.
Recently, I suffered an injury outside the mats. I cut my finger down to the artery and needed stitches. I made an executive decision that it wasn’t life-threatening and if I was careful, I could wrap it, tape it, don’t use it, and clean it immediately after training. Not being able to use my left hand made it impossible to do most chokes or submissions, but I could still use my right hand and my posture to manipulate my teammate’s kuzushi (balance) and still get some sweeps to work and top control as well. I was also able to recruit my legs a lot more to engage them in guard protection, re-guarding, sweeping, and triangle chokes. All of this existed prior to my injury, but it was also dependent on the use of my hands and grips. Not having full use of my grips really brought out some important body mechanics that I had neglected for so long.
In conclusion, and I’ll repeat, – I am not a doctor and do not encourage you to ignore your injuries. However, if you decide to train with them and not against them, consider limb isolation to give your brain the chance to enhance the rest of your body. Consider drilling only and avoid live rolls that could turn intense at any second. Consider lighter or high-skilled teammates that will not use excessive strength or violence on you (avoid most heavy white belts). And if the injury is bad enough that it can’t be taped or isolated (ribs, for instance), consider sitting for class. Don’t just stay home. Respect your training schedule. Besides, when you sit in for the lesson portion, you still get the visual aspect of the instruction and continue tracking with the series your instructor is teaching. That way you are not completely lost when you come back to the mats. And if all of this is impossible, and you are bedridden or incapable of even leaving your home, consider watching an instructional video during your schedule training time. Keep your brain going. You may not think so, but Jiu-Jitsu and Judo are more mental than you would think!
So, what do you think? Is it worth it?
Be safe and have fun!