There are a couple directions you can go when you begin in Bjj. One approach (the one I picked) is to jump in and see how my existing instincts fare against trained individuals. The other is to avoid doing too much, and try to only move in prescribed ways. Both methods are acceptable, and having a good mix of both helps us all get better. The first approach is definitely more prone to injury, and is much more common in the under 30 crowd. Being young is fun, and you should want to train hard and discover your limits.
Training hard can mean a lot of different things. You could be using a lot of muscle, cardio, pressure, or just killing a lot of space. New people have a tendency to freak out and use all their strength and cardio at once saying, “I had to because you were going so hard!” That doesn’t mean I was trying at all. Often, our perception is not accurate. Learn how to control your own pace first. Get an accurate assessment of what your opponent is doing. Be ready to tap, and ask lots of questions. Identify where you are and understand the proper response options. Don’t try to run through a wall when you should be looking for a door. A burst of energy is exactly that, it’s a temporary burst. You want to be breathing correctly, have your body aligned properly, and have a plan for how long you want to keep up that amount of effort. Move with a purpose, and note what works and how risky it feels. Measure your efforts, and only ramp it up to 100% on rare occasions. We lose a tremendous amount of focus when we become tired. You will want to build up to safely rolling tired. We have a lot of situations to map out first.
Drill positions slowly and learn the first thing you want to do the moment you find yourself in that position. Don’t use random movements to get out of shit positions. Keep your shoulders and hips aligned as much as possible. Any time your body is twisted, your ribs are in possible danger. Don’t bear any weight or apply any force. Get back to a solid alignment and try to get your elbows and knees close together. Be especially careful with your neck. Focus on these things when you are drilling, and remember them when you are going live.
Poorly executed takedowns and leglocks are the most common causes of injury that I see right now. We cover them as much as anything else, but you want to decide for yourself how much time you want to spend in potentially dangerous situations. Pick your training partners carefully. That means picking people who are more experienced, not a newer guy who you could potentially hurt. If you have an interest in these things, make friends with someone who wants to spend a lot of time going over them. Most gyms have an expert or two who like takedowns or leglocks. Ask them questions every time you see them. Never move at full force in any situation unless you are certain you will both be safe if/when something goes wrong. If you train enough, something will eventually go wrong. Taking responsibility for your own safety and that of your training partner is the best way to avoid problems in higher risk positions.
Train with people who are better than you. It feels good to win, but those even matches are inherently higher risk because often nobody has control. Better practitioners tend to decide where the roll is going. *Pro Tip- If you find yourself in bottom side control a lot, you might need to calm down.* Upper belts will use you for “involuntarily drilling” and everyone gets better from controlled sequences. You will recognize them eventually, and start improvising ways back into your own game. This begins with small victories. Make a grip miss, shift their weight, stop the progression for just a moment. Building like this will give you better Jiu Jitsu in a safe way. Feeling what this type of control is like helps you to reproduce that control on newer people in a similar safe way.
Last, avoid getting pulled into the wrong mentality. Sometimes you will meet people who have had several dramatic surgeries, and they believe it’s unavoidable. Always ask why. Dig deeper and learn from all of your mistakes and near misses. Honest people know that they usually made a mistake that led to their injury. Usually it was an ego problem. Know when to tap, who is safe to roll with, and when to back down a little for the purpose of safety. Don’t complain/brag on social media about your injuries. That just drives other people away. If you’re sharing an inspiring story about persistence, that’s cool. But wait until you’re at least started on your recovery. Ask the older grapplers who are still in good health what they do. Learn how to proactively take care of your health, understand when to give yourself recovery time, and gain a deeper understanding of the situations we find ourselves in.