Changing my Game

For several years now I’ve been dealing with a neck injury that, while (hopefully) not catastrophic, has been painful enough to get in the way of my BJJ training. When I came back to my BJJ school a few days ago, I let my excitement to be back hamper my judgement and I started playing with techniques that aren’t necessarily the best for my neck.

Then, the morning after my second class, I woke up with serious, whimper-making, nose running pain in my neck and shoulder. I couldn’t turn my head either direction, raise my arm, bend over, or breathe, without wanting to cry. Don’t ask me what happened – I have no idea. I can only guess I got too enthusiastic about something or other in class the night before.

So here’s the problem. I’m a guard player. I’m actually relatively decent at fighting from my back. I can only guess that it stems from being fairly light weight and not having much success at controlling heavier, stronger opponents from the top when I first started training. (There was one notable episode in which a big newbie got frustrated with me being on top, grabbed me by the belt, and threw me against a wall. Not kidding.) In guard, I can use my legs to control a bigger opponent, move quickly enough to prevent getting smashed, and generally control them a lot better.

Now that my neck prevents me from putting a lot of pressure on my upper shoulders – getting stacked is a bit scary these days, even if I could totally work with it prior to the injury – I need to figure out something else. Different attacks from my back, more top game, just a generally different approach and strategy. I almost feel like I’m starting over again, but I’m trying to look at it as if I were just shoring up some weak spots in my overall game. And I’m trying really hard to remember to tap early and often as soon as someone puts pressure on my neck. Not my strong point, but it’s something I need to get good at or I won’t be able to train at all.

Here’s to learning new things!

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2 Responses to Changing my Game

  1. Elyse Goldberg says:

    A lower back injury (from being crushed from above while holding butterfly guard of all things) forced me to play entirely top game for about a year. I had to tell all my training partners that I need to stay on top, which was a hugely humbling experience, mostly because it was OH so embarrassing. It also meant that my side control became awesome… I learned to “float” on my opponents and move on top of them no matter where they went. That also meant that I couldn’t roll with ANYONE less experience, or ANYONE with a chip on their shoulder… OR anyone training for competition, no matter how experienced (their drive to win will usually blind them to your particular needs. That’s ok, because that’s what they need at that time, so avoid them).

    A year after that, I had a neck injury very similar to yours. I couldn’t even sit up to get out of bed in the morning even though I was fine the night before. I literally rolled over, dragged myself onto the floor, and called for help (luckily I had an awesome roommate). Same thing happened all over again – top game for several months. Even then, I had to tell people “don’t grab my head”. I was so embarrassed by my apparent “weakness”… who am I to tell people “don’t grab my head” in *JIU JITSU*?! But forcing myself to say this over and over again, also forced me to really consider what I was doing to my body as paramount to anything else.

    … and after my elbow dislocation ….

    Well, you get the idea. You can keep playing, but you’ll have to sacrifice large swaths of the game. That’s ok; that’s how you’ll discover secrets in other places ;).


  2. grappledunk says:

    Wow – you’ve had a rough time! Thanks for the story – it helps to hear how other people have adjusted to nagging injuries and still are able to train. Hope you’re healthy and back on the mats!


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