Just about any time I try to get people to give jiu-jitsu a try, the first question I get is “Will I get hurt?” There are a few answers depending on the person.
Different people approach jiu-jitsu with different reasons and different levels of intensity. In any roll, both people are responsible for the safety of the other. The more you know, the more aggressive you can be while still being relatively safe. But explosiveness is what ultimately causes a lot of injuries.
If you never intend on competing, and aren’t really worried about having to use jiu-jitsu for self-defense, you can be very choosy about your training partners and rolling style. If all you are interested in is having a good time in a different kind of social setting, choose people you know to be relaxed and uninterested in hard rolling. In fact, you can even tell people that you don’t want to roll hard (as long as you yourself don’t roll hard).
If you are interested in being a competitor or are looking for actionable self-defense skills, there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt at some point. I hate to say this, but it’s the truth. “Hurt” is of course a relative term. I don’t think anyone has ever died from jiu-jitsu related incidents, and the truth is that jiu-jitsu is much safer than other combat sports. But the longer you train, the more likely something is going to give.
That something might be your fingers from being too insistent upon a grip, it might be joints from a training partner being too quick on a submission (or you being too slow to tap.), or it might just be the wear and tear of the movements that you go through on the mat. You might tweak a knee, or you might develop back issues.
I’ve avoided most serious injuries by learning to verbally tap, and by tapping early, especially in competition. I don’t mean that I tap to non-submissions, but when I know a joint lock is happening, I assess the situation as quickly as I can, and if I don’t see a way out I tap, generally by screaming “TAP” at the other person until they let go.
You can avoid injury in life by staying home and never doing anything fun. But otherwise, there’s a good chance that you won’t leave this world fully in tact. Not training as a way to avoid injury is kind of like selling your car for gas money. It doesn’t make much sense.
If you are worried about getting injured, be careful when you train. Communicate with your training partners, and be smart about the positions into which you put yourself or let yourself be put. The vast majority of injuries are avoidable, and more often than not the person who was injured played a substantial roll in their own injury.
If you are going to compete, you have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone because people in competition will be actively seeking to hurt you. If you want to be ready to defend yourself in a street fight, the same rule applies; half measures will yield half results. And the truth is that right outside of your comfort zone lies a sort of minefield of potential injuries. You can be careful, but there’s a very strong likelihood that something will happen at some point. The only way to guarantee avoidance of injury is to just train for fun with people who just train for fun, or to simply never roll.
What do you tell people when they ask you if they will get hurt if they do jiu-jitsu?