What It Means To Be A Safe Training Partner

Photo/Flickr: parhessiastes

If you spend any amount of time in jiu-jitsu, you’ll start hearing the horror stories eventually: a clumsy newbie kneed their teammate in the eye, or someone needs surgery because their training partner cranked a submission, or worse, an ego-driven meathead got angry and tried to injure someone in the middle of a roll.

Basic measures of safety make jiu-jitsu legal, accessible, and fun. Most people want to be safe training partners, but when you’re inexperienced, understanding how to be a safe training partner can be tricky. A lot of jiu-jitsu practitioners think that they’re perfectly fine to roll with when, in reality, they could be putting their teammates at risk.

If you want to maximize your teammates’ safety (as you should), make sure you’re following these basic BJJ standards:

1. Take all submissions slowly.
From wristlocks to toe holds and everything in between, each submission has the potential to do devastating damage to the human body. The reason we can come back and train day after day is because we have an understanding with our training partners: when one person taps, the other person lets go. With every submission, though, the attacker needs a moment — just a millisecond — to process the tap from the defender and let go, and that flicker in time is all it takes for ligaments to snap. Having control over your body is far more important than getting the tap, especially during practice. Always apply submissions slowly enough for your training partner to have the chance to tap out, particularly if they’re new and don’t have as much knowledge about their own body’s limits.

2. Be mindful of your training space.
Gracie’s Law of Physics states that any two or more pairs of rolling jiu-jitsu practitioners will gravitate towards each other no matter how big the mat space is. Trust me. It’s science.
Grapplers in motion will stay in motion until they collide with something or become aware that they’re about to collide with something and move back to a safer area of the mat. And the second option is a lot safer for you and your teammates. Even with everything going on in the middle of your own roll, keep some sense of awareness about your surroundings. If your partner sweeps you or takes you down, do you run the risk of crashing into another pair or hitting your head on the hard floor outside of the mat space? If so, move. Many gyms have an unspoken (or spoken) general rule that the pair with the higher ranking student gets to stay put while the pair with the lower ranking students has to move, but really, it doesn’t need to be a game of chicken — if you’re about to crash, just scoot a few feet farther away.

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3. Remove or cover all sharp objects on your body.
Cut. Your. Dang. Nails.
Fingernails and toenails. Not only does a scratch hurt, but it can also open up the opportunity for dangerous infections. Keep nail clippers in your gym bag or car so you never have to worry about being caught training with talons.
This doesn’t just apply to your body’s natural weapons, either. Any jewelry should also be removed if possible (and covered up if not). Even if you’re not worried about your piercings getting ripped from your body mid-roll, they could get caught on someone else’s skin, clothes, or hair.

4. Stay clean.
Always wearing clean gear and washing up before training if you have a dirty job should be standard protocol for every single jiu-jitsu class you attend, whether or not there’s a pandemic going on. Staying hygienic will ensure that you’ll have training partners who want to roll with you while ensuring that it’s healthy for them to do so. Jiu-jitsu is gross — we are regularly exposed to other people’s sweat, snot, saliva, and even blood. There’s no reason to make it even more gross by exposing your teammates to germs that they didn’t sign up for.

5. Be aware of (and take action against) problematic behavior.
Though we like to think that jiu-jitsu is a douchebag filter, there are still plenty of douchebags who make it to black belt and beyond. If you see a teammate exhibiting predatory or discriminatory behavior, bring it up to your coach, and ensure that the person being victimized by the behavior knows that you’re on their side. Offer to walk with them to their car if they seem shaken up by an incident in class, and speak out on their behalf if they’re the target of bigoted language. Your coach may or may not do something about the situation (and if they don’t, it may be time to consider whether or not you really want to keep training there), but as they say, there’s strength in numbers. If more people speak out against problematic behavior and language in the gym, it helps other members stay protected, creating a safer environment for everyone who trains.

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