How many times have you said, “Oh I forgot my knee brace,” or asked, “Can I borrow some tape?” If these words haven’t come from your mouth, you’ve definitely heard them from some of your teammates. And while forgetting protective gear from time to time is certainly understandable, let’s be honest: when it comes to these matters, procrastination is the disease, one that breeds inaction.
The problem with this kind of procrastination is that it typically ends once you’ve actually injured something significantly. While it’s certainly human nature, it’s also wildly illogical; the key word here is “protective,” so donning your battle gear after injury completely defeats the purpose. Too often it serves as the grappler’s tipping point, and by then it might be too late.
In BJJ, “protective gear” runs the gamut. Here are just a few examples, and the scenarios you should be using them in.
Like in many sports, in BJJ your knees take a beating. Any hint of soreness or injury means you should be wearing a knee brace. Really, why risk it? The problem with sustaining a knee injury is twofold: first, it’s the type of injury that can affect your quality of life—and your paycheck, if your job requires you to be on your feet all day. Secondly, a knee injury can also take you off the mat for months. So if you have any doubt, there is no doubt. The extra support provided by a brace can save the day, and knee pads can help save you from additional compression injuries that take their toll over time.
Much like with your knees, your elbows suffer on the mat, too. Remember the first time you stubbornly tried to escape an armbar, or gut out an Americana? Most BJJ practitioners have felt the telltale “pop” in their elbow that means a few days or weeks of stiffness and soreness. Wearing a pad or brace after sustaining this injury can be helpful if you want to keep training, or for those who develop recurring tendinitis. Of course, not being a clown and tapping is always a great game plan, too.
A good mouthpiece will not only save you from losing a few teeth, but potentially from a concussion, too. While blows to the head are rare in BJJ, they definitely happen due to errant knees and explosive movements. Though it’s rare, you’ll be glad you were wearing a mouthpiece when it happens that one time a year. For us here at Great Grappling, it is strongly recommended that if you’re sparring, you’re also wearing a mouthpiece.
Headgear can be a little more situational. For example, when your ear gets crushed from a choke attempt, or dinged by an elbow, not only is it painful but cauliflower ear can set in. While headgear can be uncomfortable, it’s better than letting a bad situation get worse due to repeated irritation—and anyone with a sore ear knows that if you grapple with it, it will get hit, every time you roll. And while cauliflower ear is a badge of honor in Brazil, this isn’t Brazil. This is America. Your spouse or your girlfriend, along with your family—and hell, even your co-workers—don’t want to see a grotesquely deformed ear that could have been avoided if possible. But, most importantly, why risk losing one of your senses? Some people are more susceptible to cauliflower ear than others. Genetics can play a part
Tape can also be situational. A jammed or sprained finger can hurt like hell, and also render your grip less effective. Pairing that hurt finger with another can mitigate this minor but pesky injury. Really, with tape, the issue is always having it when you need it—and not being a tape-leech that takes it from your training partners or front desk. Bringing your own, or creating a rotating stockpile that everyone can pull from, will ensure it’s always there when you need it.
With protective gear, we can go on and on providing examples, and preaching to use it when you need it. At the end of the day, it’s always about personal choice and responsibility. Wearing a cup is another one; it’s also tricky since IBJJF rules forbid cups in competition, so you have to decide how you want to train, and when to use one and when not to. But the two big takeaways from this post are: 1) if there’s any question about whether you need to wear your protective gear, then there is no question and 2) your protective gear is part of your uniform. For the latter, it’s all about creating a lasting habit, one that will let you last longer on the mats.