Judo Mat Culture

My training partners aren’t paid to show up and train with me. When they lend me their anatomy to practice grappling on, they do so with the trust that I’m going to be careful. I trust them to do the same. Each person has the right to refuse any training partner. Someone who injures others due to recklessness, ineptitude, or intent runs the risk of having everyone refuse to be their training partner. Even if it’s accidental, if you break all of your toys you won’t have anything left to play with.

Judo, at least as I have experienced it, has that mentality of taking care of your uke. If I’m applying a technique and my partner gets hurt, it’s my fault. If they didn’t tap before I applied enough pressure to cause an injury it could be any number of reasons – they didn’t recognize they were in a submission, I didn’t give them a chance to tap, my control/angle was bad so I had to crank it when they felt safe – but I should have had enough control to release the submission before damage was done. It doesn’t matter if it’s drilling or randori. I used to be told something along the lines of “any asshole can hurt someone by using a ton of force. Grappling lets you control not only when, but how and to what extent, if at all, the person you’re working with will be hurt.”

Every time that I have caused an injury to a training partner it has been unintentional and I have felt responsibility to help, as well as to be more careful in that situation. A lot of stuff happens when someone is injured. They’re probably pretty angry, understandably so, at you, at themselves, at the pain in general. They might not want you around, but it’s my opinion that you should still make sure they’re okay, offer any help/supplies you can – including escorting them to urgent care or the emergency room as necessary. The group that I do judo with is phenomenal about this. It’s hard to stay angry at someone or question if it was an accident when they show earnest concern. When they step off the mat and don’t go back to practice until they’re positive that you’re going to be alright. I’ve seen a fair number of injuries over the last nine years. I have seen individuals who others will refuse to work with. I have not once seen a situation where someone took responsibility and tried to help and was spurned for doing so after the dust settled.

I haven’t really seen these practices in BJJ, at least not widespread. For some reason “he should have tapped” is an acceptable answer to someone getting injured, even in recreational clubs. As noted above, you won’t always have the chance to tap – your partner might crank, they might recklessly apply force in a position where you’re not yet able to tap, you might not recognize the danger. To be blunt, I don’t think there’s any place for “he should have tapped” in a recreational club. If you’re in a competition environment, somewhere that you’re training for fights and prize money, train as you see fit; but the club that’s simply training for fun, I can’t imagine such circumstances are acceptable.

That’s not to paint everyone in BJJ with the same brush, there are a few really awesome individuals who I’ve met and have the mentality of safety and wanting to take care of their partners. The guys who when you get injured, even if they weren’t the one working with you they’ll come off the mat to help you and at least make sure you’re okay. Those are the guys I want to work with. That’s the kind of mat culture I’d want to see cultivated.


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