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Is Jiu Jitsu Dangerous?

When I tell people I do Jiu Jitsu, a lot of them reply, wide-eyed, “isn’t that dangerous?”

It usually surprises me, because after training for so long, I don’t really see the dangerous side of it. I see it closer to the “gentle art” (which is what the term “jujitsu” roughly translates to in Japanese).

But, to the outsider, that’s a fair question. After all, the aim of most BJJ techniques is to break your opponent’s limbs, dislocated their joints, or render them unconscious.

So let’s dive deeper into the question, and clear it up for anyone new to the game.

Read More: all you need to know about Starting BJJ.

How Dangerous is BJJ Really?

I usually answer people who ask this question: “yes, it can be.

There is inherently some danger to BJJ. It’s a physical sport, and by the nature of it, people can get hurt.

However, it’s probably not as dangerous as it seems from the outside.

The aim of Jiu Jitsu is not actually to break someone’s arm, or put them unconscious. It’s to control your opponent, and force them to submit before these things happen.

As long as the person taps in time, there’s generally no lasting harm done.

Even in competition, where intensity is high and you’re not thinking about giving your opponent time to tap, injuries are fairly rare.

A University of Hawaii study examined 2511 matches across the state, in competitions between 2005 and 2011.

From these matches, they counted 46 injuries. That’s equal to a little under 2% of matches resulting in an injury.

46 injuries out of 5022 competitors in these matches is quite a low rate of injury.

Of course, this is not a complete sample size. And there’s also injuries during training to consider – you spend much more time in training than competition, so while the intensity is not as high, there’s more opportunities to get injured.

But overall, there’s just not a super high rate of injuries in BJJ. To an experienced practitioner, the stats from the Hawaiian study are not that surprising.

How Dangerous is BJJ vs Other Martial Arts?

The best way to put into context how dangerous BJJ is is to compere it to other martial arts.

The same study we shared above did just that. It compared the injury rate, in terms of injuries per 1000 match participations for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Taekwondo, Judo and MMA.

For each 1000 matches an athlete competes in, the data shows 9.2 injuries – which is easily the lowest of the lot.

Here are the stats for each martial art.

  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: 9.2 / 1000
  • Wrestling: 9.0 – 30.7 / 1000
  • Taekwondo: 20.5 – 139.5 / 1000
  • Judo: 25.3 – 130.6 / 1000
  • MMA: 236 – 286 / 1000

The “gentle art” comes out as the safest of this bunch.

Compare it to others, such as Muay Thai, Kickboxing and Boxing, and it’s even safer in comparison. These striking-based martial arts come with a lot of impact, which has higher potential for injury. Then there’s the head trauma, which builds up over time.

BJJ comes with very little head trauma – the only head trauma you’ll see is from accidental clashing of heads, which is not the type of repeated head trauma that leads to trouble later in life.

With this being much more serious than a sprain, or even a torn ligament, I feel secure in saying that BJJ is much safer than almost any other popular martial art.

What Are the Most Common Injuries in BJJ?

While it’s generally safe, injuries in BJJ do happen.

So what are the most common injuries you’re likely to see?

The University of Hawaii study documented that. Of the data set presented, they found the following injuries:

Elbow Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
MCL sprain5
Posterior tenderness at olecranon3
LCL sprain2
Anterior sprain2
MCL + LCL sprain1
Elbow dislocation1

Knee Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
LCL sprain4
MCL sprain3

Foot and Ankle Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
Ankle ATFL sprain2
Turf toe2
Hyperflexion sprain1

Hand Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
DIP sprain1
Thumb sprain1
Dislocated index finger1
Fractured ring finger1

Shoulder Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
AC separation1
Anterior dislocation1
Anterior subluxation1
Nonspecific pain1

Hip Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
Hip contusion1

Cervical Injuries

InjuryNumber of Occurrences
Cervical strain1

From this data, we can see there are mostly sprained ligaments (which are not super serious in the grand scheme of things).

Another study that looked at the prevalence of injuries in BJJ gives us some more data to work off.

It found the following frequency of injuries to various areas of the body:

Area InjuredNumber of Occurrences

This gives us a good idea of what are the most common injuries to see in BJJ – elbows, knees, and fingers and toes.

Check out the Best Knee Braces and Support for BJJ Athletes.

What Are the Most Dangerous Parts of BJJ?

So what kind of situations are most dangerous in BJJ, and most likely to result in an injury?

Many of the most dangerous submissions or techniques are generally banned in competition, at least until you reach a really high level.

This includes:

  • Heel hooks
  • Spine locks (e.g. twister)
  • Neck cranks
  • Slicers (bicep slicer, calf slicer)
  • Small joint manipulation (e.g. bending back fingers or toes)
  • Spiking (e.g. suplex, or other takedowns that land people on their head or neck)

Submissions like knee bars, toe holds and wrist locks are also banned at the lower levels.

These are the easiest ways to get injured in BJJ, especially in competition, where intensity is higher and you’re not necessarily worried about keeping your opponent safe.

However, a lot of injuries happen in the gym too. Most of the time, they’re not a direct result of a submission. Most injuries are simply an accident. Maybe someone landed on you awkwardly, or you post out to stop yourself and hurt your joint that way.

There are also injuries that come about from wear and tear, which happen gradually over time. You don’t necessarily remember when your fingers and toes started hurting every day – but you also don’t remember when they didn’t hurt.

How to Avoid Injuries in BJJ

You can do some things to avoid injuries in BJJ, or at least reduce the chance that you get injured – especially in training.

Here are some tips.

  • Don’t go all out in the gym. Training is training – it’s not a fight. If you go 100% in every roll, there’s not only more chance you injure your opponent, but yourself too.
  • Tap early and often. Again, it’s not a fight. No one “wins” in training. It’s better to tap early than to be stubborn and get injured as a result.
  • Be careful about overtraining. This is when a lot of injuries occur.
  • Supplement with strength and mobility training, to strengthen the muscles that support your joints.
  • Don’t be too tense during rolls. When you’re tense, you won’t be as mobile, which will increase the chances of strains and sprains.
  • Be wary of your opponent. It’s extremely common for experienced practitioners to get injured rolling with fresh white belts, who have no control over what they’re doing. Be aware that some training partners can be unpredictable and lash out, especially when they’re trying to escape or defend.
  • Be cafeful when rolling with unfamiliar people. Again, they can be unpredictable, compared to someone you’re used to training with. Take care when you go to new gyms, such as open mats.

Related: BJJ Workout Ideas – how to get bigger, fitter and stronger for BJJ.

Final Thoughts: Is BJJ Dangerous Or Not?

All in all, BJJ is not super dangerous.

It can certainly result in injuries, though, so it pays to approach it – both in training and competition – with care.

If you’re smart, you can seriously reduce the chances of getting injured. Staying healthy for longer will allow you to spend more time on the mats, and help you progress faster.

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