If you train long enough, you’re eventually going to hurt a teammate. Even if their injury isn’t something drastic like a torn ligament or broken nose, even the most careful of us land occasional (and accidental) knees to the face or leave dramatic bruises with a knee-slice pass.
While the emotional turmoil of knowing you hurt a teammate (or even an opponent) is tame in comparison to, you know, an actual physical injury, it’s normal to privately agonize over the knowledge that you accidentally injured someone. Seeing a teammate sitting on the side of the mat with an ice pack on their elbow, or worse, knowing that they had to take time off training because of you, can make you feel like a huge jerk even if you try your hardest to be careful.
If the person you accidentally hurt is telling you “Don’t worry about it,” you should normally heed their advice. However, there are two situations in which you should take a step back and let your shame teach you a lesson:
1. You were ignoring size and experience disparities.
If you’re a brown belt who wins most matches via heel hook these days, you shouldn’t be rolling with month-three white belts as though they are also leg-locking brown belts. If you’re 200 lbs, you shouldn’t be knee-on-bellying the 115-lb teenager like you’re trying to help them fit into a corset. If you have a significant size, strength, or experience advantage over your teammate and ended up injuring them, you need to ask yourself some tough questions.
This isn’t to say that you’re deliberately hurting people just because you can — it may mean that your bodily awareness needs some work. Many practitioners don’t realize just how big or strong they are, so submissions may come on quicker when rolling with physically weaker partners, or a sprawl that may or may not work on someone their own size could completely crumple a smaller person.
Even in more advanced athletes, ego can also get in the way when rolling with less experienced partners. For example, you may be rolling with a newbie who overestimates the flexibility of their shoulders. If you do know better, you need to show it by letting go of the submission when you know the limb is in danger rather than sending your partner to the hospital just to prove that you had it. Yes, your teammates should reciprocate that trustworthiness by tapping on time, but if they don’t know any better and you do, more responsibility falls on you to keep them safe.
2. You were being reckless or overly aggressive.
One knee to the face in a round is an accident. Two in the same round is a coincidence. But once you get up to three or more, it’s time to ask yourself if you need to chill out. These bumps and bangs can happen even during flow rolling, but if you’re trying out cartwheel passes or diving onto your training partners to gain control, dial down the crazy moves or practice them through solo drills before doing them in live rolling.
Similarly, if you’re slamming your way out of closed guard, cranking hard and fast on submissions, or are otherwise putting your partner’s safety at risk just so you can get a “win,” stop. If you and your teammate have agreed to practicing self-defense scenarios or other situations in which these types of moves may be acceptable, you should still be doing so with care.
If you’re really doing your best to be a safe grappler, give yourself a break. We practice a combat sport, and we put ourselves in a lot of weird positions. If your partner twists the wrong way to get out of a submission, that’s not on you. If one of you slips on sweaty mats and falls on the other person, or if they don’t tell you about a current injury, or if a body part just moves the wrong way (as body parts sometimes do), that does not make you a bad training partner.
A sincere apology and a post-training check-in are usually all that’s warranted if you hurt your teammate while training. For injuries that require hospitalization or keep your training partner off the mats for a significant amount of time, consider doing a little something extra. A former teammate of mine once gave me a “get well” card after accidentally hurting my rib, and even though it wasn’t necessary, it was a sweet gesture that made me a bit less salty about having to take a couple weeks off.
If there’s anything you can do to prevent yourself from hurting your teammates, please do it. At the same time, though, accidents happen, and if your teammate doesn’t appear to be holding it over your head, you shouldn’t either.
Featured Image by Giulliana Fonseca Photo and Video