Why Chokes in BJJ are So Important

In BJJ, not all submissions are created equal. Some submissions are difficult to apply on bigger, stronger opponents. The Kimura, for example, is a highly effective technique, but it can also easily be countered by a strong opponent. Chokes, on the other hand, work on anyone regardless of size or strength. Below are some of the reasons that chokes in BJJ are so important.

BJJ choke
BJJ choke

BJJ Chokes Require Little Strength

“Strength doesn’t matter in BJJ.” We’ve all heard this a million times, and there is some truth in it. It’s certainly true that BJJ allows a smaller, weaker, less athletic person to neutralize the natural advantages of a bigger, stronger, more athletic opponent. However, strength is always a factor in any physical altercation, and some techniques are more effective on stronger opponents than others—the choke is one such technique.

BJJ choke
BJJ choke

Chokes are Great for Self-Defense

Strangles are available from almost every position. This makes them an extremely versatile submission. In addition to the sheer number of chokes available, many of them can be applied quickly with little noticeable setup. This makes chokes in BJJ a quick and effective submission option.

BJJ choke
BJJ choke

Chokes in BJJ Can Distract Your Opponent

Not only are chokes effective as submissions, but you can use them to set up other submissions. When you threaten your opponent with a choke, he or she must defend it. This often creates openings for additional attacks. And if your opponent fails to defend your choke attempt, you can finish the submission.

BJJ Chokes are Applicable in Self-Defense Situations

Chokes—particularly chokes that utilize the gi collar—are great for both sport BJJ and self-defense situations. Most self-defense scenarios (hopefully) involve two clothed opponents. This makes collar chokes extremely practical for self-defense purposes. In addition, as discussed above, BJJ chokes can be successfully applied on opponents of all sizes, making them particularly effective in the street.

BJJ choke
BJJ choke

They Put Attackers to Sleep

Finally, chokes can leave your opponent totally incapacitated. When you place prolonged pressure on your opponent’s carotid arteries, he or she will eventually pass out due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. Obviously, this should rarely happen in training, as we must always prioritize the health and safety of our training partners. However, in self-defense scenarios, the ability to incapacitate an attacker long enough to safely retreat is crucial. While joint locks are effective, only a properly executed BJJ choke is guaranteed to incapacitate an attacker.

Rear naked choke
BJJ choke

Don’t Sleep on the Power of the Strangle

If you train BJJ, you must devote a portion of your training to developing your BJJ chokes. Given the variety of chokes in BJJ, you shouldn’t sleep on the strangle!

Cauliflower Ear in BJJ, MMA, UFC, and Wrestling

Cauliflower Ear

Have you ever asked, “What’s wrong with MMA fighters’ ears?” If so, you’re not alone. This condition, known as cauliflower ear, wrestler ear, UFC ear, MMA ear, and BJJ ear, is prevalent among combat sport athletes. In this article, we tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about cauliflower ear in BJJ, MMA, and wrestling.

Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear
Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear

What Is Cauliflower Ear?

Cauliflower ear, also called an auricular hematoma or a perichondrial hematoma, is the result of either a direct blow or excessive friction to the ear. When the ear experiences either of these types of trauma, its cartilage separates from its overlying tissue. This then causes blood to pool in the pinna, which is the medical term for the outer ear. This pooling of blood, called a hematoma, if not treated immediately, results in the formation of tissue in the overlying skin. This causes the outer ear to become swollen and deformed, giving it a cauliflower-like appearance.

Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear
Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear

Cauliflower Ear Symptoms

As noted above, UFC ear is caused by trauma to the ear. Common symptoms of BJJ ear include:

  • swelling or bruising of the ear
  • change of the of the shape of the ear
  • ear tenderness
  • ear pain

If left untreated, wrestler ear can result in the following issues:

  • ringing in the injured ear
  • hearing loss
  • headache
  • blurry vision
  • ear infections
  • permanent deformity of the ear
Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear
Cauliflower Ear/UFC Ear/MMA Ear/BJJ Ear/Wrestler Ear

How to Get Cauliflower Ear

In BJJ, MMA, or wrestling, any technique that places friction on the ear can cause UFC ear. For example, in BJJ and MMA, armbar and triangle drills can irritate the ears of the uke (i.e., the student “receiving” the technique). When performed repeatedly, these drills can lead to the accumulation of fluid under the ear’s connective tissue. Muscling out of chokes and performing certain takedowns can also place friction on the ears.

How to Prevent Cauliflower Ear

Use Ear Protectors

The easiest way to prevent UFC ear is to wear ear protectors. Ear protectors vary in price and quality, so you should do some research before purchasing a pair. Ear protectors can take a little getting used to at first, but it’s worth it if you want to prevent wrestling ear.

Use Proper Technique

As noted above, muscling your way out of submissions can wreak havoc on your ears. However, this isn’t the only reason you shouldn’t power your way out of submissions—it’s also poor technique. If you take the time to learn how to escape properly, not only will you prevent UFC ear, but you’ll become a better grappler.

Take a Break

Although cauliflower ear can occur instantly, it is usually a gradual process that is the result of prolonged friction to the ear. This means that if you pay attention to the early warning signs of cauliflower ear, you can usually prevent it. One of the most common early warning signs is redness and soreness. If your ears begin to feel tender, take a break from training until they feel normal again.

How to Treat Cauliflower Ear

Apply an Icepack

If your ear swells up, you should apply an icepack immediately. An icepack will help reduce inflammation and can slow the flow of blood into the space between the ear’s skin and cartilage. You should apply an icepack to your ear for about 10 minutes every hour from the time the swelling first occurs. You can repeat this process for up to four hours. There are a lot of great icepacks out there that are specifically designed for grapplers.

Compress the Ear

Another effective way to treat MMA ear is to wrap a bandage around your head to create pressure against your ear. When combined with an icepack, compression is a great way to combat swelling. Compression can also slow the buildup of fluid in the ear.

Drain it

Finally, you generally have about 48 hours from the onset of swelling to drain the fluid and blood from your ear before the damage becomes permanent. Although some people do this themselves with a hypodermic needle, we recommend that you have a medical professional perform this procedure.

Worst Cauliflower Ears in MMA History

MMA ear can range from mild to serious. The following MMA fighters are known for having some of the worst cases of cauliflower ear in MMA history.

Randy Couture Ear

Randy Couture ear
Randy Couture Ear

Randy Couture ear is often a topic of discussion among MMA fans. To put it simply, Couture has some of the worst MMA ears ever seen. Couture’s ears are the result of years of wrestling and MMA. In fact, Randy Couture was an Olympic-level wrestler before even beginning his MMA career in his 30s. Years of wear and tear from wrestling and MMA blessed Randy with the worst UFC ears in history.

Khabib Nurmagomedov Ear

Khabib Nurmagomedov ear
Khabib Nurmagomedov Ear

Khabib Nurmagomedov is widely considered the greatest MMA fighter of all time. While growing up in Dagestan, Khabib Nurmagomedov spent most of his time on the wrestling mats. Therefore, by the time he could walk, Khabib was training. Over the years, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ears clearly took a serious beating. As of 2021, Nurmagomedov’s record stands at 29-0, and he’s one of the most famous MMA fighters on the planet. That being said, Khabib Nurmagomedov ear may be as famous as he is, as he has one of the worst cases of cauliflower ear in MMA history.

Leslie Smith Ear

Leslie Smith ear
Leslie Smith Ear

Unlike the other MMA fighters on this list, Leslie Smith has the unique honor of having her ear explode during a fight. That’s right, at UFC 180, Jessica Eye hit Leslie Smith’s ear, which was already swollen with blood and fluid, so hard that it burst. Yuck.

Alexander Gustafsson Ear

Alexander Gustafsson
Alexander Gustafsson Ear

Alexander “the Mauler” Gustafsson is a UFC fighter who nearly beat the great Jon Jones in their first meeting. He also happens to be the proud owner of some seriously deformed MMA ears. The Swede has been in some serious wars in the UFC. Gustafsson’s brutal MMA contests have resulted in the development of an extreme case of cauliflower ear. Alexander Gustafsson ear istruly something to behold.

Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear

Shia LaBeouf cauliflower ear
Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear

In addition to its prevalence in MMA, BJJ, wrestling, and the UFC, cauliflower ear occasionally makes an appearance on the silver screen. A notable example is Shia LaBeouf’s character in the Tax Collector. In the film, Shia LaBeouf’s ears are noticeably deformed, leading many people to ask, “What’s wrong with Shia LaBeouf’s ears?” Of course, if you’ve read this far, you already know the answer: Shia LaBeouf’s character in the film has MMA ear.

Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear: The Tax Collector trailer

The Tax Collector is a 2020 American action movie written, directed, and produced by David Ayer. The film, which features Shia LaBeouf as an enforcer, focuses on David Cuevas, a tax collector who works for one of the biggest gang leaders in Los Angeles. Cuevas finds his family’s safety compromised when the rival of his boss upends the business.

Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear
Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear

In the film, Shia LaBeouf plays a debt collector in California. His character, Creeper, sports a pair of mangled cauliflower ears, suggesting that he’s an MMA fighter, wrestler, BJJ practitioner, or some other type of martial artist.

Although Shia LaBeouf cauliflower ear looks realistic, his mangled ears are the result of an excellent makeup artist—not years of MMA, wrestling, or BJJ.

Shia LaBeouf cauliflower ear
Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear

Cauliflower Ear is Nothing to Fear

Cauliflower ear is by no means inevitable in MMA, BJJ, and wrestling. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

How to Be a Great BJJ Training Partner

How to be a great BJJ training partner

As grapplers, we are nothing without our training partners. They challenge us, encourage us, teach us, and allow us to grow as martial artists. Therefore, we should all strive to be excellent BJJ training partners. Not only will this benefit our BJJ classmates, but it will make us better as well. Below are a few tips for becoming an excellent BJJ training partner.

BJJ training partner
BJJ training partner

Communicate

In order to be an excellent BJJ training partner, you must communicate with your BJJ classmates. As martial artists, we place a great degree of trust in our training partners, so we must ensure that we’re always on the same page. For example, if a nagging injury is preventing you from performing certain movements, let your BJJ training partner know. Similarly, you should ask your training partners if they have any physical limitations you should be aware of prior to training. Not only will this help keep you and your training partners safe, but it signals to other that you’re concerned with their well-being.  

BJJ training partner
BJJ training partner

Tap!

Speaking of effective communication, perhaps the most important type of communication in BJJ is nonverbal: the tap. Part of being an excellent BJJ training partner is tapping at the appropriate time. When you are caught in a tight submission, tap! By failing to tap when you’re all out of escape options, you force your partner to choose between hurting you or abandoning a hard-earned submission. Don’t place your BJJ training partners in this position! However, you can also stifle the progress of your training partners by tapping too early. If you always tap well before a submission has been locked in, you rob your training partners of the opportunity to test their techniques against realistic resistance. If you’re still in a position to safely attempt a submission escape, it’s probably too early to tap.

BJJ training partner
BJJ training partner

Shift Your Focus

When you focus on making your training partners better, you both benefit. Not only does focusing on the improvement of your partners help keep your ego in check (this is also an important part of being a good training partner), but it will make them better. In addition, sometimes, when we’re hyper-focused on our own improvement, our BJJ actually suffers. By focusing on your teammates, you alleviate some of the pressure you place on yourself to improve, and this can actually make you better!

BJJ
BJJ training partner

Adjust Your Game

When rolling in class, you should adjust your game based on the skill level, age, and weight of your training partners. This doesn’t mean that you should become a pushover; it just means that you should remain cognizant of the abilities of each of your BJJ teammates. Your goal should be to provide each BJJ training partner you roll with enough resistance to improve. On the other hand, when your training is partner is more experienced than you are, you should treat the sparring session as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Remain Focused During Class

One of the best things about BJJ is hanging out and talking with your friends. However, there is a time and a place for everything. Chatting before and after training is fine, but you should keep the chatter to a minimum during class. In addition, although everyone has mental lapses from time to time, you should try your best to remain focused while your instructor demonstrates techniques. If you don’t pay attention to your instructor during class, your training partners will suffer when it’s time to drill. By remaining focused, you ensure that you and your BJJ training partners get the most out of every class.

BJJ
BJJ training partner

Strive to Be a Great BJJ Training Partner

If you take an active interest in the progress of your training partners, it will make you a better grappler in the long run. Remember, without our training partners, we wouldn’t have BJJ!

BJJ After 40: The Ultimate Guide for Older Grapplers

“Am I too old to start jiu jitsu?” This is a common question among those over 40 who have an interest in BJJ. Luckily, in most cases, the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” One of the things that makes BJJ so great is that it allows practitioners to train well into their later years. However, older grapplers should do so with a different approach than their younger counterparts. The reason for this is simple: as we get older, our bodies change. For example, as we age, we tend to experience more soreness, stiffness, and back pain than we did in our younger days. If we fail to account for these changes, we risk injury and an early exit from BJJ. However, by training intelligently and following the tips below, BJJ after 40 should be no problem.

BJJ after 40
“Am I too old to start jiu jitsu?”

Tip #1: Tap Early and Often

Tapping isn’t the most fun thing in the world to do, and most of us have made the mistake of tapping too late. However, the same armbar that tweaks the elbow of an 18-year-old could keep keep a 40-year-old off the mats for weeks or even months. Therefore, if you train BJJ after 40, repeat after me: “Tapping is my friend.” Trust me, your body will thank you for it.

BJJ after 40
BJJ after 40

Tip #2: Scale Back the Intensity

If you train BJJ after 40, you probably won’t be competing for a world championship any time soon. Therefore, you shouldn’t treat your sparring sessions as if you will be. Although rolling hard can be challenging and fun, as an older grappler, you should make a concerted effort to scale back the intensity of your rolls. This will prevent injuries and speed up your recovery time between training sessions.

Tip #3: Focus on Defense

If you train BJJ after 40, defense is your friend. In fact, focusing on defense is a good idea for both older grapplers and non-competitive hobbyists of all ages. Although hunting for submissions is fun, relentlessly attacking your training partners can lead to some intense rolling sessions, and this can result in injuries. Therefore, as an older grappler, you should make a conscious effort to allow your opponent to be the aggressor. Not only will this drastically improve your defense, but it will keep you free from injuries.

Tip #4: Rest, Recover, and Eat Right

Rest, recovery, and diet are important for all athletes. However, they are particularly important for older grapplers. In fact, as a BJJ athlete over 40, rest, recovery, and diet can mean the difference between injury and health. Therefore, all older grapplers should place special emphasis on rest, recovery, and nutrition.

BJJ after 40
BJJ after 40

BJJ Is for Everyone

As an older grappler, you it’s necessary to approach BJJ differently than your younger counterparts. However, by making a few small adjustments to your game, lifestyle, and training methods, you’ll be able to train BJJ after 40 and beyond. See you on the mats!

The Definitive Guide to Fixing BJJ Back Pain

BJJ back pain

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a safe and healthy activity for people of all ages, but it can also take its toll on the body. One ailment commonly suffered by BJJ students (especially those who train BJJ after 40) is lower back pain. Many BJJ positions and movements place stress on the lower back—this often results in pain. Luckily, as discussed below, there are several methods available to help you choke out BJJ back pain.

BJJ back pain
Back pain is common in BJJ.

See a Doctor For BJJ Back Pain

First, if you suffer from BJJ back pain, see a doctor. Although lower back pain is often the result of strained muscles or ligaments (this is called “nonspecific” back pain), seeing a doctor or other medical professional is the only way to confirm that your lower back pain isn’t the result of a serious injury. Don’t take chances with your back—always seek medical attention at the onset of any type of back pain.

Adjust Your Game to Ease Your BJJ Back Pain

After you’ve met with a doctor and ruled out any serious underlying conditions, you can begin formulating a plan of attack for dealing with your lower back pain. A good place to start is your BJJ game. Are you a guard player? Do you invert frequently? Do you continue to fight for submissions from guard as you’re being stacked? Do you rely on explosive shrimping and bridging to escape bad positions? If so, your BJJ game may be the cause of your lower back pain.

Although it can be difficult to give up your “A game,” you should begin experimenting with positions and techniques that put less of a strain on your lower back. Not only will this help reduce your lower back pain, but it will improve your overall BJJ game as well. After all, BJJ is all about having fun and experimentation! Here are a few ways you can adjust your game to reduce your lower back pain.

(1) Become a Guard Passer

Although this certainly isn’t true for everyone, most people tend to focus on either passing the guard or playing guard—not both. As noted above, most guard players tend to develop lower back problems at some point in their BJJ careers. If you’re a guard player with lower back pain, you should work on your guard passing. Not only will this improve your lower back pain, but it will make you a more complete grappler.

A great style of passing to learn for grapplers with lower back pain is pressure passing. Pressure passing is a slow, methodical, grinding style of passing the guard. Since pressure passing slows the game down and doesn’t require you to perform explosive movements, you’ll drastically reduce your odds of straining your back when you incorporate it into your game.

If you want to learn pressure passing from the best, we recommend that you check out Bernardo Faria’s instructionals. Bernardo is a multiple-time BJJ world champion and arguably the greatest pressure passer in the game.

BJJ back pain
Bernardo Faria’s style of pressure passing is a great way to avoid BJJ back pain.

(2) Focus on BJJ Defense

BJJ students rarely work on their BJJ defense. Most BJJ practitioners prefer to spend their time at the academy working on new submissions, sweeps, takedowns, and other offensive maneuvers. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. However, many offensive BJJ techniques place a lot of stress on the lower back. Over time, this can result in chronic lower back pain. Therefore, if you suffer from back pain, you should spend at least some of your time working on your BJJ defense. Not only will playing a defensive BJJ style give your back a rest, but it will make you a much better grappler.

If you want to improve your defensive BJJ, a great source of knowledge is Priit Mihkelson. Priit is an Estonian BJJ black belt who has developed a unique and highly effective system of BJJ defense. His material is the gold standard for BJJ defense.

BJJ back pain
Priit Mihkelson’s revolutionary defensive BJJ system is a great way to avoid BJJ back pain.

Strengthen Your Back to Alleviate BJJ Back Pain

A weak back is more susceptible to pain. Therefore, if you’re suffering from BJJ back pain, you should considering strengthening your back. There are several things outside of BJJ that you can do to strengthen and stretch your back, all of which can alleviate pain, including:

(1) Work on Your Core Strength

Your core is partially made up of your abdominal and back muscles. A weak core is a surefire way to develop lower back pain. A strong core, on the other hand, can do wonders for your back pain. Everything from strength training with weights to stability ball work can improve your core strength. Here are some tips from Rener Gracie on how to strengthen your core for BJJ.

(2) Do Some Yoga

Many BJJ practitioners swear by Yoga as a supplemental exercise. Not only can Yoga reduce stress and improve your balance, flexibility, and strength, but it can reduce or eliminate your lower back pain. Even if you don’t want to join a yoga class, there are loads of instructional materials online to help get you started. Downward dog, child’s pose, and upward dog are all particularly good poses for reducing back pain.

(3) Go Swimming

Not only is swimming great exercise, but it can also help alleviate lower back pain. The front crawl and backstroke are particularly effective at reducing BJJ back pain. In addition to stretching out and strengthening your back, swimming causes the body to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

(4) Invest in an Inversion Table for BJJ Back Pain

Inversion tables provide a natural, passive way to target lower back pain. When you use an inversion table, your body weight and gravity combine to decompress your spine. For many people, including UFC commentator Joe Rogan, this decompression results in a drastic reduction in lower back pain. Decompression is particularly important for BJJ practitioners, as many of the positions in BJJ compress the spine, resulting in moderate to severe back pain.

(5) Invest in a Massage Gun

Everyone knows that massages feel great and are a fantastic way to reduce pain. However, not everyone has the time or money to get professional massages regularly. If regular professional massages are out of the question for you, you should look into investing in a massage gun. A massage gun is a handheld device that allows you to reap the benefits of a professional massage in the comfort of your own home. Clearly, this can be enormously beneficial if you are a BJJ practitioner with lower back pain. In addition to helping reduce lower back pain, massage guns:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve circulation
  • Eliminate toxins
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve flexibility
  • Enhance immunity
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Sports injuries

Trust us, once you start using a massage gun, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

(6) Do Reverse Hyperextensions

The reverse hyperextension is an exercise that targets multiple areas of the body, including the small muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the lower back. This exercise can be performed perform either with or without equipment, although we recommend that you invest in a reverse hyper machine to obtain maximum benefits from this exercise.

The reverse hyperextension machine was invented by famed powerlifter Louie Simmons in 1974.  After severely damaging his back 1973, doctors recommended that Louie undergo back surgery. Finding this unacceptable, Louie began experimenting with alternative methods of treatment. In his quest to fix his back without surgery, Louie eventually invented the reverse hyperextension machine. Louie claims that by performing reverse hyperextensions on his reverse hyper machine, he successfully rehabilitated his back. Here is a demonstration of how to perform the reverse hyperextension.

BJJ Back Pain is Part of the Journey

You’re bound to experience setbacks during your BJJ journey, including bumps, bruises, and injuries. However, by following the tips above, lower back pain doesn’t have to be one of them! See you on the mats!