Dear Wise Grappler
“I’m going to be 35 this year & have been training since 2005. I’ve
had 2 injures in that time, one to the knee (which put me out for 9
months) & another to my shoulder which required surgery & will never
be 100% again.
I spent about a year off after my shoulder surgery in physical
therapy getting back into shape. I tried going back to class for a
few weeks & the strain of training stand-up & moderate pace sparring
were aggravating my shoulder injury so I stopped. I tried to roll
lightly, but finding a partner that wants to train like this all
the time is difficult.
After a visit to the doc, he suggested (strongly) that I stop
training altogether. So I took his advice & have been off the mats
again for 2.5 months. In that time, I have gotten back into great
shape. However I still fear that going back to training will
aggravate it & possibly re-injure my shoulder.
So what do you do when all you want to do is work technique & flow
roll lightly? I find that most schools are filled with younger
guys who are serious about training. I’m looking to take this less
seriously, train 2-3 days a week & just practice technique & flow
roll. I’m not looking to get promoted, I just want to keep what
skill I have, learn more, & enjoy a fun workout.
TWG: I think your situation is now becoming a common problem the
more popular MMA and grappling becomes worldwide. The older
grappler (OG) that has no desire to be the next Mundials or UFC
Champion has to share the mats with guys that are trying to be one
of those champions or those “wannabees” guys that want to run
around and brag to anyone that’ll listen that they’re a fighter.
Those are the guys that we’ve all encountered on the mat and the
ones most likely to hurt you.
I’ve been training since 1994 and like most of the other OGs here,
injury (and sometimes surgery) is just part of the game. It’s the
part that most of us newbies didn’t realize when we started, but we
learned over time because some part of our bodies always had to be
iced, wrapped or elevated before we could make it back to the next
training class. And when you’re injured and recovering from one,
you’re nothing more than a target from many grapplers looking for a
I remember right after I had my knee surgery back in 1999 (when I
was a blue belt) and rolling with a guy the first day back on the
mat. He was all over me and worked really hard to get the
submission, which I gave him. His priority was to be able to brag
about tapping a blue belt because he thought he should’ve been a
blue belt as well and his proof was subbing me. My priority was to
keep from getting re-injured, period! Needless to say, that was
the last time I rolled with him during my recovery because he
didn’t care about me as a teammate, only about being able to brag
in the locker room about how he tapped me.
Since it sounds like you know what you want from grappling, I think
you should look for a school that’s not a competition machine. Any
time you approach one of those schools, you’re more likely to
encounter those young guns and punks that’ll re-injure you each
time that you walk on the mat. And it doesn’t mean that they’re
trying to be mean to you, just that the instructor has set and
allows a certain training mindset that isn’t conducive to your
A school that doesn’t emphasize competitions will not be very
attractive to the “Murder Inc.” types most likely to paintbrush
your bad shoulder every chance they get because it won’t be
“hardcore” enough for them. One or two might slip in through the
cracks, but the instructor should be able to manage them,
especially if the instructor’s an OG (over 35) as well and
understand the trials older grapplers have to endure on the mat.
Once you’re in that kind of environment, it should be easier to
find classmates that’ll serve as good training partners that’ll
look out for your injury. You should either look for a guy like
you (recovering from an injury) or a more advanced student that
needs a partner to get some extra drilling time without the need to
have a death match with them.
You can also try to find a female training partner because they’re
usually on the receiving end of young punks all the time and are
forced to learn technique just to survive. They should help you to
improve your skill without sending you for an ice pack at the end of
each class. There are some beginner grapplers that can do it, but
it’s VERY hard to find them because they equate training hard all
the time will skill level improvement. Those are the guys that
figure if they didn’t spar in class, it was a waste of time.
Last thing, you have to make sure that you’re able to resist the
urge to “turn it up” a bit when your shoulder starts feeling good.
It’s a natural reaction to do that when you’re just “rolling light”
and don’t want to give up (or trying to get) a position against
your partner. You’re just as likely to hurt yourself as your
partners are to hurt you. So, make sure that when your partner is
keeping it light, you do it as well. And when either of you starts
to push it, you need to be able to stop it immediately.
I hope this helps and good luck.