Gripping the Gi is Tough On Your Fingers
Gi grips place a lot of stress on your fingers. This is especially true when you look at the umbrella grip (pocket, 4-finger, spider) most commonly used in spider guard. Holding these grips can wear the skin off of your knuckles, forming calluses over time.
But MAKING grips isn’t the only danger… BREAKING of the grips is commonly accompanied with tears, fractures and sprains. Either way, umbrella grips are HIGH RISK!
Accidents Happen – It’s Not Always the Grips
Injuries that are not directly related with gripping must also be considered. Some of the nastiest finger injuries I’ve seen over the years would be considered “accidents” or “flukes.” In a split-second your fingers can be destroyed if they become entangled in someone’s gi during a scramble situation. Nasty stuff. And, when you consider point #1, the more time you spend on the mats the greater your chances of encountering “accidents.”
Finger Damage is Widespread – It’s Not Just BJJ
It’s important to keep in mind that finger injuries occur in almost all contact sports, not just jiu-jitsu. Football, wrestling, karate, rugby… there are countless examples of people who have almost zero mobility in their finger(s) from an injury they incurred participating in their respective sport. Do “jiujitsu fingers,” or the large calluses that result from umbrella grips, really result in lack of mobility? Or, perhaps because they are so noticeable”jiu-jitsu fingers” are acting as a scapegoat and taking attention off of the real cause or causes of finger damage.
Temporary vs Permanent Damage – Not Everything Lasts
Let’s assume that the 20% number Keenan uses is accurate. We still have no way of knowing how much mobility he would regain if he stopped training all together. In other words, how much of the mobility loss is permanent and how much could be regained through rest and rehabilitation (or just not training)?
Symptoms vs Causes – Be Careful What You Treat
Sure you can tape, ice, stretch… but these things address the symptoms and not the cause. At the end of the day if you don’t want to damage your fingers in jiu-jitsu, don’t do jiu-jitsu… Obviously this is an extreme, but if you are looking for ways to prevent damage, this would appear to be effective. Reduce your training time and you reduce your chance of injury.
If you don’t want to reduce your training time, reduce the amount of time you spend in “high risk” gripping situations. One thing you can do immediately is to avoid using umbrella grips. But there’s a reason why the highest-level athletes continue to use umbrella grips… THEY WORK! So is the reduced risk worth giving up such an advantageous position? That’s for you to decide…
Our Bodies Break Down – Living Kills Us
Living has a way of killing us, doesn’t it? Doing anything repeatedly, over time, is going to have an effect on your body. If you train a martial art for your entire life, would you really expect to have LESS joint pain than someone who has not been training?