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Braving through a Belt Test with an Injury | Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu

Braving through a Belt Test with an Injury

My student and assistant instructor Chris Olson completed his Shodan exam this past Sunday. I am happy to announce that he passed. He earned his Shodan, but suffered a number of hardships during his grading in the way of injury. This made the grading more difficult, both from his point of view in having to try and perform without aggravating his injury, and for me in that I had to strike a balance between pushing him appropriately, but without creating scenarios that are sure to cause further damage.

Chris injured his foot quite badly during the 2-on-1 sparring portion in the first quarter of his grading. We’re still waiting for x-ray results, but he either got a very serious bruise or very minor fracture. We stopped the grading after he got hurt in order to ice it and assess whether or not the grading should continue. Chris wanted to keep going. He was able to walk on it, so we let him, asking that our doctor student, Jenny, keep an eye on him for the rest of the grading.

It was clear that the foot injury was affecting Chris’s performance, but we kept that under consideration in our evaluation of the test. While his ground grappling suffered greatly (Chris normally uses his legs a lot when he grapples) and his throws weren’t nearly as smooth (his injury prevented him from bending too low), he did some beautiful Jiu-jitsu circles, including a blindfolded circle. Because of the flexibility of choice in performing the circles, he was able to choose appropriate techniques that wouldn’t cause him as much pain.

While Chris’s Shodan grading wasn’t performed under the most ideal circumstances, it was a good for demonstrating both Jiu-jitsu skill/versatility and warrior spirit to fight on when the chips are down. We are all very proud.

There is a line though that you have to be careful not to cross when it comes to injuries during belt tests. If the person can’t put weight or pressure on the affected area, they shouldn’t continue the grading in my opinion. My golden rule is that if continuing with the grading is likely to worsen the injury in a serious way, the test should be ended. It can be a hard judgment call to make though. I was just glad to have a doctor on the mats to help make the call.

Does anyone out there have any experience with handling injuries during a belt test? Please share in the comments.

Comments (10)

10 thoughts on “Braving through a Belt Test with an Injury

  1. We got the results from the x-ray. It turns out that he has 2 small fractures in his foot. Surprising since he was able to stand on it and continue the grading. But there you have it. I'm amazed he was able to keep going until the end of the test. Hats off to Chris…

  2. One of my training partners accidentally karate-chopped my foot on his breakfall while I was practicing throws on him, two days before my stripe test. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do the test. I took the next day totally off (although it drove me crazy- I was dying to do last-minute practicing!) and right before the test, I tried a couple of the spinning flying kicks that I figured were going to be some of the most challenging things I'd be asked to do that day on an injured foot. If I couldn't do them (or if they made me scream aloud), I would have begged off the testing- but I was able to do them, so I went through with it. It hurt, but didn't impair me as much as I'd feared it would.

    These days, I'm taking so many MA classes that if I wait till I'm 100% injury-free and fit to do a test, I'd never do one!

  3. While it's nice he still got his belt personally I wouldn't have continued (nor allowed the student to continue if I were the teacher): for one it prevents you from showing your full potential which is what you should be graded on, secondly there's the question of health: it's very possible you'll make the injury worse by continuing, even to the point where it may become permanent. Training should be always be considered a long term thing: gains in the short turn aren't worth losses in the long run. That's at least my take on things. In training safety should always come first (I know this personally since I've gotten hurt quite a few times by inconsiderate partners) and that's what I stress first and foremost in my classes. Machismo and a going on mentality is good and necessary in a fight (in a fight you have no choice obviously) but a test isn't a fight and obviously what you'd want to do in a real fight is to get away asap, especially when injured, not stick around for another hour or so.

    To each his own opinion, right?


  4. If we hadn't had a doctor on the mats monitoring his condition I would have stopped the test too. But as it stood, he was able to put weight on it and she didn't think that it would cause any further injury (which it didn't). Steve Hiscoe Shihan was also ok to let it continue. And if anything Chris demonstrated a higher level of potential than he would have had he not been injured in a way that might be hard for people to understand without having been there. He was able to display his versatility in application in his ability to compensate for his injury.

    Chris wasn't being macho. He would have stopped if he thought it necessary and we all would have stopped it if the doctor we had on the mats thought it was necessary. There are all sorts of mitigating circumstances which make it hard for someone who wasn't there to judge fairly.

  5. I didn't judge that particular situation since I don't make it a habit to judge situations that I haven't witnessed personally, I merely stated my general opinion on the subject of testing or training with injuries… Nothing more and nothing less. I've had my fair share of training-related injuries and it's a given injuries tend to get worse when extra stress is put upon the affected bodypart. Then again a doctor is an expert on these things (although the level of skill with regard to sports-related injuries tends to vary among physicians) so it would make sense to head his or her advice. Again: my comment didn't pertain to that particular situation and I don't claim to be all-knowing on the subject, it's just that my motto (given my history) still is 'better be safe than sorry'. Obviously this doesn't mean quit when it's nothing serious, just be mindfull of the consequences.



  6. Congrats to Chris!

    I badly bruised my heel several weeks before my black belt test. I damaged it practicing an axe kick break on those darn plastic re-breakable boards. Shortly after that I competed at a tourney where I did that same axe kick (damaged heel and ankle) on a stack of boards. Naturally, I was so worried about the injury that I pulled my first attempt and only got through a few boards. The second pass–mostly due to embarrassment and adrenalin–caused me to blast the stack of boards to bits and also further damage the heel.

    Anyhow, a week latter I was testing for my black belt and the foot was a mess. I remember GM C. asking me why I was not smiling after receiving the belt. The fact is it was due to the pain – however, I just mumbled something about being tired.

  7. i actually tore some of the muscles in my stomach after falling from a shoulder throw whilst going for my green belt, my instructor stopped the grading and urged i go to hospital to make sure there was no serious damage.
    i however was too stubborn and ended up having a small (and in looking back at it now, rather disrespectful) argument about continuing as i was determined to grade( id been out for about 7 months with a previous injury and i guess was trying to prove myself to the club).
    the pain was amazing but in my stubborn state of mind pushed on and managed to pass the grading and obtain my green.
    i was amazingly lucky that i suffered as little long term damage as i did and learnt a lesson in limits, the abilities of the human mind over body and mostly a lesson in respect, both for my own body and the opinions of my instructor.

  8. I actually quite like working through injuries. No one likes being injured — but it does provide a unique opportunity to find the fundamentals of the techniques and still make them work. It requires creativity and a thorough understanding of the basics — in order to protect the injured body part and still perform the technique correctly. Good for chris that he was able to do both of these things in the middle of an already stressful testing situation. Most black belts cannot.

  9. Injuries are always difficult to deal with. I've toughed it out in the past and have made things worse.

    In this case, I applaud Chris for continuing. In many ways, I believe that the fact that he continued displayed his level of Jiu Jitsu more than anything else. My priority has always been combat effectiveness and the ability to adapt to an injury under stress really showcases a student's skill. Having said that, serious injuries require medical attention.

    Good work and congratulations to Chris.

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