Friday, June 03, 2016

Dealing with the unconscious athlete in Jiu Jitsu

As a BJJ referee, I regularly see competitors rendered unconscious by well applied chokes in competition. I've seen this every now and then in training also. The effects were always temporary. I've been on a competition mat where the same person was choked out twice (in different matches, of course). In all cases, everyone was ready to wrestle again within minutes. Chokes or strangles are usually pretty safe. They've been happening at the Kodokan in Japan for over a century with no fatalities. Often people say they went to a happy place after being choked out (only temporarily!).

I have always managed to tap in time ... though I have been knocked out while training standup (see below).

The prevailing wisdom from many, at least in BJJ circles, seems to be to lift the unconscious person's legs, and perhaps shake them gently. I've even witnessed, as referee, a competitor get choked out, moved towards them myself to render assistance, and been elbowed out of the way by the other competitor, the choker, rushing in, intent on lifting the guy's legs up until he regains consciousness. This is called the Trendelenberg position.

This had always mystified me, as my first aid courses, etc. always advocated that an unconscious person be placed in the recovery position (sometimes called the coma position) after first checking their heartbeat and breathing, and that their airway was clear.

However, I wondered of there were some special Jiu Jitsu knowledge, something like the Gracie Diet, that I was not privy to, where lifting the legs was more appropriate in the specialised world of Jiu Jitsu chokes and strangles.

According to this article, that is not the case. It's written by Doctor Warren Wang, longtime BJJ practitioner, gym owner, and ONE Vice President of Medical Services.

The legs up position is an outmoded and less safe response. We should go recovery position all the way. If he remains unconscious and unresponsive for more than a few seconds, call the medical staff over. Many people make snoring or similar noises, which means they are still breathing and probably OK.

IMPORTANT - a knockout, caused by head trauma rather than strangulation, is an entirely different situation. A concussion or worse will be involved. The person should not be allowed to compete or train further and should be monitored. Make sure they stay awake. A visit to a hospital or medical centre to be checked out would be sensible.

The father of one of my martial arts instructors died as a result of an untreated knockout. He was jumped and beaten unconscious outside a hotel where he was staying, He regained consciousness, got up unaided, went back into the hotel and up to his room, went to bed, and never woke up. This just illustrates the danger of head trauma. No matter how tough your body is, your brain is roughly the consistency of jelly and cannot be toughened. Be safe, get yourself checked out.

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