Are we tougher because we do jiu jitsu? Or is it the other way around?
My jiu jitsu confuses my friends, especially my law school colleagues. I am not particularly imposing or menacing. 6'1" or so, 185 lbs, bearded (with noticeable no-grow zones), hairline routed like Napoleon. And once people hear about my love of armbars and chokes, the difference between a choke and a strangle---their perception of me changes. I get a lot of strange looks, as though I've joined a public FIGHT CLUB, where we go and beat the shit out of each other but are free to talk about it. Of course, that isn't what happens. We train techniques, we respect our training partners. Our main goal is not merely to win; it is to improve, to become more efficient, more effective.
We still can't deny that this is a high-contact activity. Every one of us has the elbowed-in-the-face stories. "His arm came right over the top and I caught his forearm with my chin." "We scrambled and his elbow hit me right below my eye." "He was going for a pass and his knee dropped right on my sternum." "His ankle clipped me just above his eye; I needed eight stitches." Broken nose. Tweaked knee. Black eyes. Fat lip. Cuts on our faces and hands. Misshapen fingers. It took six months of consistent training, but I even got an x-ray to check my neck and back.
A friend of mine just popped his elbow, hyperextended it because he is pretty green and didn't want to tap to an armbar. He's young and hungry, and he'll heal pretty quickly. The best part, though, isn't that he'll heal and learn from the experience. It happened on Monday--he went to the E.R. and they told him to take six weeks off. Thursday, he was back in his gi and on the mat, clutching his collar to keep his arm from straightening. He couldn't do half of the techniques we drilled, and he wasn't able to stay after and train because it just isn't practical. But he was there, and he was working to learn.
A law professor of mine saw my resume (BJJ is one of my "Other Interests;" figured it would be a great conversation starter) and told me that he used to train MMA and had a purple belt in BJJ when he was working for a law firm in Madison. I was more than a little surprised. This is probably one of the nicest, least confrontational people I've met in law school. He would come in with bruises and black eyes and tender joints. But he went to work every day, wrote briefs and did document review, then trained at night. Georgette does the same thing. And everyone at work (I imagine the same is true with Georgette) would see Mark as the tough guy.
Is it the cosmetic damage that makes people see us as tough? Is it the drive to train despite substantial injury? I've known people to train through torn intercostal muscles, broken wrists (casted up, no less), sprains, torn meniscuses (menisci?), chronic back injuries, you name it. I told my wife about how Klint injured his wrist early in his training, and for the next two months, he left his hand in his belt and developed his guard without the use of one of his hands. He also was back training only a week after knee surgery, monitoring himself and limiting his movement so as not to aggravate his injury and still develop the rest of his game. She said that these probably helped him improve faster and in a way that having full faculty of his hands and leg would not, but then promptly told me that I would never be allowed to do such a thing.
I admit that toughness helps in training. It helps you get through tough positions, allows you to focus through physical distraction. But I don't know whether toughness is a prerequisite for training jiu jitsu, or whether it is a results of training.