Any martial art with contact is potentially risky. The more contact, the greater the risk. The risks surrounding newer arts, such as MMA and BJJ, haven’t been as fully explored as with some other older arts. It’s important to keep in mind that lack of information about risk is not the same thing as the lack of risk.
This article by John Wiegand highlights some of the growing concerns about safety in Brazilian jujitsu, which has become extremely popular over the past 25 years and has become a staple in the world of modern martial arts. UFC and other mixed martial artists either have extensive training in BJJ or have some other training to counter BJJ practitioners in competitive matches. On the amateur level, BJJ is marketed as both a safe self defense and athletic activity. But in reality BJJ can involve significant injury risks, as is apparent from lawsuits, personal anecdotes, and expert opinions.
Erik Milosevich’s injury, sustained from a heel hook during class, highlights the dangers present when excessive force is applied during sparring. A particularly severe case involved Jack Greener, who was awarded $46.5 million after sustaining a catastrophic neck injury at a gym that led to quadriplegia.
Compared to judo, tae kwon do, and some other international martial arts governed under a single organizing body, BJJ lacks standardized safety protocols compared to these other arts (which are sometimes criticized for their own lax safety standards). Making the matter worse is the resistance to regulation in the BJJ community.
The debate continues over how to balance the martial art’s growth with safety, with some advocating for more oversight to prevent injuries, particularly for newcomers.