I seem to have some sort of radar that goes off when I meet someone.
If they are a BJJ player or wrestler, the person gives off an unconscious signal to other grapplers.
Okay, that’s made up.
But there are some telltale physical characteristics of a veteran grappler that most of us can spot right away.
The first thing I notice is the eyes.
When you meet someone new, look them in the eye and you can tell by the skin around them whether or not they are a grappler. They look sunken or tired. Whatever you want to call them, they show hours of getting a forehead shoved into them while working position for takedowns. They show every time they were in side control and their partner or opponent opted to shove their shoulder in the eye socket instead of the cheek. They show the meanest cross faces, the wildest elbows and knees during the scrambles. But beyond those bruises and scar tissue, you see in the eyes the happiness of someone that gets to participate in something they truly love.
When working takedowns, we use our heads to jockey for position against our opponents. A receding hairline is a direct result of this. How many guys in their 20’s do we see at a tournament with hairlines back to the middle of their heads? There tend to be quite a few. That is a sign that maybe these guys are registered for one of the more experienced divisions.
When people meet, along with saying hello, there is usually a handshake. I doubt anybody can say they met a grappler who had a weak handshake. So much of what we do is based on grips and hand fighting and position, that when we shake a person’s hand, they’re going to feel it. It’s also easy to forget the amount of strength built up over years on the mat when shaking a new person’s hand. That type of grip strength is rare in today’s world.
There’s a very distinct sign that a person is not only a grappler, but a spider guard player. The answer here lies in their hands. If they can’t get their wedding ring on, or it looks like they have marbles instead of knuckles, chances are they are a veteran spider guard player. Years and years of grabbing and pulling have turned these hands into something to be feared. The Miyao brothers are a great example of this. When we look at their hands, their knuckles stick out like a sore thumb (HA!).
Cauliflower ear is something that is the most easily recognizable and probably the most telling of all of these wonderful badges of honor. For centuries, the most accomplished and dedicated grapplers have worn them the way Tom Brady wears Super Bowl rings. It is something to be desired. Society scorns it, deems it disgusting. What it represents, however, is a very desirable trait. It represents dedication and commitment. The fact that something disfiguring like a cauliflower ear does not deter us from grappling speaks volumes about the pros and cons of the sport, and the passion one develops for it.
These are all physical signs of a veteran grappler. Not every grappler has every one of these, nor will he necessarily get all of these. If you happen to see a person with gnarly knuckles and cauliflower ear, chances are the two of you have more in common than you know.
What is the last and final telling sign of a veteran grappler?
Chances are he will have tons of wrinkles around the mouth from smiling and enjoying every second of the BJJ journey and lifestyle. Laughing with teammates after practice, smiling when you see a buddy hit a technique in competition. I’ve said it time and time again; that is why we do this. We begin this journey for a million different reasons, but in the end, more than anything, it helps us to develop as people. These physical attributes speak to the type of people we are.
We are dedicated, loyal, hardworking and never quit.