We can't completely avoid injuries if we live active lifestyles: we can slip climbing, fall off our bike, or roll our ankle on a run. However, I find that most of the injuries I see in jiu jitsu are completely avoidable. I've come to believe that the vast majority of the time, if you get hurt, it's your fault. Of course, this is not universally true, freak accidents happen, but in a sport where the goal is to control, strangle, and break someone, it is our responsibility to tap out and submit to our partners early enough to avoid getting hurt. There should be no stigma around tapping in training; it is our opportunity to recognize that we made a mistake or series of mistakes that resulted us in having a submission hold applied to us.
Last time I got hurt was 100% my fault. I took an elbow injury in practice that came way of a straight armlock. It was a pretty intense roll with someone who was not a regular training partner of mine. The armlock was on, but he didn't have much control over the rest of my body, so I felt like there was an avenue of escape, and I really did not want to tap out. On my way out my elbow screamed out with a series of pops. My escape was NOT worth the damage! Maybe if there was a serious cash prize on the line, it would have been worth it, but I couldn't train for several weeks after that happened, and it took about a year before I could straighten my arm all the way again. The lesson here: just tap, it's not worth it. I see beginners in fully extended armbars all the time and they just sit in the armbar for several seconds not doing anything to escape before they finally tap. This is completely pointless. When it comes down to training, we're just trying to improve our jiu jitsu, so when someone straightens out your arm, you've already lost, so tap before damage is done and, next time, try not to let your arm get put in a compromised position in the first place.
One of the most common questions I hear from eager beginners goes something like: what do I do when they have this or that fully locked in submission hold? Most frequently, it's specifically, "how do I get out of an armbar?" The answer is always and will always be: TAP! Tapping will keep you safe; tapping will get you out.
However, there are more nuanced answers to questions like this, but it is rare that the person asking this kind of question is ready for this kind of answer. There are very technical ways of escaping even the most dangerous submission holds. In fact, the spectacular jiu jitsu player and MMA fighter, Garry Tonon, has an instructional coming out soon on this very subject. In this promotional interview he discusses under what conditions you should practice these skills in live training. It is crucial to have controlled training with trusted partners to develop the skills necessary to escape submission holds. When your partner does not exhibit this level of control and you don't trust them to keep you safe, it is best to work on preventative skills and to tap to submission holds BEFORE there's any potential for getting hurt.
Breathe, tap early, tap often, stay safe.