Preventing Mat Cooties | Grappling Hygiene

It isn’t a bug bite.  That isn’t poison ivy, or dry skin.  You don’t have razor burn.  And we both know that, so stay off the mat.

This article isn’t meant to be a science lesson.  I won’t be discussing the micro-biome of the human skin (at length at least.)  Most of what I know about skin infections comes from years on the mats with people from all areas of martial arts and grappling.  I’ve seen just about all of it, had some of it, and I know pretty well how and why it happens.

Here’s the first dirty truth about mat cooties: it doesn”t matter how clean our mats are, it only takes one dirty guy to ruin it for the rest of us.  Our mats are cleaned before and after every class with a solution designed by grapplers specifically for grappling mats.  They’re clean.

Mat cooties- like ringworm, staph, impetigo- are most often caused by skin to skin contact with an infected person, not from the mats.  Proof of this is the kids program.  How often do you see a 7 year old with ringworm?  In 8 years, I still haven”t.  It isn’t the mats, it’s your inconsiderate training partner.

It boggles my mind when students ask me how often I wash my gi.  What?!

“Every time,” is the only answer!

Throwing your gi top for a tumble with a dryer sheet just gives the bacteria a spa treatment before bringing it to class.  And you’re not fooling anyone.  After warmups, you’ll smell like potpourri scented sewage.  Wash your gi after each use.

And wash yourself after each use.  Don’t sit down to watch that Bachelorette episode you missed before jumping in the shower.  Especially in the hot, muggy NJ summertime, you’re encouraging the growth of a lot of little nasties who enjoy the moisture and warmth of a post Jiu Jitsu body.  Get in the shower, and use something a little stronger (and less scented please) than Axe body wash.

There are steps you can take that protect clean schools like ours from mat cooties.  Firstly, be a team player.   Practice proper hygiene.  And if you get something, say something.  Tell your Professor, then go to the doctor.  Ignoring it will not make it go away, trust me I’ve tried.  I almost lost my foot to staph after cutting my heel on the dirty cage in an MMA fight.  I glued the gash up, put on my dirty shoes and went out for a night of celebrating.  Dumb.

Unfortunately, even the cleanest of Jiu Jitsu practitioners can fall victim to mat cooties. I’ve found that the #1 culprit introducing the nasties to clean schools is the competition team.  Skin to skin contact with up to a dozen guys from a dozen schools with questionable cleanliness protocols- combined with a 12 hour day of stewing in those mingled sweats- is a recipe for disaster.  Some guys use pre-training foams or wipes that protect skin for several hours after applying, which is great for the competitors.

Personally, I wash my hands, face and neck with soap and water at the school after each training session, then change out of my gi right away.  You can use special soaps like Defense soap, which is designed specifically for us (and smells awesome actually.)

The truth is that we’re all covered in germs, bacteria and other bugs. It’s not unnatural, and it doesn’t make you dirty. You’re actually covered (and filled with) an immense population of microbes that you wouldn’t survive without.  The nasty ones are looking for broken skin (cuts, scrapes, ingrown hairs) to get in and do some work.  The good ones are protecting you.  Don’t go crazy with the hand sanitizer, you’re destroying the healthy micro-biome on your skin.   This leaves you more susceptible the next time around.

Look, the vast majority of us will never have any issues whatsoever.  However, there’s still a chance that some sort of skin infection will occur.  It’s easy to prevent, easy to diagnose, and easy to treat.  Spare yourself and your Professor the Uncomfortable Conversation, stay off the mats and call your doctor.

author: Peter McHugh

Professor Pete McHugh is the owner and Lead Instructor of McHugh BJJ in Mt. laurel NJ. He is a black belt under BJJ & MMA legend Ricardo Almeida.


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