The practice of Jiu Jitsu involves lots of physical contact and very intimate ranges. Whether you are just learning new techniques, drilling or “rolling” (sparring), Jiu Jitsu requires close-quarters contact with another human being. It is one of the reasons that personal hygiene and proper care of your training gear (gi, kneepads) is often a preoccupation of practitioners and coaches alike.
Sure to come up at some point in your Jiu-Jitsu/Grappling journey is the discussion or experience of skin-borne infections. Some of these can be down-right dangerous in addition to scary (MRSA, for example) but the most common and easily treated is “ringworm”. Though this is actually a simple fungus, it is intimidating mostly because of its contagious nature, being passed easily from person to person.
- How to identify Ringworm.
It strikes such emotion and fear in the hearts of grapplers that many years ago, a war cry of a particular grappling team was to yell “Give’em the worm” as their teammates competed on the mats; a sort of “psychological warfare” to off-balance the opponent and put them on the defensive.
How to treat Ringworm and keep it from spreading.
Ringworm is deceptively named because it has nothing to do with a worm but is actually a fungus of same type as “athlete’s foot”. Ringworm causes a round-shaped scaly, crusted rash that can take a “ring-shape” at various stages. It does not always itch and may first start out as a vague, round shape. A physician would be able to identify the fungus by using a black light to view the affected area. The fungus will fluoresce (glow) under black light.
- Please don’t come to train. Stay off the mats!
If you even suspect that a skin infection you may have is fungal, PLEASE stay off the mat. It may be hard to accept this small break in training but ringworm is very contagious and you will not only spread the infection but delay the eradication of your own condition. Fungal spores spread further than just where you can see the tell-tale ring pattern. Do NOT just cover up the ringworm lesion you can see and come to train. You will still spread the fungus.
- Treat the ringworm immediately
The longer you wait to begin treatment the longer it will take to get rid of it. Several very effective over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are available and even stronger ointments can be obtained with prescription.
Continue using the anti-fungal cream for at least one week after the actual ringworm pattern is gone. Even after the infection appears to be no longer visible, the spores can still be dormant.
How to “Ringworm Proof” yourself.
- Shower after EVERY training!
No matter how tired and spent you are after a hard training session, do not ever, under any circumstances, skip a shower! Use a good quality bodywash (see below) or tea-tree oil based soap. It is not uncommon for Jiu Jitsu friends to go and eat and be merry after training but at the very least, wash your hands, arms, face and neck with good soap until you can get to a proper full-body shower later.
- Change/Wash Clothes, Gi and Bedsheets
If you are not already washing your gi, rashguard, kneepads, etc. after every training session, then you are being part of the problem! But once you actually identify that you have ringworm, also wash all your bedsheets and make sure to not re-wear any clothing form one day to the next.
- Jiu Jitsu Body Wash
A little gem of folk-wisdom I picked up while training in Brazil: Training in Rio gets hot and sweaty quickly. In the early days of Jiu Jitsu, going “sim kimono” (no gi) meant shedding the gi-top and forgoing the now-ubiquitous rash-guard. I learned that fighters (especially those training two sessions a day) would shower immediately after coming off the mats using a mentholated dandruff shampoo (like Selsun Blue).
The post training routine involves using this medicated shampoo as a body and hair wash, then allowing it to dry for a few minutes in the shower, before washing it off. Though the process may seem unscientific at first, it is good to note that the fungus that causes dandruff (Malassezia globosa) and the ringworm fungus can be considered cousins sharing many of the same characteristics. Try this simple home-remedy bodywash as a preventive measure or to supplement another anti-fungal prescriptive regimen.