Cauliflower Ears in BJJ

by Caleb on March 19, 2008

cauliflower ear baret yoshida
Baret Yoshida’s cauliflower ear.

Chances are that if you practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you know someone whose ears look like Baret Yoshida‘s. Cauliflower ear is caused when the ear receives a blow that shears away the ear’s cartilage from its overlying perichondrium. Liquid fills the new space between the two layers, and will harden into a hard fibrous lump if not drained.

I was speaking with six-time world champion Robson Moura last week, who said that his issue with cauliflower ear did not begin until 2002, years after he had received his black belt. Today both ears are severely affected. He commented that it can only take one incident for an ear to go from normal to cauliflowered.

What are the reasons to avoid cauliflower ears? Here’s a brief list.

  1. You may scare away a potential girlfriend, boyfriend, or employer. I think guys have a little less to worry about here as having the appearance of a “tough guy” may be attractive to some women. I don’t think any guy ever would appreciate his girlfriend having cauliflower ears though as most would agree that cauliflower ears never qualify as “pretty”. In very few cases will having cauliflower ears help you get a job, especially in a white collar setting.
  2. It may be harder to hear! I am no audiologist, but I think we can safely say that your ear hole’s original diameter is intentional and probably optimized for good hearing. Making it smaller or obstructed is likely to negatively impact one of your five precious senses.
  3. There is no way to put your ipod earphones in your ears! This is the scariest of all outcomes as it may prevent you from being able to listen to your favorite BJJ podcast. Robson told the story of when he was warming up at a tournament once he borrowed his friend’s ipod. When the earbuds immediately fell out of his ears he originally thought it was because there was something wrong with the earbuds. After they fell out the third time he realized his own banged up ears were causing him to not be able to listen to the ipod, not the earbuds.

Where does that leave us? Well the best way to prevent cauliflower ears is to wear protective headgear. Honestly these are not the most comfortable things in the world, nor are they a recipe for high fashion. However as I have a friend who trains with me who is a doctor and wears headgear I feel empowered to make the statement “prevention is the best medicine”.

If your ear just filled up with liquid after getting scrunched like origami during BJJ training, you may have some luck if you drain the liquid. Doctors can do this for you and there are plenty of postings on forums showing where people drain their ears on their own. Ouch.

If you have had cauliflower ear for a long time and it’s become marble-hard, you can get plastic surgery to repair the damage. That’s expensive. If you’re on a budget and want to negate undesirable cosmetic effects of cauliflower ear, you can grow your hair long so it hangs over your ears, or buy a funny hat that draws attention away from your ears.

Do you have cauliflower ears? Are they a source of pride for you, or do you regret that you have them? Leave a comment below!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

JJ Edwards March 19, 2008 at 4:19 am

I had this in one ear after a few months of starting BJJ. My ear hurt because it wasn’t flexibile anymore! I started wearing headgear and saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Good thing for me that in NYC these doctors tend to do cosmetic surgery, so they were good at draining the ear. Because of the nature of my lump they had to make a small incision and squeeze the blood out. It hurt but was okay. They wrapped up the ear and a week later they injected a local steroid into the cut site to eliminate the still soft but not still liquid growth in there, which really helped. Months later it looks like the top fold of my ear got a little mashed (this was from it getting crushed, not the cauliflower) but it’s barely noticeable, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Definitely roll with headgear when you are sparring.

Jon March 19, 2008 at 7:51 am

I don’t have cauliflower ear, but I make custom headphones. I made a pair for a guy that has it, and man that was probably the most difficult set we have ever made. Oh yeah, I work with Audiologists and having cauliflower ear is definitely “sound destorting.” Not bad for hearing in general, but things won’t sounds as they should, per se.

Hywel Teague [Fighters Only mag] March 19, 2008 at 9:22 am

6 years of grappling and a purple belt around my waist, never once had a cauliflower ear :)

some people just don’t get them

Delano March 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm

I have been involved in BJJ for 10 months now, and thankfully have not had any case of cauliflower ear. There are a few guys at my gym that have it, however. I used to think it was the most repugnant looking thing in the world, but now I think it looks tough, and wouldn’t mind if it ever happened to me. That is the result of me being sucked into this subculture I guess. My wife, however, differs in opinion and thinks that I wear headgear when I train, for she said she would not make love to me anymore if I came home with cauliflower ear. Well see what happens.

Matt March 20, 2008 at 11:39 pm

I want it. Just a little. I don’t know, maybe because I’m not a physically imposing guy to look at. I just want something defining about my appearance, and why not get it from the thing I am most passionate about.

Over here in Japan, loads of people have it, and it’s well respected. Politicians have cauliflowers. Policemen have them. Old geezers, upstanding highschool kids… It’s just a positive thing.

I want it, and I’m not ashamed to say so. After almost five years training (though only the last two with any intensity), I just got my first taste last week. The smallest little pod popped up. Looking forward to more.

Steve March 24, 2008 at 9:37 am

I just got over a minor case of puffy ear syndrome. I honestly don’t care too much about whether I get it or not, as long as it’s along the edge of the ear and not in the inner part of it. I don’t want BJ Penn style ears.

My right ear isn’t going to look exactly like my left one ever again, but it’s all good. As long as my wife doesn’t care, I’m not too worried about it.

Will March 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm

I have a deal with my wife. I can train as much as I want, but I must wear earguards.
She is da bomb.

ISAAC December 23, 2008 at 4:02 am

i have a cauliflower ear for almost 16 years now.am worried.Can it be corrected to its normal size and position to look like the normal ear

cagefighter130 January 14, 2009 at 11:05 pm

cauliflower ear is a nasty thing. im in high school, ive wrestled for a long time and trained and competed in all aspects of mixed martial arts. i have cauliflower ear in both ears, and don’t recomend any body wanting it. it hurts like hell when its tender, and during the draining and after the draining. I didn’t drain my right ear and let it harden so i don’t have a problem with pain in that ear its as hard as a rock, but i drained my left ear today so i dnt know how it will turn out, i had a pretty good size bubble in my upper inside ear that looked goofy so hopefully it turns out cool looking. ya i think cauli is a trophy, ive earned it by working hard on the mat, in the cage, and training. and i respect the guys who hav it worse than i do.

jeremy January 25, 2009 at 3:36 pm

im wrestling in high school now im a sophmore and i just got it at the begining of the season it started out just being sore now middle ways thru the season its full blown hurts like hell and stating on the other side its cool looking and i hold it as a trophy but really does hurt like hell.my grandparents are making me get it fixed but i dont want to.

Larry October 8, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Im a junior in highschool and i had cauiflower ear for a year now. i’ve got it drained like 3 or 4 times, it hurted like hell but now its cool. But people can’t tell because it so flat and u really cant tell. But now im making an appointed for surgery to get rid of it but its like a trophy… i just don’t want it!!

Killer B November 30, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Ive been training bjj for 2 years now and have not gotten any cauli flower, but the other day escaping a head lock I think I may have done something. It doesnt look puffy but its tender as hell, can anyone tell me if its gonna cauli-up? Cuz that shit aint cute. I’ll with out a doubt drain it if it does.

Todd Smith December 13, 2009 at 10:50 pm

BJJ for 3 years, just starting to get cauliflower ear. I’ve found that if you go to a pharmacy, and ask for a box (100) insulin syringes (1/2 inch needle, 30 gauge), they’ll sell them to you and they’ll do the job. If they ask what it’s for, say diabetes. Don’t say cauliflower ear. I have to drain my ears every day after practice. I can’t believe some of these guys say it looks cool! I want this stuff gone!

Alex December 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

Does anyone else think that cauliflower ear looks nothing like actual cauliflower??

Sergio March 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I know it means a lot to some people but I just don’t get it, why don’t you wear a headgear….is it because people will look at you differently when your training? Personally I don’t care, as long as my ears aren’t looking that bad….it’s not like womens like it or something.

stewie April 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

wasup i have a cauliflower ear for years aready is too ard..i never wen to the doctor..but now that i cut my hair it looks ugly i dont know i dont like it..i want to go fix it..but i heard is expensive so i dont know what ama do..am going satyrday to a hospital hope they take it away

Ricardo Huerta January 1, 2011 at 3:25 am

I started getting cauliflower. Its on my inner ear, and I like it. Its like a badge of honor for me.

Daniel April 11, 2011 at 6:05 am

I train at Crossrhodes Jiu Jitsu in Hilton Head SC, I just got a little cauliflower going on in my left ear, I’m still not sure if im going to keep it, I think it is a badge of honor! as long as my wife is ok with it, then cool!

fat jesus April 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm

cauliflower ear is the bomb i want a pair

Randy June 23, 2011 at 9:21 pm

to the 6 year purple belt…maybe your just not training hard enough…just cause you have purple doesnt mean you deserve it…should nt be so cocky

Jiu Jitsu Maniac March 6, 2012 at 12:09 am

My instructor has it. I’d like to avoid it. I guess I should buy some headgear.

Nathan June 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I wrestled in college for a couple of years and did pretty well. Just started BJJ and all I have to say is that that is a different beast. Got two cases of Cauli in both ears. In the right ear it was more behind the ear as I got it from my head gear being ripped forward in practice. This went away about 95% with ice alone. The left ear has a small nodule at the base of the upper lobe. Ice also took most of it away. I have always wore headgear and even I got small cases. More of an annoying pain than anything else. Take care of your ears. A lot of wanna be tough guys try to get the big hardened ears to try to be look tough. Who cares. The element of surprise is a little sweeter.

Sal June 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I wrestled for 3 years in high school and 4 years in college. Hence, I develop califlower ear. I would not removed them at any price. They are my well deserved battle scars.

So far I have not gotten any cali from BJJ. But hey!!! Your never know.

Gerry July 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I have been grappling for 12 years and have had a few caulis in my right ear, although my first (and worst) one came from restraining an angry patient in mental facility I used to work in.
As for BJJ I am 100% not sure but it seems that the people who wear head gear are more likely to get caulis thanthose who don’t. I think it may be due to those people being more likely to put their heads in places that crush their ears, because they can’t habitually feel the pressure on their ears as a warning sign to defend and avoid the position. Just my 2 cents.

sheva August 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I think I am the only female in the world that has a hard cauliflower in ear someone please help me :(

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