The argument over the ‘Best BJJ Headgear’ erupted in the dressing room the other day when some guys were talking about the Cauliflower ear being some sort of ‘badge of honor’ that fighters should display proudly.
There are 9 guys in my gym with absolutely grotesque looking ears. But they are in no mood to drain it or get it fixed.
We thought that we’d add our two cents to the discussion and back it up with some recommendations for good, sturdy headgear for the newbies.
Let’s get things straight first. A cauliflower ear does not represent your proficiency or your experience as a fighter.
Many fighters get it within hours after they start practicing.
It is just an injury, and a nasty one at that, which if left untreated can also cause hearing loss.
Not to mention that it looks disgusting. We are yet to meet a single girl who’s impressed with that lump of chewed-gum like mass on the ears. So don’t believe what you hear in the gym or what you read.
Good quality headgear will not only prevent cauliflower ears, but also save your face and offer protection from other injuries that are sadly, becoming commonplace in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Comparison Of The Top BJJ headgear
Here are our recommendations of the best BJJ headgear in 2022.
Cliff Keen F5 Tornado Headgear
Cliff keen fusion headgear
Venum MMA BJJ Ear Guards
Adidas response rearguard
Cliff keen e58 headgear
Cliff Keen F5 Tornado Headgear
The Tornado is one of Cliff Keen’s bestselling models.
We loved their old signature model as well. But this one is lighter (apparently designed by NASA) and gives you a more secure fit thanks to the super-strong Velcro straps.
It features tough plastic outer ear shells with soft foam interior lining. So, there’s a gap between the ear cup and your ears which allows ventilation and keeps you cool.
Moreover, you don’t go deaf when you are in the middle of a triangle choke. Lets you hear instructions loud and clear and keeps your ears from going cauli.
The foam quality is superior to what you normally get in cheap store bought headgears.
It’s supposed to resist bacterial buildup as well. But we just use some rubbing alcohol to clean ours after a week or so.
Oh, almost forgot to mention that the new design is stunning. We love the contemporary styling and the stunning color combos.
The only gripe that we have with it is that the fit is a hit or a miss. And it is only available in one universal size.
Some fighters find it overly tight and keep the Velcro straps a little loose which makes it prone to shifting.
Others find it a perfect fit.
It depends on how snug a fit you prefer.
Otherwise, the F5 Tornado is just perfect for wrestling, BJJ, MMA and other sports that can test your ear strength.
Hard to go wrong with the cliff keen f5 tornado headgear. It’s sturdy, should last for years and gives you the ear protection without compromising audibility or maneuverability. Highly recommended.
Cliff keen fusion headgear
The Fusion might be a better pick if you prefer a headgear with a slim and low profile.
As effective as it is, the F5 Tornado does tend to jut out a little which might allow experienced opponents to use it against you.
Not the fusion. Think of it like a sleeker Tornado.
It is durable, offers ample ear protection and does not hinder your hearing ability.
The outer ear cups are tough plastic. But its malleable and doesn’t bite into the skin of the opponent.
The inner layer is soft, plush foam and there are ample vents to keep your ears cool.
There are three straps to secure it and there’s a Snap-On styled button that allows you to wear it quickly after a break.
If you get the fit right, it doesn’t shift too much during a grapple.
We highly recommend the fusion to newbie fighters looking for the best BJJ headgear that they can grow with. The low profile doesn’t feel restrictive and it’s a cliff keen after all. Complete value for money.
Venum MMA BJJ Ear Guards
It was up to Venum to reinvent the wheel.
At a time when most brands offer BJJ headgear with plastic ear cups, here’s one from the Thai brand that features a soft neoprene guard for the ear.
The first question that would pop in your mind is, can this really protect your ears during an aggressive practice session or during a real match?
The answer is yes.
It can. The padding is just perfect around the ears, to prevent it from folding.
There’s a high density inner foam lining that absorbs impact and protects the ear from the infamous ligament tear that leads to cauliflower ears.
But it’s not bulky or heavy. In fact, this has to be the sleekest BJJ headgear that we’ve ever used. Think of it like tying a padded bandana around the head.
The Venum MMA ear guards have a three-way enclosure system, much like the three straps available on the Cliff Keen models. It provides you with a decent fit and doesn’t move too much during the match.
However, if you have a disproportionately large sized head, then you might find that the Velcro isn’t enough to give you a secure fit.
To put into perspective, there’s a 16-year old in the gym with a head the size of an orange on a toothpick-sized body. He finds it extremely difficult to get a secure fit with this headguard. That’s the first time that we noticed the strap problem with these ear guards.
Also, no vents for airflow, which will also limit your hearing somewhat.
Despite a few tiny niggles, the Venum MMA headgear can be a very worthy contender for the best BJJ headgear, especially if you prefer the softer variety. It is a reputed brand, offers good protection and is reasonably priced.
Adidas response rearguard
The Adidas response is becoming increasingly popular in school and collegiate wrestling competitions. And for all the right reasons.
It is low profile, comes with four straps instead of the conventional three straps and there’s an option to use a chin strap instead of the chin cup.
The four straps allow the headgear fit to be customized to the T, even for young athletes, who might find other brands to be one size too big.
Also, the chin strap option is a neat addition that a lot of users prefer in BJJ. The chin cup can choke you in some holds and the option to use a soft foam pad instead is refreshing.
Coming to the protection, the Injection molded plastic guard covers your ears completely and the cups are lined with soft foam to keep it comfy.
There are vents that keep your ears cool and the flat design ensures that your opponent cannot gain leverage due to the bulk of the guard.
The one thing that could have been better though is the adjustment mechanism. It’s a little cumbersome and takes a while to get right. But once you do, the headgear fits like a charm and stays put.
The Adidas response is one of the best BJJ headgear for young athletes. The fit can be customized, it is light weight and covers the ears completely. Comes with a chin cup at no additional cost, which is great value.
Cliff keen e58 headgear
Last but not the least, we have the E58 from Cliff Keen.
One of our students asked us yesterday if we are promoting Cliff Keen, because we recommend their products left, right and center.
Well, we are not advertising or promoting the brand in any way.
The fact is that Cliff Keen is one of the best BJJ gear brands in the world. Especially if you are an amateur fighter or just practice BJJ for fitness.
They have a wide range of products to choose from, offer the best colors in the business and their products are extremely well made. Hard to ask for more.
So, here you have the E58 also known as the Cliff Keen Signature, which borrows its design from the bestselling E41 that was patented almost 6 decades ago by Coach Keen.
That’s enough said, really.
The E58 has the classic 4-strap design that has been used by professional wrestlers for years. Fits like an old sock and stays in place even during strenuous practice.
Reasonably flat, your rolling partners are going to be pleased with the guard. At the same time, your ears stay untouched, thanks to the tough plastic shells.
Cliff Keen throws in the Chin strap pad in the package these days. That wasn’t the case a few years ago. So, that’s more bang for your buck.
You also have the option to use the chin cup instead.
One of the best parts about Cliff Keen headgear is that they are easy to clean. There’s very little fabric used anywhere. So it doesn’t throw off funky odors after use. Just wipe it with alcohol and it’s as good as new.
The Cliff Keen Signature E58 is a proven, winning design. It is comfortable to wear, lightweight and comes with a chin strap. Hard to go wrong with it.
The significance of headgear in BJJ
We have been practicing martial arts for years, both for general fitness as well as professionally.
As expected, we have had our fair share of injuries. But none of them have been due to callousness or lack of respect for the sport.
Sadly, that’s what we are witnessing increasingly these days.
Newbie BJJ fighters waltz into the ring without wearing headgear, completely aware of the fact that it is a recipe for injury.
The reasons are baffling.
Some fighters believe that wearing headgear makes them appear timid.
There are others who believe that strutting around a deformed ear makes them more manly. Like an old battle scar or the worn, calloused hands of a hard working farmer.
We tend to differ. A cauliflower ear will only make you appear ugly. Sorry if that offended any apemen walking around in the vicinity with oversized ears.
Not to mention that despite it sounding like a normal injury, due to the term being thrown around loosely these days, we are talking about a permanently damaged ear over here.
Did that ring out loud and clear?
You will probably have to drain the blood from the puffed up ear for the rest of your professional careers.
And there’s a third group of fighters who believe that a headgear can be an impediment as your opponent can grab on to it and use it against you.
Not anymore. Most manufacturers these days offer low profile headgear with flat shells that are impossible to grab on to.
So, that argument doesn’t hold water anymore.
The headgear increases your likelihood of staying on the mat and dominating it. Period.
Does wearing BJJ headgear prevent cauliflower ear?
Absolutely! It does.
Cauliflower ear is caused due an untreated hematoma that is caused by repetitive blunt force trauma to the ear, which is extremely common in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
A hard shell ear cup is the only way in which you can prevent cauliflower ear.
It is also the only way in which you can resume training if you have just healed after getting your first cauli.
Oh, almost forgot to mention that you can toss your favorite earphones into the trash can when you have cauli.
Wear the headgear folks. At least until you have honed your skill and are confident enough to get into a ring without it.
If you don’t mind random bleeding episodes in the midst of a sparring session or difficulty sleeping on your sides due to a swollen ear, you can jump into the ring with a cauliflower ear any time.
Popular Brands of BJJ Headgear
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might have exploded in popularity off late as a potent self-defense martial art that allows smaller and weaker opponents to tackle much larger opponents.
But the sport has been around for decades.
And there are only a handful of brands that have been catering to this niche sport with a wide range of gear.
One of the oldest and most reputed brands in the business, Cliff Keen was formed in 1925 by Coach Keen, one of the greatest coach ever in competitive wrestling. They are considered to be innovators and are credited with creating the first ear protection for amateur wrestlers. One of their old headgear designs, the E41 is still widely used more than 60 years later after it was launched. That speaks volumes about their product quality. Their range of headgear is renowned for its cutting edge designs, durability and affordable prices. If this is the first time you are venturing into BJJ, Cliff Keen would be an infallible choice.
Although Venum has only recently forayed into BJJ, they are a well-known and reputed brand in MMA and Muay Thai. Their BJJ range has been steadily expanding. They offer a wide range of GI and belts at the moment. Their headgear are crossover designs that can be used in multiple sports. That’s not to take anything away from the quality. We love the soft shell headgear which is a refreshing change from the usual hard shell varieties. Also, the lightweight form factor is preferred by children and teenagers.
BJJ Headgear Sizing Guide
One aspect of best BJJ headgear that lacks uniformity is the sizing.
This makes it a little difficult for newbie athletes to find the right fit.
While some brands offer a universal size, others offer headgear in standard sizes like small, medium and large.
Cliff Keen, for example, offers ‘One Size Fits all’ with multiple adjustable straps depending on the model that you select.
This works for parents of young athletes as the headgear can grow with the kids. No need to look for youth headgear replacements as your child will never outgrow the headgear.
What we usually do while working with children is that we cut off any extra straps that might dangle after customizing the fit.
But adults usually prefer selecting a standard size as opposed to tweaking a new product out of the box.
In this case, you might want to check out Venum’s headgear. Being crossover products, they are more readily available in standard sizes.
If you are unsure about the size, reach out to the manufacturer with detailed measurements, like the age of the athlete, the weight and the circumference of the head.
The complete BJJ Headgear FAQ
BJJ headgear is standard protection and should be encouraged across all levels of the sport.
In fact, we recommend that you wear them even during standard practice drills just to get used to it.
So that it doesn’t feel restrictive when you are in the ring.
Having said that, there seems to be a lot of bro science being peddled out there by inexperienced athletes and self-proclaimed gurus.
This FAQ aims to bunk some myths and clear some facts about the best BJJ Headgear.
Q. Can I prevent Cauliflower ears without using BJJ headgear?
Answer - The chances are extremely remote that you can do this. The only other way is to tap out the moment you feel pain in the ears. Ice them, do not roll for few days, drain the hematoma and repeat. If you think that’s cumbersome, grab a headgear and step into the ring without the fear of cauli looming large over your head.And please, please when someone ask "Do you wear headgear when you roll?" please always tell them yes always, and make sure they know that they need to as well. Cauli ear is simply freaking disgusting.
Q. Will a BJJ headgear limit my hearing?
Answer - To an extent it will. But it won’t totally cut off outside noise, especially the newer designs with vents on the plastic shells. You can still hear your coach’s instructions and your opponents verbal taps. And that’s what matters in the end.
Q. How Do I Clean my BJJ headgear?
Answer - If you have selected a headgear with no fabric on the inside, then all that you need to do is wipe it down with alcohol to disinfect it and prevent bacterial build up. Having said that, many brands use antimicrobial materials these days, especially on the inner layers. Avoid using strong detergents and chemicals as it may wear the foam lining prematurely.
Q. Do I need to wear a mouth guard with my BJJ headgear?
Answer - Ideally you should wear a mouth guard at all times in BJJ, except when you are doing drills or getting instructions from a coach. Irrespective of whether you are practicing GI or No GI Jiu Jitsu, a mouth guard will offer protection from guillotines and unexpected/unintended moves executed with force that can make you bite down on your tongue and lips. Like a kick on your jaw from a rank beginner. So, when you roll, keep the jaw protected
Reviewing the Best BJJ Headgear - After Thoughts
That sums up this blog entry and our rant against pro-cauliflower ear athletes.
Do yourself a favor and grab one of these best BJJ headgears when you step into the ring.
Here’s a brief refresher.
We highly recommend one of Cliff Keen’s products.
The Tornado F5 is the most advanced BJJ headgear in the market in 2022. It can be worn and removed in the blink of an eye, can be customized up to 3100 colors and is extremely affordable.
If you prefer something with a subtler design, you have the Cliff keen fusion with its low profile, lightweight form factor.
That’s it folks. We’d love to hear your experience with or without a headgear. Do write in to us or give us a holler in the comments section.
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Hi there! I'm Kaden, Founder & Main Writer here at SmartMMA. I've been training boxing, MMA, BJJ and other martial arts since 2004. I love every aspect of it as well as helping others learn more about training martial arts effectively.