Ouch

If you have been reading this blog for the last 8 or 9 months then you probably know that I have a knee injury that has managed to permeate every facet of my life, especially training. For a while I was very focused on fixing it and was not training much. After 5 or 6 months though, I got really frustrated and figured if my leg was going to hurt either way, I might as well train. I am still regularly going to see the doctor and trying things to fix the knee, but I am definitely training a lot more than I was.

I am not advocating training while injured but for me I couldn’t handle the mental side-effects of not training any longer. I was feeling depressed and angry. I could not stick to healthy habits without jits as the cornerstone of my healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t exercise much, I was eating crap, gaining weight, etc. It was an endless cycle of blah. So I made the decision to not only go back to training more but because I am a very goal-oriented person, I also made the decision to train for some competitions.  I competed in an in-house tournament a few weeks ago but the big focus has been the New York Open, coming up this weekend.

Overall I am happy with the decision to train and compete again. Yes my knee is a constant problem but through some sort of bodily truce, rarely bothers me while I’m training. However, I am always aware that I am training injured. I have been hurt training and competing plenty of times but this injury has made me really focus on the dangers of training, probably because it has lasted so long and has not just affected my training but my off-the-mat life as well.

Something occurred Monday night that has been making me think of jiu-jitsu injuries even more. We were rolling at the end of class and I ended up with another blue belt guy. He is very new to our gym having just recently transferred from another gym because of location. I rolled with him his first night at our gym which, if I recall, was his first night training in a while. I did not care for the level of intensity he brought to the roll considering our obvious size difference (I would say he is at least 8 inches taller than me and probably at least 50 pounds heavier). I felt somewhat apprehensive about rolling with him but he is a very nice guy when you talk to him and I thought maybe he just went too hard that first night because of nerves.

Sadly I discovered this was not the case. He quickly got past my guard and I turtled up and he managed to flatten me out and then lay on top of me while he tried to work his hands in to get my collar. He tried to roll me to get hooks in and I managed to escape and then he went for an armbar. I started to defend but really wasn’t comfortable with the grip he had on my arm and thought to myself it wasn’t worth getting hurt, especially with the open coming up, so I tapped.

As we reset I felt very uncomfortable. I thought to myself “I just have to get through this roll and then I will avoid this guy in the future, especially this week because I don’t want to get hurt before the open”. Of course since I put the thought of getting hurt before the tournament into the universe, I set myself up to do exactly that. He went to bump sweep me and I posted. There was a brief pause after I posted and then I guess he figured it didn’t work because he didn’t do it hard enough and he put all his force behind another bump. This forced me to roll over every finger of my left hand. I immediately screamed in pain (it hurt!) and rolled over onto my hand and off the mat. To my horror, I even started crying. Not because it hurt but because I feared that all of the hard work I’ve put into getting ready to compete being was going to be wasted because I had just hurt my hand.

I took some time to ice and evaluate the injury. It hurt but I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I have rolled over fingers before so I anticipated that I was going to have a rough few days of swollen fingers and inability to bend them. I was really upset that it was going to affect my ability to train this week as I had a whole list of things I wanted to work on but I was just hoping it would be functional by Saturday.

While I was icing, the coach who was running class came over to check on me. He was very nice and very concerned about my hand. He told me that he had seen it about to happen and that next time I should be really careful to tuck the hand and just go with the sweep. Now that I am out of the heat of the moment, I am willing to admit there is probably something technique-wise I did wrong here. Maybe I posted too close to my body or didn’t have my fingers positioned right, but at the time, this really aggravated me. To my mind, this happened because my partner was going inappropriately hard given our size difference and I was mad at him for doing it and mad at my coach for implying it was my fault for not going with the sweep.

I lined up at the end of class with my teammates in a very sullen mood. My rolling partner apologized several times and obviously felt bad (I am willing to admit that very few people would start a roll thinking “I hope I hurt her hand!”) but I just couldn’t find it in me to be nice to him. I of course said “it’s ok” or something of the sort but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more to make him feel better. After class ended, I packed up my stuff and quietly headed out.

As the night continued on I went from feeling angry to feeling depressed. I was thinking about the increasing frequency of injuries in the last year and wondering if I was doomed to a life of forever being hurt. I started to wonder if regularly being the only girl on the mat meant that I was just going to have to deal with getting hurt more. I will admit it, I indulged in a full out pity party.

I don’t like my pity parties to last more than a night so the next day I started to think about how I got hurt and what I could do to prevent it in the future. I think that it is a fair statement to say that anyone who is smaller or weaker than almost all of their training partners has to be aware of physical safety much more than their bigger, stronger counterparts. I have already said in this post that I felt uncomfortable while rolling with my partner so why did I continue to do so? I think partly because he is generally a nice guy and I didn’t want to make him feel bad. But largely I think, and this has always been an issue with me, that I don’t want to admit to the guys I train with that I can’t handle rolling with someone. I often feel like an outsider as it is and wonder if I have what it takes to train with the guys. I am always anxious that I am a bad training partner for them, to the point I sometimes feel guilty about messing up training for the person drilling with me. How much worse would it be if I had to admit to them, and to myself, that they are too big and strong for me to roll with?

Logically I know that this is ridiculous. If you feel like you are being physically assaulted during a roll and are afraid you are going to get hurt, you have every right to ask your partner to lower the intensity level or even just stop the roll. I just know that in practice I am going to have a hard time doing this. I will let pride and stubbornness get in the way of good sense (it’s somewhat my thing).

So I tried to think of a plan going forward to avoid more injuries but I don’t know that I was successful. I am going to try to be more selective about rolling partners. I am going to try to stop being an idiot and tell people in the future if I am not comfortable rolling with them. After that, I got nothing.

Of course I know that avoiding injury altogether in jiu-jitsu is not going to happen. It’s a combat sport after all! However I feel that I’ve had a number of injuries that have been caused by or compounded by the fact that I was outsized and outstrengthed and I’d like to cut down on those. They’re not fun.

I am happy to report that my hand is doing very well today. It’s still slightly swollen and bruised but I can close my fingers all the way and I suspect that once that adrenaline starts pumping I won’t even know that it was hurt this week. I was even able to go train last night! So the goal right now is to focus on the tournament and then after that…I don’t know. Body armor?

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4 responses to “Ouch”

  1. tonydismukes says :

    What I’ve found helpful in this regard is to consciously place keeping myself safe and healthy as a priority well over “winning” the roll.

    Is someone passing my guard in such a way that I will have to contort my spine at an unhealthy angle to stop them? Let them have the pass.

    Is someone sweeping me in such a way that I will have to jam my wrist or fingers to stop the sweep? Let them have the sweep.

    Is someone applying a brute force neck crank to me in such a way that I can’t easily escape without neck strain? Let them have the tap.

    My first priority is to keep my entire body in an anatomically sound position. My second priority is to learn. “Winning” comes way down the list.

    Since I’ve adopted this attitude, not only do I get hurt less, but my technical progress has sped up.

    I know it seems unfair when someone can overcome your technique with their raw attributes. It almost seems like they are “cheating” somehow. You run into it because you are smaller than most of your training partners. I run into it because I am twice the age of most of my training partners. Really, though, it helps nothing to focus on “he only got away with that because he’s bigger and stronger.” That sort of thought process only leads to injury as you try to resist your opponent’s size and power on the grounds that “he shouldn’t be able to do that.” Instead, think of it as an opportunity to improve your technique at a faster pace than everyone else since you can’t rely on physical attributes.

    Good luck and train safe!

  2. Nicole says :

    Being older, these issue bounce around in my head all of the time. My injury was not even from fighting, I just got sick and coughed until the cartilage in my ribs became inflamed. This hurts like a bitch, but I refuse to stay out of training again like I did last year. My ribs hurt again and when someone put me in full mount and squeezes ALL of my attention has to go on breathing. Being away from training messes me up. I can’t think clearly, I give up easily, and I get angry at random shit. I’m getting closer to the two year mark and I feel like I somehow plateaued with no hope of recovery.

    I think this is the human condition. We’re only mortal, right?

    I had to roll with a big brand new white belt with the instructor watching. I have the unique talent of putting myself in bad positions, realize “oh shit”, then I try to correct it. As the roll was going, I had to tap simply because my focus was on the technique and not on my breathing. The instructor with squinted eyes said “What the hell?, that was getting interesting”. I felt like an idiot.

    Train safe and take care of your body.

  3. Savage Kitsune says :

    I have absolutely no problem beginning every roll with a person I don’t know and trust well by saying: “Don’t kill me. I’m old and breakable.” I say it with a smile, but I look them right in the eye and make sure that they get the message- we are not going to go balls-to-the-wall here. If they are going too fast or pressuring too hard, I say, “I need you to go a little lighter on the ribs, please,” or whatever. If he seems to be setting up a sub a little faster than I’m comfy with, I will often pipe up, “Carefully, please.” I just do not want to be on the bench. Being on the bench sucks. Good boundaries.

  4. slideyfoot says :

    The easy solution is to simply refuse to spar with anybody who has either injured you/somebody else, or rolls in a way you feel is very likely to injure you/somebody else. It’s not so easy when they’re otherwise a nice person and you have to say “sorry, I’d rather not roll with you” to their face.

    But in the long run, that’s probably the best solution in terms of physical health. I have the luxury of often being the person running the class, so I get to pick who I roll with. When it’s the other instructor, he also tends to be careful about who he matches up together.

    At least at the moment, we never have a “grab anybody for a roll” situation, exactly because I don’t want people ending up having mismatched partners (in terms of size and intensity) like you did.

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