Probably most of us have had someone tell us at some point in our jiu-jitsu journeys that we should not be comparing ourselves with others. Probably many of us have said the same thing to someone else. Probably most of us believe it. But probably most of have done it anyway.
I had a moment of depression a little while ago doing just that. When I started jiu-jitsu, it was a new program at our gym so basically everyone who was taking jits classes was new to the sport. I, along with some of my classmates, quickly became obsessed with it. There were two of us in particular who went all in. Attending all the classes, finding other places to train (when the program started, jits was only 2x a week which we all know is not enough jits), competing as much as possible.
As time went on, I sort of fell behind him. He became the beginners instructor at the gym and eventually ended up leaving his job to work at the gym. He was training full time, living the dream and I was finding myself cutting back a lot because I felt like I was overtraining, I kept getting injured, etc.
Since I had to take the summer off, I really noticed the divide when I came back. Admittedly getting back into jiu-jitsu has been really hard for me. It’s hard for a lot of reasons. One reason is that when I had all that time back from not training, I started filling it up with other things. I started taking ukulele lessons, I started dating my girlfriend, I’ve started taking new fitness classes. Now that I am trying to get back to training, I am having trouble finding room in my schedule for everything I enjoy.
And even though fitting jits back in my schedule has been difficult, the hardest part for me has been the mental part. I am not in the shape I was when I was training uninjured 5 or 6 days a week. I feel big, slow and stupid. When I train I feel like my mind remembers what to do but my body is no longer capable of it. This has lead to many frustrating nights and constantly wondering if I’ll ever get back to where I was.
So a couple of weekends ago while I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw pictures of my old training buddy getting his purple belt, I felt some angst. I have figured he was long due for a purple belt so it wasn’t a surprise but it still kind of hit me hard. I know you’re not supposed to think things like “that could have been me”, but I couldn’t help it. I was thinking that if I had trained more, not gotten injured, kept myself healthier while I was out or did any number of things “better” I could be getting my purple belt too.
Part of me was wondering why I was even bothering with training. I’m having so much trouble getting back to it and I know that I am going to see even more people advance in a quicker time frame than me. Then I decided I should get over myself.I had fallen into the trap of judging my progress based on tangible milestones. Right now the journey for me is not about advancing but about getting back on the right path.
It’s going to take time, a lot of work and a lot of frustration to feel like I’ve gotten back to my formal self. I wish I had done things differently but I also realize that I cannot change the past so all I can do is focus on the future.
Last week I officially registered for my first competition in a year and made a commitment to myself to get back to healthy eating, train as much as I can and as hard as I can and leave it all on the mats in April. It might be my greatest triumph. Or I might get my ass beat. But what I will gain by making myself get back to training will be invaluable and will hopefully lead to continued good habits and focus. I’m ready for my 2015 comeback!
This has been my life since I have started to get back to training. I am now done with physical therapy (not because my knee was 100% better but because the prescription was for 4 weeks and I did not go back and get another) and trying to smartly ease my way back into training. At first I wasn’t going every night and now I am going more nights than not but trying not to roll hard two days in a row. It’s been mostly going well but every now and then (like this past weekend) I push it too hard and my knee swells up and gets painful again. This is of course super annoying because all I want to do is get back to training like I was and each setback makes me wonder if that is even possible.
For some reason (advancing age? broken down body?) this injury seems to have taken more out of me than my others as well. I am having trouble picking up anything we drill and when I roll I feel weak, slow, gassed and ineffectual. I know that I just have to get used to training again but it’s hard not to feel frustrated by taking steps back.
I am no stranger to jiu-jitsu injuries. I have had a few rib injuries, concussions, popped elbows, my fair share of black eyes and more gi burns, scrapes and bruises than I can count. Mostly when I’ve been injured my focus has been on rehab and all I can think about is getting back on the mat. However with this injury I am experiencing a lot of anger for the first time.
Why am I so angry? Because this injury was 100% preventable. In the past when I’ve gotten hurt it’s been during tournaments or rolling where I go in knowing that I am accepting a lot of risk but this injury came about because an overzealous partner went too hard while drilling single legs. It’s really hard for me to admit that “out loud” because I feel like I am breaking one of the sacred, unspoken rules of jiu-jitsu in which we never blame our partner for an injury.
I think it’s important to state that I know that my partner did not intentionally injure my knee and although I am not overly happy with this drilling style, I don’t think any less of him as a person or hate him now (truthfully I don’t see him anymore as he’s gone back to school but if/when he comes back, I still won’t hate him). But the fact of the matter is that I was standing there offering no resistance and my partner shot in really hard on my knee and I got hurt and when I think about it, I get angry.
Besides the fact that I feel completely rusty, I find that I am shutting down and just concentrating on not getting hurt when I roll. This is a problem I had before and I definitely do not want to go back to that style of jiu-jitsu. I worked really hard to overcome this in the past and I feel like I’ve added a mental setback to the long list of physical setbacks I have to deal with. This is, I think, why I feel so angry about this injury. Because I feel like I’ve regressed and this would not have happened if my partner was a little more careful when drilling.
I also find that I am feeling overly anxious about who I roll with. My gym has a lot of big guys (to me at least, I guess it’s all perspective) and in the past I have not been afraid to roll with most of them. I have felt that my jiu-jitsu was to the point that I could deal with someone wanting to hulk smash me but now whenever I get approached by one of the big guys, in the back of my head all I am thinking is “don’t hurt me”. This is definitely not a good mental state to be in when starting a roll.
So this is where I’m at right now. I’m rusty, out of shape, angry and afraid of half the people at the gym. Sounds bleak right? I’m not going to lie, it is. But as much as my brain is feeling done with jiu-jitsu right now I know that this is nowhere near the end of my journey. Even now as I am driving to the gym making myself nuts overthinking everything (this is one of my more endearing qualities), I feel the surge of adrenaline and anticipation I get every time I go to train. There have been moments where I’ve had a good roll or something finally clicks and I remember the part of jiu-jitsu that is pure joy.
So the plan for now is to keep being smart about training but to keep pushing myself to go. Eventually my brain will remember what the rest of me has not forgotten and we’ll all love jiu-jitsu again. I also have to make peace with my anger because it is only getting in the way of me moving past this injury. As always the only solution to a jiu-jitsu problem is more jiu-jitsu!
Thanks to everyone for the well wishes over the last week. I went back to the orthopedist on Tuesday to get the results of the MRI and he said there were no significant tears but one of my ligaments on the outside of the knee is sprained. We are treating it conservatively with physical therapy and meds and hopefully in 2-3 weeks I should be good to go. It was about the best news I could have hoped for!
I had my first PT appointment last night. The therapist’s name is also Cynthia but luckily she goes by Cindy so we won’t get all confused. She did a workup and showed me where the injury was on my knee with a chart. Some ligament attached to the fibula with a fancy name I can’t remember and there also seems to be some irritation with the hamstring in the same area.
She also said my knee is moving too much and probably got hyper-extended. I had a flashback to a few weeks ago where, when drilling takedowns, my partner bent my knee back while going for a single leg. Which was also around the time my knee got much worse. Now it all makes sense. I knew standup was the devil. She gave me some stretches to do at home and we start actual therapy next week, yippee!
I have to admit that I was driving to work after the orthopedist appointment the other day I started wondering if just a sprain meant I could compete in No-Gi Pan Ams afterall. The doctor said that anything that is potentially jarring to the knee is definitely a no-no but he also said it might be better in 2-3 weeks. That would mean that it could be healed up just in time for Pan Ams.
I talked over my options with a training buddy and he definitely didn’t think competing was a good idea (he actually threatened to take my knee fully out of commission should I try). We talked a bit about what the motivation could be to compete when my knee was injured and I really didn’t know what to say.
I think a lot of the reason I wanted to compete was that I want to prove I’m tough. It’s jiu-jitsu, we don’t stop training for puny little sprains! I actually felt embarrassed when I told my coach what the diagnosis was. But in the end I realize that a sprain is an injury and I definitely don’t want to damage the ligament anymore so I am taking the doctor’s advice and refraining from jiu-jitsu until the knee starts feeling better.
So the next couple of weeks will be therapy, focusing on diet, doing some upper body and core work and tightening up my cheerleading game for the No-Gi Pan Ams.
I am also still working on a really long blog post that is taking me forever but I promise to post soon. My life has been quite hectic with work and running around to different doctors but hopefully it will settle soon.
Sorry for the long delay between posts. I have actually been working hard on what’s turned into a very long post about some recent BJJ events in my life that I hope to post later in the week. I think for the first time in my life, I am understanding this thing they call “writer’s block” as I am struggling to find the right words for the situation. I was also off of work last week and traveling a bit and getting food poisoning so it’s been busy busy busy.
I did two very contradictory things in the past week that make little sense. The first is that I registered for the no-gi Pan Ams which take place in 24 days. The second is that I finally admitted to myself that my knee might be seriously injured and I made an appointment with an orthopedist which takes place today.
I’ve had nagging knee pain for a couple of months now but it hasn’t been bad enough that it kept me from training. When it started I gave up running (which I’d probably use any excuse to do anyway, not a big fan of the running) and started biking instead but it still wouldn’t go away. Twice I’ve taken close to a week off of everything to try to let the knee heal but the pain would not go away. I kept telling myself it was nothing and trying to push through but the last couple of weeks it’s been getting progressively worse. The knee took a lot of abuse after a particularly vigorous single leg a couple of weeks ago and it’s gotten to the point that I can’t walk without discomfort.
I am really nervous about what the doctor will find because I do not want any kind of lengthy time off right now, I’m too old for that! I am doing my best to stay optimistic but I fear I will become a mess if it’s bad news today. Oh well, hopefully in 6 hours or so I’ll have some news and I’ll know where to go from there. Wish me luck, I promise updates and the really long post soon!