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?
This is pretty much the theme of my life right now. I feel like my body is broken, my training is broken and thanks to an aggravating incident a couple of weeks ago, my car is also broken (see what I did there? I made you feel bad for me so that you wouldn’t hold it against me that I haven’t posted anything in a long time).
Since I’ve been MIA for a while, you might be wondering what I’ve been up to in the last 3 weeks or so. My life has continued much as it has for the last 6 months. I am embroiled in what feels like a never-ending battle with my knee. Sometimes I think the only thing that changes is that I get increasingly despondent about it.
I feel like I’ve tried everything I can to make the knee pain go away and nothing has worked. I have taken time off multiple times (the longest stretch for about 6 weeks), I did physical therapy, I have been to two orthopedists, had a couple of injections in my knee, ice, heat, elevation, compression, anit-inflammatories…nothing seems to be helping it get better!
It’s not even really the pain that I find to be the upsetting part (although I’m not gonna lie, I would like to arrive at work one of these days walking instead of limping), it’s the fact that I cannot train like I used to anymore. I feel the effects of my bad knee in all aspects of my training. Not only can I not attend class as much as I want to, I find it difficult to do cardio training that doesn’t aggravate my knee. As a result when I actually do get to train, I can tell that I am slow and I gas so much easier now. I also do not have the ability to be as quick because of my knee which means I am spending a lot of time getting smashed on bottom. I have had some great opportunities to train recently and every time I do, I end up feeling aggravated and depressed because I feel like I am functioning at about 50% of what I used to be capable of.
We hosted our monthly women’s open mat this weekend and I felt so terrible about my rolling afterwards that I stubbornly declared to myself that I was done working around this knee. If it was going to hurt no matter what I did then I was going to train as much as I want to! So of course I have spent the last two days in excruciating pain. It’s as if my knee heard me and decided to show me who was boss.
Most of the time I know that this is just something I have to learn to deal with to keep training. It’s one of those cases where jiu-jitsu imitates life and even though I have grand plans of the training I want to do, jiu-jitsu has other plans for me. But sometimes in my darker hours I wonder if life is trying to tell me that jiu-jitsu is not for me. I feel like part of my personal jiu-jitsu journey has been about proving that even though I am not the biggest, strongest person on the mat, I still belong there. I have always felt a certain pride that I am tough enough to go out and train with 20 or more guys, often being the only woman on the mat. Lately I feel like I have failed at this and I wonder if I will ever be able to be successful.
In the end, I can’t imagine a jiu-jitsuless existence but I am hoping something helps with my knee soon. I just want to train!
I will be the first person to admit that I train too much, I even talked about it in this post. This doesn’t only mean that I spend the majority of my free time training (I do) but also that I am sometimes (often) guilty of training when I know that I shouldn’t. Specifically I have trained through an injury in the past and I know that should I get injured in the future, I would probably do so again.
This is a hard thing for me to admit to everyone because I know that it is wrong. In my brain, I am thinking the same thing that the non-BJJ people in my life are thinking…are you nuts? I am nuts. My drive and desire to train jiu-jitsu is so strong that the physical discomfort I feel when I have an injury is often secondary to the mental anguish I suffer by staying off the mats.
Sure there are times when I have had injuries bad enough that I had to stay off the mats because I just couldn’t do anything. But even when this happens I know I come back before I should. Whereas in the past I would have used the excuse to not be active, now I am coming up with excuses why it is still ok to train. The longest I’ve had to abstain from training was for one month when I had concussion last year and I was MISERABLE. I found myself getting angry at everyone and everything and sitting on my couch depressed at night because I couldn’t go train. I even started watching WWE because I was so hungry for anything combat related. I started watching wrestling people!
This is just something I’ve learned to deal with when training and I know I am not alone. Someone once told me that if you are not nursing at least two injuries at a time than you are not doing jiu-jitsu right. So there you have it. I train while injured even though I know it’s probably not the smartest thing to do.
However I found myself in a somewhat uncomfortable position yesterday while chatting with another woman who trains at my gym. As I have mentioned before, I teach a women’s only class on Saturdays and this particular student was not in attendance yesterday. I was not surprised by this as I had heard through the grapevine that she had hurt her ribs. She asked me how class had gone and I asked her how her ribs were doing. She said they were still sore but she was coming back this week to train because she couldn’t stand being off the mat any longer. My mind immediately started thinking of the logical replies: “don’t rush back”, “BJJ will always be there, take care of yourself”, “health is the most important thing”. But before my fingers could type what my brain was thinking, she sent me another message in which she basically said that she knew I would do the same thing.
Now besides being a person who overtrains, I also pride myself on being a woman of my word. I try my best to live an honest life and carry through on all my commitments. So when she said that she knew I would do the same, I found myself struggling to figure out what to say to her. She was right, I would do the same. I have done the same. I will most likely do the same again.
I like to think of myself as a mentor-type person to the newer women who train at the gym. I teach the women’s only class and I try to talk to them about what it’s like to train as a woman in a male-dominated sport. I try to tell them about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned in the hopes that they can avoid them and maybe have a little smoother time as they transition into BJJ badasses.
So as someone who thinks of themselves as a mentor-type person, I couldn’t encourage her to train while injured, that would make me the most irresponsible mentor ever! However as someone who tries to be honest, I couldn’t lie and tell her I wouldn’t do the same. So we started talking about our mutual love of BJJ and the frustration of being injured. I eventually suggested to her that she come to class to try to drill but not roll at first. I also suggested that if there was an uneven number in class that she should work in the group of three so that she could take a break or not be grappling dummy while drilling if it was a move that hurt her ribs. These are things I have done while injured. While I miss rolling I find that drilling is better than no BJJ at all. The hardest part is making myself leave when the rolling starts.
But looking at the situation from the point of view of someone who is supposed to be something of a role model to the women who are just starting really made me think about my own training while injured. If I feel uncomfortable telling someone to train through an injury, why do I do it? If I had to answer that question I would say that my psychological need to train sometimes outweighs my physical wellbeing. Is this smart? No, probably not. But it’s true. So next time I am injured I am going to try to think about what I would tell one of the new students to do in the same situation. Does this mean I’ll stay off the mat an appropriate length of time? Honestly, probably not. But at least I’ll feel remorse about my bad decisions. That’s a start!