Training with an Injury

As anyone who has trained with me recently knows, I have been the lucky recipient of three knee surgeries in the past year and have been unable to practice taijutsu during that time. I have only recently begun to attend classes again and this article is about some of the things that I have learned from training (or not training) with an injury.

As anyone who has trained with me recently knows, I have been the lucky recipient of three knee surgeries in the past year and have been unable to practice taijutsu during that time. I have only recently begun to attend classes again and this article is about some of the things that I have learned from training (or not training) with an injury.

Like me, many of you are probably familiar with the frustrations and setbacks that can accompany an injury. It is a very strange feeling to suddenly find yourself, as an adult, having to relearn some physical movement that you have taken for granted since you were a kid, such as walking, or holding things. But sometimes it is not just a matter of relearning the skill set in the exact same way, but of adapting it to your new circumstances.

This has been the case for me when it comes to taijutsu. My knees just do not work in the same way that they did before surgery and I have been forced to listen to my body in a way that I have never had to before. This has been both a blessing and a curse. There are some movements that I simply can’t do at this point in my rehabilitation and it has been challenging, and often frustrating, for me to learn how to adapt techniques to my new limitations. Also, inevitably, I am a bit rusty. Concepts and movements that were relatively intuitive before I had surgery have become difficult after a year out of training.

On the upside, however, this need to relearn and to adapt has given me a unique chance to learn about myself and my taijutsu, especially when it comes to my weaknesses. I can no longer rely on many things that I had been taking for granted before I left and my physical limitations have forced me to re-examine many aspects of my training and change what isn’t working for me right now. (I am also working to get rid of as many bad habits as I can while my muscle memory is a little shaky.)

But beyond the physical challenges of training with an injury, there have been mental hurdles and lessons as well. Once I was able to walk again, I came back to class as an observer, a choice which sometimes seemed just be me torturing myself. I really wanted to join the class, but I had no choice but to sit on the side and watch everybody else train.

So why did I keep coming? At first I just didn’t want to get out of the habit of coming to class. I left training once before and I remember the hardest part of coming back was actually physically coming back, that is, not making excuses to myself or putting it off until tomorrow or next week or next month. A little later, I realized that there was a lot to learn from sitting on the side and watching. I started to try to teach myself how to watch a technique better, especially things like looking for the kihon and sanshin and kamae in techniques.

This was a kind of mental training, but I don’t think that it was the most important or hardest lesson for me to learn. The most important thing for me to learn was not to give up. Perseverance and endurance are words that we have all probably heard at some point in our training but they took on a new significance to me during my enforced absence, especially after my third surgery. Sitting and watching everyone else train felt unbearable, but I tried to keep these concepts in mind whenever I started to feel overwhelmed. I can’t say that I was always successful, but I did make it through that stage and I am training again.

As for practical advice for those unlucky people who find themselves in my situation? Physically, I suggest taking care of your injury as soon as you are able (I walked around on a torn ACL for 10 years and wish that I would have dealt with it when it happened), and doing your physical therapy if your doctor advises it. As soon as I started taking my therapy seriously, my pain started to decrease dramatically. Also, take it easy and be sure to always remind your partner of your situation. It is too easy for your training partner to forget about your injury when they are focused on their own training even if you have told them about it before.

And mentally? All I can advise is the advice given to me: try to use your injury as an opportunity to train your mind. There is a great deal of mental training that goes into our taijutsu and we don’t often get that kind of an opportunity to take a step back and simply observe. And don’t forget that learning patience and how to deal with setbacks are also incredibly useful skills (especially for instant gratification types like myself)!

Thanks for bearing with me and thanks to everyone I train with for helping me get back into this. (And if anyone is ever curious about knee exercises, you know who to ask!)

(Author retains all copyrights.)

 
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