Through the years I have had many setbacks in training. I suffered some pretty serious damage to my knee in my early teens. This single injury resulted in several more injuries through the course of my life, and today I have what I call a bad knee, and a worse knee.
Of course, the knee injuries altered the way I walk. This change threw things out of whack for my lower back. I first hurt my back as a child, but the change in how I walk made matters worse.
In addition to the injuries incurred in my time training in the martial arts, I also spent part of my young life working as a professional wrestler, some time as a bouncer, and tried my hand at boxing and kickboxing. I’ve had eleven diagnosed concussions (I’m pretty sure the others were just really bad headaches that lasted for a month). Too many times when I was in professional wrestling, I tried to do things I am not built for, landed on my head and felt electricity shoot to the tips of my fingers and toes. I honestly don’t know how I survived.
While my young life was filled with adventure and fun, there is a price to be paid, and I am paying for it now.
I was always injury-prone. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like pain, but when I look around, I seem to be able to deal with it better than most. In my current life situation, something always hurts. Always.
So, what are we to do when age and injury form a tag-team and start a beat down on us?
Be honest with yourself
Probably the most painful thing I ever had to admit to myself was that I am not who I was anymore. The old me, or more accurately the young me, is gone. And we shall never see his like again. I was hell on wheels. I knew, day in and day out that I was the best, no one could take that from me. There wasn’t a person on the planet who could make me back down.
Now…not so much. Jump kicks are a thing of the past. I am medically prohibited from sparring and wrestling/ground fighting. Some of the stuff I was best at carries a risk of paralysis for me now.
It was difficult to face. And even after facing it, it took even longer to accept. I don’t believe in surrender. I had trouble finding a way to accept that I simply couldn’t do things like I used to. I still have to go to work every day, and I work as a karate instructor. What do I do now?
A New Role
I came to an understanding when I was going through this process. It changed my point of view and with a drastically different perspective, I was able to accept things as they are, adapt, and overcome.
I have a hobby. I take classes online for fun and keeping my mind sharp. One such course that fate had me taking while all of this was going on was on the works of Aristotle. The professor was closing the lessons with a summary of what had been covered. I am paraphrasing here, and probably grossly oversimplifying everything, but Aristotle might say that the good of a water bottle can be found in how well it partakes in water bottleness (See.. Gen Z doesn’t have a monopoly on making up words and definitions). Now, if you take a water bottle and cut the bottom off of it, it isn’t a very good water bottle anymore. But, it still has a goodness (usefulness). Once you cut the bottom off of a water bottle, you have created a perfect funnel!
I can’t teach the way I taught when I was younger. Back in the day I was all over the place like a crazy person. Those days are gone. As are the days when I would do insane things like have a student choke slam me for laughs in a demonstration.
But I can still teach, I have simply had to change the delivery of the lessons. Once I made this change, my students were having a lot more fun, and so was I. I stopped hurting myself every day, this made me less grouchy, and everyone around me was happier. And we also had more tournament success than we have in years!
If you spend your life in the rough and tumble martial arts, injuries will happen. Over time, especially if you don’t give yourself time to heal, you will suffer the consequences. You can jump head first into a pity-puddle, crying “boo hoo, poor little me!” Or, you can face facts. And you can adapt to the changing situation, find a new approach and get things done.