An update on the ol’ knee. Back in December of 2010 I bent my right knee roughly 45 degrees to the left. I’ve been taking it easy and not pushing myself too hard. I thought over the summer that it was pretty much healed. It only took one regular judo practice to prove this was not true. While I am fine for straight line movements, it turns out that any sort of lateral movement is both painful and a chance for my knee to collapse under me. I decided I should do something sensible.
the past couple of months I’ve been visiting doctors and having x-rays
and MRI’s taken to find out what is wrong with my knee. Now I know. I
completely tore my anterior cruciate ligament, and I’ve partially torn
the posterior cruciate ligament and the lateral collateral ligament.
The result is a very unstable knee that can’t take much lateral
pressure at all. If I think about it much, it’s rather scary.
so many years ago, this injury would have been the end of my budo
career. I can move in straight lines, but any sort of lateral movement
is impossible right now, which makes most of the budo I do problematic.
It made me consider what it might mean to not practice budo anymore.
At first that was too scary a thought to touch upon very hard. Budo
and budo practice are important to my idea of who and what I am. At
first, the idea of not having budo as a part of my life was so
frightening I found myself coming up with rationales for why that
I had to ask myself why did the idea of not doing budo anymore make me
so anxious? Budo is great. I almost accept that as an a priori truth
that needs no support. When I realized I was close to that level of
devotion to it, I decided I needed to do some serious thinking about
what budo is in my life. If I can’t imagine life without budo, I’m
probably putting too much emphasis on it, and I need to work at getting
my life more balanced.
like any “do” 道、is a small way pointing its finger at the big Way
道 that the Taoists talk about. But budo isn’t the Grand Way of the
Universe. It’s a small way that is approachable by a little guy like
me. I don’t imagine that I will ever be so wise that I really
understand the Grand Way of the Universe, the Big Tao that Lao Tzu talks
about in the Tao Te Ching 道徳経、but I do think I might be able to get a
handle on a little way like budo.
like budo training. I really like it. It’s one of the most absorbing
things I do. I can get lost in budo practice for hours at a time, and
occasionally, when I’m really lucky, whole days. Good budo challenges
me at every level: physical, mental, and emotional. It makes me look at
things very closely, break them apart and see how things are connected.
Why it is that when my partner does X, the most suitable thing for me
to do is Y. It’s not just about how I move my body and what I do. It’s
about how what I do influences my partner and vice-versa. It’s how I
move in space and time and how I move with the people and things around
me. Do I go blundering into things, lurching from situation to
situation, or do I move with awareness and sensitivity to my
surroundings and what is happening beyond myself.
the point where my little way, budo 武道, meets up with the big Way 道 of
Lao Tzu. I learn about living in the world and interacting with it
through practicing budo. I learn about how to move effectively, waiting
for the right time to move, leveraging what my partner is doing to
strengthen my actions, not overreaching, not overextending, and knowing
when to pull back instead of blundering on the way I’m going. These are
lessons I really try to apply to my life outside the dojo. I’m never
sure how successful I am at applying them to life, but I’m trying.
what is it about budo practice that is so great that I don’t want to
imagine life without it? The tough answer isn’t that budo practice is
so great. It’s not the epiphanies about living in the world that I get
from practice. It’s not the lessons about movement and stillness. It’s
not the lessons about timing and not moving before the moment is right.
It is about the rush of being able to handle myself and a weapon at a
higher level than I move at on a normal day. It is about the thrill of
not getting injured and being able to handle it when someone attacks me
without reservation. It’s about having access to physical power that
other people don’t have. In other words, the parts of budo that I don’t
want to imagine being without, are the outer shell of training that is
all about my ego.
I could never train again the way I am accustomed to training, I would
not lose the deep lessons of training. I would still be able to work on
timing, stillness, movement, best action in the world. I wouldn’t be
able to work on being tougher and more dangerous. I wouldn’t be able to
practice with dangerous weapons or doing powerful empty hand
techniques. I would have to let go of that part of me that finds these
things exciting and a rush and a boost to my ego.
I thought about this, I realized that what I need to work on is getting
rid of that part of my ego. The injury to my knee is painful, but
blessedly, it can be fixed. If I don’t let go of my ego though, I can
cause injury to the people I train with, as well as those I live and
work with. Looking back, the injury to my knee was partly driven by
ego. I really wanted to prove I could throw my training partner. Did I
need to? I could have gotten through the evening’s training without
throwing him, and we both would have been fine. Unfortunately, I really
wanted to prove something to him and to myself, and it was something
that didn’t need to be proven. So I tried to set up a throw, and
instead of letting it go when it didn’t work out, I pushed more effort
into the throw. My partner did a perfectly reasonable movement to stop
the throw, and when I threw in still more effort, the thing that ended
up giving was my knee.
my ego had not been involved, I doubt I would have pushed for that
technique. My ego was involved though, and it blinded me to the proper
movement, positioning and timing. My ego convinced me to try something
that was clearly foolish and doomed to failure. I’m glad it happened
and I got injured there. In the dojo, with good training partners is a
good place to find out about your ego. What if it had happened at home
or at work or on the street? At home I could have insisted on winning
arguments and being right and in charge, harming my relationships with
my family and friends. At work I could push my views forward over
better plans and advice to elevate myself amongst those I work with, and
perhaps harmed others jobs and incomes with plans based on my ego
rather than good timing and positioning in the market. On the street
perhaps my ego would have insisted on “defending” myself from someone
and getting hurt or even killed, when a better solution might have cost
me my wallet or just the a bit of ego as I let someone else have their
way even though it might be wrong, rude and disrespectful.
important bits of budo practice I can find in other places. I can work
on breathing and timing and presence and movement in a lot of
activities that don’t involve combat practice. If I can’t at least
control my ego, or better still, let go of it, then maybe budo training
isn’t the place for me to be right now. That’s the powerful lesson
coming from this injury. My ego has gotten too big. I need to work on
cutting it down to size. I’m finding this aspect a lot more painful and
troublesome than any of the physical pain I’ve encountered in training.
easy to train the physical aspects of budo, but the mental side is more
critical. This where you learn not respond to threats and attacks that
aren’t real threats. I’ve learned that much about maai in the dojo.
There is a point where my partner is too far away to be able to reach
me. In these situations I can ignore the sword strike and focus on my
partner because I know the sword is not going to touch me. I don’t have
to move unless I want to. I’ve learned to await the real attack
peacefully, without excess tension or excitement. Then I move when it’s
really appropriate to instead of whenever something appears to be
threatening. I’m trying to learn to apply that lesson to encounters
outside the dojo. This is tough. Often what is being threatened is not
me so much as my image of myself.
injury has forced me to face one part of that. The threat of not being
able to do budo is not a threat to me. It’s a threat to my image of
me. Looking at it that way, the most difficult part becomes trying to
drag my image of myself closer to whatever the reality is. I enjoy budo
immensely, but it’s not all I am. Being really honest with myself is
tough because it is so discomfiting. I have to admit that, as much as I
love budo, and as much as I try to define myself in budo terms, that’s
only a small fraction of who I am, and I need to make room for imagining
myself in other ways.
doesn’t mean giving up budo, by any means. It does mean admitting that
a threat to my budo practice is not a threat to me. It does mean
balancing what I’m doing in budo with some other activities to make me a
more complete person. I know I’ll never be finished. I will be a work
in progress until there is nothing left that can be call “me”. Budo
is a part of that. Right now it’s a part I really love and enjoy. But
it’s not an essential part of my life or who I am. I have to accept
that and train with an awareness of this. My budo is a small way, not
the grand Way of the Universe. If I remember that, I can learn a lot
from it. When I forget this, my ego swells and I can go off in all
sorts of unhelpful directions.
knee hurts. And it’s really frustrating when I can’t do things I want
to because I’m pretty sure my knee won’t support them. I’ve got lots of
other things to work on and think about though. This knee injury isn’t
the end of the world. It’s a change, and a hurdle and problem. One of
the few things I think I’ve figured out about the big Tao is that
change is constant, form is transitory. This knee injury is a useful
lesson, and it keeps on teaching. My budo training will go on, but it
will be different, and hopefully less ego driven. If I hadn’t gotten
hurt, I might have been able to avoid this lesson, and that would have
been worse than the injury.
I wonder what lessons I’ll learn from having my knee put back together? This injury is definitely no fun. I'd much rather be physically whole, but I think I may have learned something valuable about myself in the process of dealing with this injury. Now if I can just keep learning. It's not the end of my budo career, but it is the start of a new phase.