Showing posts with label injury. Show all posts
Showing posts with label injury. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Budo and the Aging Budoka

I had another birthday recently. So did my iaido teacher, Kiyama Hiroshi. He turned 94.  Aging is just another part of the budo journey. Just like regular practice, eating and sleeping, it can’t be avoided. My teachers, and my fellow students have all accumulated a variety of issues that come with the aging process, but we’re still making progress on the journey.  There are still new things to be learned, concepts to be better understood, and principles that can be more fully applied in our lives.

I began studying Kodokan Judo when I was 19 years old. It was as fascinating and fun as anything I’d ever done. Judo was the first athletic activity I fell in love with.  It was great being 19 and able to train in the dojo 4 or 5 times a week and still have enough energy to do some weight training on the off days. Bumps and bruises healed quickly, and even when I cracked my ribs, they healed easily. The biggest problem with healing my ribs was that I had an excess of energy and wanted to be on the mat and training several weeks before it was safe for my ribs to be doing judo.

A collection o the best budo essays from Peter Boylan, The Budo Bum

We trained hard all the time, because we could. We went to tournaments and fought hard. We won some, we lost some, and we ate everything in sight afterward. No matter how hard we trained one day, we could get up the next day and go at it again.

The summer before my 23rd birthday I achieved a dream and moved to Japan. I had a job teaching in the local junior high schools. When the teachers found out I did judo, they kindly introduced me to the high school judo coach, who invited me to train with his club whenever I was free. The high school club members were great and welcoming. Some of them had been training for twice as long as I had, others were relative beginners. We would train hard everyday and then get up and do it again.

9 years later I was living in Japan and I was still training with the high school judo club. Of course, I was 9 years older and the club members were still 15-17 years old. At that point, when I trained hard, I would get up the next day and think about what Sakashita Sensei would have them do, because I wasn’t doing it two days in a row.

Fast forward - Last night I was at judo practice and worked out with some guys in their teens and twenties.  They play hard, and I’m not sure they understand what I’m saying when I suggest that we “Keep it light”. They want to go 100% all the time. What amazes is me is that they can practice that hard for a couple of hours and they still have the energy to be disappointed that practice is over. By the end of practice I’m just happy to still be standing and wondering who sucked all the oxygen out of the dojo. Then the guys are talking about what kind of training they’ll do tomorrow, while I contemplate nothing more than good stretching to work some of the knots out of my muscles.

I do notice that it’s easier for me to do the sensible things now. It still bothers me when I pull a muscle or something similar and need to sit out, but no one has to tell me to sit down. The boundless energy that some of the young guys have makes it almost impossible for them to sit out of practice, regardless of what they’ve done to themselves. The teachers nearly have to sit on them to keep them from exacerbating their injuries by training before they’re fully healed.

Over time I’ve acquired my share of life reminders, otherwise known as injuries, and I’ve discovered I can hear them talking.  My knees let me know when they are getting to the end of their endurance. It’s an interesting sensation when they start to talk to me. I had to overdo it a couple of times before I realized what my knees were saying, but I did learn. When I hear them talking, I know it’s time to back off my training. I know now that if I don’t, I’ll spend the next day limping around the office and explaining to people that I was too stupid to stop training when I reached my limit.

I also know enough to make my practice count for something more than just working hard. Don’t get me wrong, I still love working hard, but I want all that effort to give me something more than a good sweat. Part of any do 道 is the idea that it doesn’t have a final destination. No matter where we are on the path there is still much to learn. I want to come away from every practice knowing that I have improved at least a tiny bit. That means being focused on doing my practice right. I might not be able to do as many reps as I used to, but I can still use them to polish my technique. I’m working on some left side techniques these days. As I enter, turn and drop under my training partner, I’m still focusing on creating good kuzushi, keeping my back straight and bending my knees deeply enough.

I find it amazing how lessons or instructions that don’t mean much can hang around in my head for years until I reach a point where I can use them. That feeling when some piece of advice that I got 20 years ago finally clicks and the light goes on and I understand! Yesterday it was how to move my legs and body to get into the right position for sumi gaeshi. I’ve known what the right position is for ages, but how to get there was another problem entirely. Yesterday during practice I had one of those wonderful epiphanies that happens in training, and a piece of advice I’d received years ago dropped into place. I could see the shape of the movement I needed and I could do it. It’s annoying to think that I had the key to the technique all this time and just wasn’t ready to see it.

This has happened to me often enough that I’m not sure I fully agree with the old saying that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I think it’s more like “When the student is ready, he’ll realize the teacher has been there all along.” So many times when understanding has come, it’s been a sudden insight into the wisdom of something my teacher has been telling me all along.

I notice that what qualifies as a good practice for me has shifted. I used to have to be dripping with sweat and so tired I could hardly move. Now I feel like it was a good practice when I have chewed on a problem or idea in the art and learned something new.  How tired I am is irrelevant. How much did I learn? What did I discover about the art? It doesn’t matter if it’s judo or jodo or iaido, the important thing is how much I’ve learned. It’s great to sweat and work hard, but if I’m not learning anything I may as well just be doing push-ups.

It’s this never-ending opportunity for learning and improvement that makes budo fascinating for me even after three decades of study. I know there is always more to learn about the art I’m studying, and always more to refine within myself. No, I can’t do randori endlessly at judo anymore. But I can discover new ways to be a better judoka and more fully embody the principles of the art. My knees don’t like the seiza techniques in iaido as much as they used to, but when they tell me they’ve had enough of seiza, there are still a full set of standing kata to work on.

Now I can easily see why my first iaido teacher, Takada Shigeo Sensei, was so eager to get a new sword when he was in his seventies. He bought one that had a large fuller in the blade to make it light. He had been using a heavy blade from the Muromachi period (1392 - 1573) that would make his wrists hurt after long practices. With the new blade he could go to gasshuku, train all day and still feel fine afterwards. After 60 years of training, he was still excited to learn new things and continue his journey on the budo path. I can easily imagine that when I reach his age, I’ll be excited about getting a new sword too.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ow! Ow! Ow!

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I caught a knee in the chest at judo the other evening. That kind of hurts today. Why on earth do I keep doing something where catching a knee in the chest is not just possible, but permissible? Then I go to jodo where my partner gets to hammer on my  gut with a big stick from time to time.  Am I nuts? Don’t bother answering that, we already know the answer.

Martial arts hurt sometimes. That goes hand in glove with what martial arts are. Martial arts are combative disciplines. One part of that is getting banged up from time to time. I go to judo and get thrown around the room and bounced off the floor. Some nights I’ll take upwards of 100 falls. Somewhat surprisingly, the difficult part is not taking the falls, but getting up afterwards. It’s more work than you think.

If it’s just me being uke for someone who is practicing their throws, it doesn’t hurt. If we’re doing randori (grappling sparring), the falls aren’t always completely controlled, and sometimes I land badly.  That can hurt. The strange thing is that I remember bad throws hurting a lot more when I was young and first started training than they do now. There is a big lesson in budo practice about how to handle and evaluate pain, and it’s fundamental to everything going on in the dojo.

People commonly think that the person who can cause the most pain and damage is the toughest. My thought is that the person who can absorb the most is the toughest. Part of budo training is learning to handle what other people do to you. This lesson is a basic one not only in the modern arts like judo and kendo, but it’s fundamental in classical systems of jujutsu, kenjutsu and other weapons.

Falling down hurts sometimes. So does getting hit with sticks and hands and feet. If you’re learning a combative art, it’s not just about what you can do to someone else. It’s also about what they might be doing to you. If you’re not learning how to deal with the discomfort of being thrown or taking a hit, you’re not learning budo.
Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I have to admit, there isn’t much out there that matches judo for the regular level of discomfort experienced when training. Judoka get banged around to the point that bumps and bruises aren’t even noticed. I come home from keiko, take a shower and discover a new batch of bruises that I don’t remember getting.  How can that be?

Any good budo develops and demands a high level of focus. Judo certainly does this.  Particularly during randori, I don’t have any mental space to spare on worrying about a little bump or bruise. I’m so focused on what I’m doing that sort of discomfort doesn’t even register.

What surprises me is just how much that is true in budo that don’t specialize in picking people up and throwing them at the ground. Most arts don’t demand that sort of pounding, but all good budo do require that we learn to handle discomfort. Kenjutsu has bangs and accidents where wrists and knuckles get whacked. Jodo in particular emphasizes absorbing tsuki and the occasional bang on the wrist. Aikido bends and attacks joints is ways that can be uniquely torturous. Other arts have their moments of vigorous contact as well.

Is there a good reason for this, or is it just an excuse for people to hurt each other? There is a good reason behind a certain level of a bumping, banging and bruising. There’s no other way to get used to this sort of discomfort, and if you’re really learning a martial art, you need to be able to handle basic levels of discomfort and even a bit a pain now and then. It’s part of the learning process.

If at time any you need the literal skills of martial arts, you’re certainly going to have to be able to focus through some pain and discomfort, maybe a lot of it. If you can’t do that, you’ll fold the first time things start to hurt. Pain hurts, but it doesn’t have to distract. One key is learning that there is a difference between discomfort, pain, and harm. Discomfort and pain can be endured, but harm is to be avoided.

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

Not everyone approaches this part of practice wisely. The most foolish way learning to handle and absorb pain and discomfort is to be like the people who try to prove they are better than everyone else by taking more pain and still getting on the floor to train. These people do a great deal of damage, most of it to themselves. They push past enduring discomfort and pain right into inflicting harm on their own bodies.

For the rest of us the question then becomes, what level of discomfort is learning, and what is abuse? It’s good to learn to to handle discomfort, but how hard to push is always a good question. We’ve all met people who push themselves too hard and too far. For me the key is that if someone is getting themselves injured, they are pushing to far.

There is a dark side to this lesson to watch out for as well. There are people who use the need to learn to be tough as an excuse to abuse the people they teach and train with. I’ve seen bullies and sadists purposely inflict unnecessary pain and even harm on their training partners in order to “help them toughen up” and similar excuses. Anyone who complains about the treatment is excoriated for being soft and weak.

Putting up with this sort of abuse is not a sign of strength. If you find yourself dealing with people who abuse their partners, don’t stick around and put up with it. One aspect of budo is standing up for yourself. Let people know this isn’t acceptable. If they won’t listen, leave. Don’t let yourself be injured or abused.

Learning to deal with discomfort and pain is an important lesson. Equal to learning how to deal with it though, is learning when not to endure it. Discomfort and pain can be a sign of stress and pushing ourselves, but they are also signs that we are pushing too far and getting close to harming ourselves. Knowing which and respecting the differences are just as important as being able to put up with the discomfort of training.

Mugendo Budogu: Martial Arts Equipment and Media

I love training, even though it hurts sometimes. The joy and rush of randori or sparring is like very little else. For me, this makes it easy to ignore the odd bump or bruise.  The occasional ache and post training stiffness is a small price to pay for all that I get out of martial arts practice.
The truth is, to quote Jimmy Buffett, that “the pleasure is worth all the pain.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Injuries and training

About 18 months ago, I made a couple of bad moves at judo practice and messed up my right knee pretty well..  It was quite painful at the time, but I didn’t realize how much damage I had done.  When I finally gave in and had an MRI done, I found out I had completely torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).  At that point, the only real option was ACL reconstruction surgery.  The surgery was at the end of April, and it really messed up my writing routine, among other things.  I have discovered that budo training, post-op rehab and writing have a lot in common.  All the habits I have for good budo, regular practice, review of what is working and what isn’t, conscious repetition, and getting an outside perspective are all critical to successful, steady, ongoing improvement.

All those lessons from judo and iaido are applied regularly to my post-op rehab.  The week after my surgery, the doctor and the physical therapist gave me a set of exercises, stretching and icing to do 3-5 times a day.  There were exercises for regaining the flexibility  in my knee and starting on the long slog to get the strength back in my leg.  The first time I tried to bend my knee, I was sweating from the effortn by the time I got it to 15 degrees.  And the simple exercises to tense the quadriceps in my leg were amazingly frustrating.  I could will the muscle to contract all I wanted, but it just laid there.

Over a few weeks of doing all the exercises the physical therapists could think up, I eventually got enough strength back that I could go back to the dojo and start doing some simple standing training in iaido.  This is when I started getting some interesting lessons.  Things which had been quite fundamental for me, that I didn’t even think about doing anymore, had become nearly impossible. Just walking properly required all of my focus.   I have no idea what was happening with my sword when I was trying to simply walk and swing the sword at the same time.  My concentration was so heavily invested in simply trying to walk smoothly and with strong movement that there was no awareness left over for whatever it was my hands were doing with the sword.   I am sure I was swinging it, but I have no clear memories of it.  I’m not sure I want to know what I was actually doing.  I’m quite sure it was horrible, and I don’t need independent confirmation.

Eventually, I got wise and stopped trying to swing the sword and just focused on basic walking and footwork.  My feet needed a lot of work.  After the surgery, the knee swelled up like a grapefruit that had lost a bar fight, but I was expecting that.  The really difficult adjustment was to how weak my leg had become.  The leg muscles atrophied almost immediately, and even now are a little more than half their pre-surgery strength.  

The sudden disappearance of the strength in my legs has given me an instant appreciation for many of the difficulties my beginning students go through.  The leg muscles are used in a rather unusual way in iaido, especially in the suwari waza sets.  The body has to be absolutely stable and solid, with the movements smooth and fluid. I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t remember how I felt when I started, but I can see my own struggles with trying to get my legs to do good iaido now whenever I look at beginners.  One of their biggest issues is simply that their body doesn’t have the strength in the right areas to support what they are trying to do.    

I’ve long been a fond of breaking apart iaido kata to find simple sets of movements that students can focus on to build the strength and stability in some of the unusual positions that we deal with in iaido.  My current condition is teaching me just how really useful and important this is for students.   One of the simplest things we do in iaido is sit down into, and get up from, seiza.  This is even more basic than how we hold the sword.  There are thousands of ways to get into seiza that are clumsy and off-balance with posture so weak a two year old could easily knock you over.    There is only one way that is the strongest and most stable based on the human bodies structure: back straight, quadriceps screaming with the effort of holding you up and supporting you while you look relaxed as you lower yourself into, or rise from, seiza.  I often have students just practice the movement from seiza rising up until the legs and torso are a straight line, and then going back down, keeping the back straight the entire time..  Now I am doing the same thing, because my quads really don’t like this movement anymore.   Another one they don’t like is the lunge-like movement at the end of some suwari kata where we drop down to one knee, and then come back up.  So my students and I are doing both of these as a warm-ups / calisthenics to strengthen the legs and practice doing the basic movement correctly without having to worry about what to do with the sword or anything else.

I am finding it really helpful for me, and I hope my students will as well.  I am reteaching my body to do fundamental movements on its own, without having to be directed by my mind.  I am drilling these basic movements in my hotel room, and using them as a warm-up when I do full iaido keiko.  By warming up with them, I am getting my body used to doing the motions correctly, so when I move on and do the kata, I can focus on other aspects while my body does these motions correctly on its own.

The motions are fundamental, and the more I isolate them and focus on getting them smooth and strong in isolation, the easier I am finding it to do them properly when I go back to the kata and do them in conjunction with everything else that is happening in the kata.  My legs are still recovering, but already I can feel the improvements in strength and control.  I have always thought of the techniques and kata as the basics in budo practice, but now I am looking at the kata with an eye towards isolating even more basic movements and drilling them.

If I can come up with simple drills students can do at home without little no equipment, I think beginning students will be able to improve much more quickly, and get more out of their training.  Instead of developing the strength in their legs and hips during class, they can work on developing the essential strength away from keiko.  

A few simple exercises that can help them develop the strength to move smoothly and effectively quickly, will also enable them to start smoothing out other common problems faster as well.  Integrating the complex and wholly unnatural movements required for suwari waza  is difficult.  There is nothing natural about gliding over the floor with one knee up and the other down while swinging a sword around.  My new goal is to isolate basic movements that can be practiced outside the dojo in a hotel room (since I’m spending a lot of time in hotel rooms for work) that students can drill until they become habitually correct, so we can spend our training time together working on integrating the movements and then go on to more mind-bending things like rhythm.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Training On The Road

I find myself recovering from knee surgery while spending weeks traveling far from home and living in a hotel for for work.  So for this 2 week stint, I hauled along a jo and an iaito so I can train at the hotel.  The hotel room has enough space that if I move the furniture out of the way I should be able to do iai kata from seiza fairly well.  The jo is not nearly as likely to cause people to panic and call the police, so I’ll take that out in the hotel parking lot and train in a quiet, back corner of the lot.

This evening I tried doing iai in the hotel room.  I will admit that it worked better than I expected.  My knee is still quite stiff, so just practicing getting into and out of seiza is very good for it.  At the beginning of practice my buttocks are a good 2 inches (5 cm) from my heels.  By the end of a good practice session they touch.  I still can’t get down far enough to relax at all in seiza, but that I can get down this far is great progress.  And going down into seiza while still holding all my weight with the muscles in my legs is great training for my legs too.  Really strengthens them and makes them much steadier.

One problem I had not expected was how much friction the carpet would cause.  I have to exaggerate my movement a bit in order to prevent myself from getting a rug burn.  I am working at doing the forward movements without dragging my knee at all.  I have to lift it off the carpet and move it forward.  This is changing my body mechanics in a way that I suspect will be helpful because it eliminates the possibility of leaving my leg behind and just dragging it forward.  It forces me to lift to drive my leg forward strongly.

One thing I hadn’t thought of that I am finding useful is that the hotel room has two large mirrors in it for dressing.  They are nice for checking my form.  It’s been 8 weeks since my surgery, and I am just beginning to train again.  I can see lots of places where my form is weak from a combination of not training for a couple of months and having my body messed up from knee surgery.  The mirrors are great for spotting and correcting some of these problems.  Unfortunately, I got excited about a point I was working on with my furikaburi, and stood up to try it from that position.  This is a problem because the hotel room doesn’t have cathedral ceilings.  I do hope the folks in the room above me hadn’t gone to sleep already.  I also hope the hotel staff doesn’t mind the nice line I cut in the ceiling.

Training in the hotel is not ideal, I will agree.  But since I must be on the road for several weeks, it is the best option I have.  The drawbacks are limited space and a concern that I will damage something in the room.  I would love to be able to move more freely and to have a nice, smooth, dojo surface to train on, but since I don’t, this will do.  The up side is that I have more than sufficient fundamental points needing work and polish that not being able to do a lot of full kata really won’t hold me back.  I can certainly work on moving from seiza, getting into seiza, furikaburi and kirioroshi for quite a long time.  They all need plenty of polish.
Focusing on the basics like this is something that can be easy to forget when I’m healthy.  I’ve reached a level where there are quite a few different things I can work on, and the basics, the fundamental stuff, is not always the more fascinating stuff to practice.  However, they are fundamental to everything else we do, and time spent improving the basics is immediately reflected in everything else I do.  My legs get stronger and more steady, more capable of correct movement and supporting good posture (even when I misstep).  Furikaburi and kirioroshi appear in almost every kata we do, so there is no way I can imagine time spent polishing them will not be reflected in improved performance when I do the kata.  And of course, since I can’t quite get into seiza, practice that gets me closer to getting into seiza and and not being in extreme discomfort while I’m there can only be a good thing.

For all these reasons I dragged a sword and jo in a big black gun case along on a flight across the country for a 2 week business trip.  Just picture me in my hotel room creaking into seiza and then moving across the floor taking great care not to drag my knee on the carpet or to let my kissaki drop below horizontal, and then trying to make the big, fluid, powerful cuts required in Shinto Hatakage Ryu.

What unusual places do you train in, and why?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Budo and injuries

So, the Tuesday before Christmas, I went to Judo and had a great practice for the first 88 minutes of the 90 minute practice. Then I proceeded to bend my right knee 45 degrees to the right while failing to throw my partner. I discovered that my knee does not like being bent in that direction. In the aftermath, I am having to put into practice some lessons I've picked up over the years of budo training.

The first is RICE. We've all heard it. When injured Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate the injury. It's easy to do all of these right away, when the injury is still agonizing and the knee in question looks more like a grapefruit than a joint. It gets tougher to follow through with the prescribed treatment as the injury improves though. This is where other budo lessons come into play.

The second is LISTEN TO SENSEI. You might not realize it, but in Japan, doctors are addressed as "Sensei" just like teachers. Just as we learn to trust sensei's greater experience and knowledge in the dojo, we have to trust the doctor's greater experience and knowledge about the injury. Actually do what the sensei is telling you to do about your injury, don't just listen and ignore the parts that you find inconvenient. Sensei would not approve.

PATIENCE is the next lesson, and this one is tough. It takes years of training to advance in the martial arts, so you'd think we'd be pretty patient about rehabilitating an injury. Amazingly, I've known a lot of martial artists who's sole focus is getting back to training as soon as possible. What this really means is not "As soon as possible without risking re-injuring or permanently injuring yourself" but rather, "get back to training as soon as I can stand the pain, because I'm too tough for the consequences." I'm a little too familiar with this approach, having been a strong advocate of such stupidity when I was in college. Fortunately, I had teachers who would sit on me to keep me from going out on the mat for judo until after my ribs had finished healing. All that patience we learn as we work to polish our techniques over the years comes in handy while waiting a few weeks for an injury to heal.

Healing injuries need to be rehabbed in the right ways. The basic stretching and strengthening exercises are boring. Really boring. They can make kihon practice look fascinating (which it should be, but that's another post). Be persistent in doing the stretches to keep the muscles loose and healthy. Do them just like the therapist says. Do any exercises too.

But have some DISCRETION. Just because a little stretching and exercise are good for rehabbing an injury, it doesn't follow that a lot of stretching and exercise are better. Listen to your body and do the the exercises that are recommended, but don't overdo them. I know this is tough for a martial artist. Martial artists love to overdo training because it is the macho thing to do. That's part of why we learn so much about being injured. Have the good sense to balance any recommended rehab exercises with lots of rest.

TAKE IT SLOW when you start back. This is more patience, but it's worth repeating. You aren't going to master your art next week, so don't push your body to do things next week that it isn't ready for. Patience, discretion and listening to what your body tells you will carry you a long way without injuring you.

These are all lessons we're supposed to absorb from budo practice. Are you ready to prove that you've grown and developed these parts of yourself in addition to polishing your uchi mata?