I’ve been injured and man does it hurt. It happened so quickly. What about training now? I have this promotion belt test coming up soon. I have this tournament date fast approaching. How long will this injury take to heal? I really hate my physical limitations and my mental lapses. After the immediate physical pain and the anger with myself, I finally start asking the kinds of questions which lead me to an understanding of what happened and why. What did I do or not do that I should have done differently? This is usually my progression toward coming to grips with an injury. First the physical pain followed closely by anger at myself then finally trying to understand. How about you?
It’s important to try to understand why the injury happened. If the injury happened while sparring, were you simply overmatched or out-maneuvered? If it happened during class, was it a lack of correct execution? Was it a fatigue issue? How is your basic fitness? Does it match up with the intensity of effort required to perform at a particular level?
Sparring is an integral part of the learning process. It gives us a chance to test ourselves. It’s a chance to try those techniques we struggle to learn in class. We come to learn that we can avoid or redirect an attack. We learn how to absorb our opponent’s energy. In an overmatched sparring contest the more skilled individual must perform with all his skill but at a lower level of intensity to avoid injury to his opponent. The more skilled individual will invariably be more successful in getting a strike or joint lock past his opponent’s defense. An uncontrolled use of force is one of the causes of injury in the dojo.
Incorrect execution of a technique is a less common cause of dojo injuries. These injuries are usually less severe and characterized by bruises, soft tissue soreness, and hyperextension of the joints. For example, striking a heavy bag hard and wrong. With time and practice these nuisance injuries tend to diminish in frequency as our body mechanics and joint alignment improve.
Fatigue causes all sorts of problems: misalignment becomes exaggerated, technique degrades, mental capacity to learn and respond is diminished, reaction times become longer, etc. When fatigue sets in we become easier to defend against and as a result we become easier to strike and get joint locked. Even when closely matched in skill level the less fit student in a match will be at a disadvantage after a period of time. Protect yourself; maintain a consistent level of basic overall fitness with aerobic activity, stretches, and weight bearing exercise.
In past conversations with some of the more experienced students in the dojo, they have commented that many of their injuries occurred while sparring or “rolling” (in Jiu Jitsu ,sparring on the ground) with new students. Why is this? Shouldn’t the more experienced martial artist be able to defend against the untrained beginner? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, the trained martial artist will have an edge over an untrained beginner. No, because the higher ranked student is opening himself to the beginning student so that the lesser experienced student can learn to spot opportunities and practice his techniques. The beginner has not learned control and generally compensates for his lack of technique with brute strength. These techniques that we strive to master are MARTIAL arts, not performance arts. The beginning martial artist has not the understanding that these techniques are designed to nullify an attack by incapacitating the attacker physically. It is the responsibility of the beginner to understand that the uke (Japanese term meaning the person who is receiving the technique) has offered himself, his body to be practiced upon. The new student often does not realize this sacrifice made, this trust offered, this risk that the uke opens himself to. Respect and control has to be taught by the higher ranking student. It is the responsibility of the higher ranked student/teacher to protect himself by teaching control, respect, and technique.
In my most recent injury, I was working with a new student. I now realize the point at which we should have reset. I was rolling in Jiu Jitsu class with a student of 2 hours of instruction and we were working on “passing the guard” (a technique by which one escapes from a leg lock to take up a dominant position to his opponent). While passing my leg, he fell into me with his elbow breaking my last lower rib loose causing the sternum end of it to ride up and over the adjacent rib. Nothing was broken, but very painful, and wholly avoidable had we broken the technique down and practiced the various parts of the technique at less that 100% effort. Also, as a new student myself, I probably was not the best choice to be instructing. A better way would have been for us to “roll” with controlled intensity while being coached by an experienced eye.
Now that I look back, I realize that I too have been told to “Slow down. Use technique, don’t bull it.” I hereby apologize to all my uke whom I have caused unnecessary pain. Without you my practice is not real, but merely choreography. With you I am getting better in my execution of the martial arts.
Oh why do I have to learn the hard way?
Bill Landry began his study of martial arts at the age of 53 with LOTUS Self-Defense under the tutelage of Mack Petry. Three years later he added the study of Jiu Jitsu to his training. Give the old guy a help off the dojo floor will you. If you wish to comment on this article, please feel free through the website's email address.