I Quit BJJ….For 1 Day

This isn't easy for me to write.

Everyone says that on your journey to black belt you will probably experience at least one major injury. This is the injury that will not only test your body, but will test your spirit. I know that sounds a bit grandiose but I'm realizing how true it is.

Two months ago I had my knee go out during a pretty routine exchange. I had just stood up to avoid my instructor's dangerous butterfly guard when my knee popped 3 times during a knee reap. That's when the opponent, in this case from the ground, whips their leg over yours in order to collapses you back to the ground. This is countered either by removing their reaping leg, spinning out in the direction of their reap, or pointing your knee out and standing strong to avoid the inevitable heel hook opportunity. Well I opted for the 3rd option. Feeling good about the strength of my body, I had been doing P90X and have never felt stronger, I stood my ground and drove my knee outward while driving my foot to the ground insuring he couldn't get a hold of my heel to get the tap, the submission. There was so much force just from the reap that when he was able to rock my foot off the ground my knee (the weakest part of the structure) twisted and I felt 3 pops as I fell to the ground. He immediately released the hold and came to my aid while the sound of my knee made those around us stop their own grappling to see what happened. I felt a cold shiver fill me and strangely a hot flash too as I knew something major had just happened. I leapt up to me feet pretending to be okay, actually I didn't feel much pain since my adrenaline was pumping so much, but I could feel the frightening sensation of instability in my right knee as I struggled to stay upright. I walked it off and my instructor laid on the mat trying to shake off the unsettling feeling of actually feeling the full effectiveness of BJJ. I tried to ease his mind by making light of the situation but inside I was trembling thinking of all the rehab and time off I was now facing.

I spent the next 2 months in a sort of depressed haze filling my time and energy drawing and watching Gilmore girls. Don't laugh, it's surprisingly comforting in times of distress. 😉 Well after such a long time off I was out of shape but my knee seemed about ready for at least a little bit of testing. So I went to class only to have to pop again during a routine back step during open gym. My knee swelled up and I had to sit out the rest of class. I was devastated and imagined all the time off was for nothing. I had messed my knee up and now I was back to square one. How long would it really take to be back to 100%? Six months said another instructor who had the same injury. I went home crushed realizing that it's probably better if I just quit BJJ for now. Who's was I kidding, I had felt my passion for the art dwindling and now more than ever was the best time for me to hang up the gi. So with a heavy heart, thinking of the 11 years I put into it, I emailed my instructors to tell them the news.

I spent the next day in a strange place. For the first time in 11 years I didn't have the pressure of BJJ on my mind. It's like this constant pull making you want to eat healthy, stay fit and flexible, and thinking of new ways to improve your game. All that was left was this palpable void. Yes for the first time in over a decade I was faced with the same void that haunts us all. I'm going to write a whole piece on 'the void' but for now I'll just say I realized this void is responsible for either destroying or inspiring each and every person. I could see why some people, in order to deal with this void, turn to alcohol, drugs, consumption, Crossfit. 😉 Just kidding my Crossfit friends..kind of. In my case it was Jiu Jitsu. Without it I lacked a major driving force in my life. Besides family, friends, students, guitar, yoga, art, and Buffy, Jiu Jitsu/martial arts has been one of my main pillars, one of my main reasons for being alive. Call it cowardice, but I found myself running back to the 'gentle art.' I decided to fight through this damn knee injury and continue my journey to black belt.

To my surprise, after making this decision I woke to find that my knee was already feeling much better. I didn't take three steps back but perhaps only one or two. With a good knee brace and this new determination I believe I can get back to the mats sooner than later. Thanks for reading everyone and thanks to my instructors and girlfriend for putting up with my drama. 😉 -Mike


After The Injury

It’s one thing when you’re doing something stupid and you get hurt, but when your knee pops during a usually routine position it can give you pause. My partner had me in butterfly guard and yanked me up causing me to post both arms out. He did the right thing by switching to a leg attack, a heel hook to be specific. Usually from standing I can place my weight on the threatened foot and angle my knee out in a way that makes it impossible for my heel to be reached. For some reason the pressure of the knee reap alone resulted in three quite audible pops as my partner released the hold and I went down in disbelief. The first few moments after an injury is always unsettling. The guys around you stop what they’re doing and pop their concerned heads up gauging by the expression on your face how badly you were hurt. Your blood runs cold and hot somehow at the same time as you wait for the pain response to hit your brain. 

I did the dumbest thing possible and got right up to my feet. Honestly though I felt no pain but could tell something wasn’t quite right. So I tried to “walk it off” the whole time joking about how I used to crack my knees on purpose as a kid and this felt like a similar sensation. My partner laid on his back with his eyes closed obviously feeling both bad for me and probably disgusted at how it felt to actually snap a guy’s knee. He and I both agreed that something like this has never happened to either of us before. A simple knee reap is way more dangerous than I had thought. From now on whenever I’m in that position I’m going to either get their leg off immediately, spin out, or just tap. No more putting all my weight on such a susceptible limb. It’s comparable to holding a long stick on the ground while someone’s leaning on it with all their weight, because there’s no give at the bottom the weakest part of the stick will break first. Now I know.

Your psychology goes crazy the days following an injury. I guess you can say I’ve been pretty fortunate that in 10 years of training I’ve really only had 4 mid-level occurrences and a few low-level. Mid-level includes popping a rib, popping my ankle while my partner escaped from my mounted triangle, popping my other ankle from a foot lock, and now this. Lots of popping it seems. They all could have been avoided except for maybe the rib. I exhaled after a long rolling session just as my partner landed full force onto my side. Some thoughts that have passed my mind since the last episode: If that can happen so easily what if something major happens? Do I really want to risk more injuries over something I mostly do as a hobby? Do I still love Jiu Jitsu enough to keep powering through? Will this be ‘the one’ that ends my journey? 

Walking, well limping, around the bookstore the other day I spotted some guy wearing a Gracie Jiu Jitsu shirt. 9 times out of 10 if they’re wearing a Gracie shirt they train, if not they’re usually wearing a Tapout shirt. 😉 I casually approached him and noticed two things, he had mega calves for a smaller guy, and he exerted that ‘quiet confidecne’ you only see from someone who’s been through some shit. Turns out it was Greg Nelson from The Academy in MN. He’s a 4th degree BJJ black belt known for training UFC fighters and battling and beating cancer twice. After he introduced himself I took a step back in disbelief like I was meeting a superhero. We talked a bit about training and I mentioned my recent injury. He told me that he’s had his knee issued (as most of us do) and told me that even if I can only train here and there it’s a long journey and staying on the path is really the battle. 

It didn’t hit me until I was walking out to my car that it couldn’t have been just pure chance that I ran into Mr. Nelson. Suddenly my popped knee dwarfed in comparison to him beating cancer twice and going onto continue his martial arts journey. Such a sublime moment and realization. So my doubts about hanging up the purple belt dissolved and even though it may be a while before I’m back rolling on the mats, I’ll be doing all I can during my time away to stay in shape for my return. Thanks for reading and I hope it was somewhat inspiring to anyone going through the same ordeal. -Mike

After The Injury (Returning to BJJ)

I’m pretty fortunate. My injury wasn’t some crazy knee or shoulder catastrophe that required surgery and months of recovery and rehab. Instead, I felt a crunch in my right ribcage as my partner came crashing down on me at the end of a 30 minute roll. No one knows your body better than you and when you feel something like that, you instantly know that something very very bad just took place. I nervously checked my side and noticed an indention where there used to be ribs and also what felt like a bone trying to protrude outward like the scene from Alien. A hot panic set in as I wondered if something had pierced a major organ. I didn’t want to alarm anyone so I pretended everything was fine and made my way to my car wondering if I should go straight to the ER or take my chances and just go home. A quick Google searched made me aware of how common an injury this was in Brazilion Jiu Jitsu. Most people were saying that their doctor couldn’t do anything for them and just told them to take some Tylenol and rest.  I decided to just go home. (I’m not recommending this to anyone, I just have an issue with going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary. I’m sure it’ll result in a ridiculous death one day.) 

The following weeks were rough as I had difficulty doing anything. Getting out of bed was the hardest part, well that and opening doors. And just when I thought I was starting to feel less pain I sneezed and ended back at square one. You wouldn’t believe what you’ll do to avoid sneezing in this condition. (The ‘punching myself in the face’ option was not off the table.) Anyhow most of my internet jiu jitsu brethren said 4-6 weeks off to heal and they were pretty much right on. I sped up the process though by wearing a back brace around my ribs (thanks Jody), and doing light yoga after 2 weeks.  

Going back to the gym has been cathartic. I have a renewed perspective on the blessing of being healthy because of how much time I had to spend off the mats. All my minor tweaks have healed as well in the time off.  I was afraid of being hesitant rolling, since the last incident is still seared into my memory, but I just have to remember the lessons I learned from all this. I’ll quickly sum them up below. 

Just because you’re doing a lot of Jiu Jitsu, don’t forget to tend to your overall fitness. I believe a big part of my injury was due to my core being ‘less than optimized’ because I was neglecting my yoga. Sure BJJ is great for the core but we all get into our training ruts and can get lazy and/or complacent in our routines.

Overtraining can sneak up on you. My partners will laugh at the idea that I was overtraining (3 days a week), but for me that’s a lot of mat time especially since I’m almost always training and rolling with heavier partners. A sign of overtraining (which I was ignoring) is mounting minor injuries. I had a weird knee issue followed by an ankle cut that wouldn’t heal followed by a stubbed toe etc. My new rule is to train 2 to 3 times a week but do more drilling, less all-out rolling (especially rolls lasting over 15 minutes) , and take a week off every other month. Combining this with my new fitness regimine will hopefully pay off in longevity in the art. I want to do this stuff for life!!!

Don’t neglect the ‘little things’ that help you. We all know that our Jiu Jitsu journey is made up of a million little things that we do right, or do wrong and eventually learn to correct the mistakes. I stopped drilling with my jiu jitsu dummy a few months ago. Not sure why, I just stopped. I didn’t realize that choking the poor inanimate fella was increasing my grip strength and body resistance to pressure (his chest feels like a tree trunk). I’m sure my rib area was weaker because I stopped conditioning with it. So keep up the little things, they add up.

Listen to your instructor. I had two different instructors tell me to allow my body to heal but nooooooooo…I wanted to be Roger Gracie tomorrow so I kept plowing ahead. This should be a no-brainer but listen to those who have thousands of hours over you. They’ve been through it all and thankfully because of what I’ve been through I can give my advice (to some punk who won’t heed it) someday too. 😉 Here’s to health, longevity, AND success. 

“Reaping’ The Benefits

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 4.39.15 PMSo I made a few changes, some of them jiu jitsu related and some not, in the last few weeks.  I took a look at all my habits and asked which ones were just there to make me comfortable (or slightly unconscious), and which were beneficial.  So I decided to get rid of four things: Facebook, coffee, hot showers, and alcohol.  In its place I added cardio/circuit training every other night as well as yoga in between.  (Of course when I have Jiu Jitsu training I skip these for my off days)

Facebook: Doesn’t seem like a big deal but I realized that FB was taking up too much of my mental energy.  If you think about it, the FB wall is basically information overload.  You think you’re just casually reading about others but really your mind retains everything in one way or another.  I realized I was devoting too much of my energy reading, commenting, and absorbing information and it was starting to zombify me, so that was the first thing I avoided.  I noticed after the first day I was much calmer mentally which allowed me to have more energy to use for other things….like a crap ton of exercises.

Coffee:  The reviews are always mixed on the benefits of coffee.  I tend to lean towards it being pretty good for you at low quantities but I thought I’d experiment and see how getting rid of it affected me.  So far I notice more constant energy as opposed to ups and down throughout the day.  Sure I replaced it with Earl Grey but I believe there’s just something in coffee that drives me a little nuts.  Like it causes a bit of mental confusion as well as a sort of sinking feeling a few hours after ingestion.  A week away from the black juice and I’m convinced I made the right choice.  Between ditching FB and coffee I have to say my inner state has never been calmer.

Hot Showers:  It’s only been 2 days without the comfort of a hot shower.  Why give it up?  Well I read a little about the benefits of cold showers and it convinced me enough to at least turn the hot water knob down a few degrees.  What I realized when I thought about it is that there really is no HOT water in nature.  If you live in the woods the best you’d get is a lukewarm lake bath.  I also realized that my skin problems that I’ve had since childhood always flare up after my showers and no wonder, I was practically scalding myself.  Now I notice no more itching, my hair feels better, and my complexion overall is looking younger.  How does this help my Jiu Jitsu?  Having a cold shower after class has improved my healing and I’m way less sore in less time.

Alcohol:  Tried to give it up completely but then had a country gig and that went out the window.  It’s really hard to play Garth Brooks sober.  Anyhow I’ll have to try again one day when I’m country-free.

Most importantly for jiu jitsu, I added a cardio circuit to my training and it has already shown me benefits on the mat.  I rolled with my friend who is both better and heavier than I am.  I usually find myself trapped underneath him with little or no energy to escape but last night I found I always had an extra tank.  Sure I still tapped like crazy but when we reset I was always energized and ready to do battle again.  I’ve never felt that good on the mat which is crazy because it’s only been about one week of this new routine.  Adding to that is the fact that I just bought some kettle bells and designed an even better routine involving my grappling dummy and heavy bag and it makes me very optimistic about training.  I can’t wait to hit the mats again Friday to see the results on an even higher level.  Very exciting stuff.  That’s all I have for ya for now.