Things are slow.
I’ve been training… a bit. On days when I’m not too tired, and not hurting too much, I join in on jujitsu, usually the basics at the beginning, before things get flippy and twisty and too complicated for my body to handle. I’ve been showing up early to work one on one with a friend on drilling and moving and figuring out what I can and can’t do. Trying to both get in shape anne moving again and also not get reinjured.
It’s slow and hard and not at all like it used to be. I just need to accept that. And accept that I can’t sit around waiting for my body to decide to be ready for this… I have to make it happen. Stop sitting on my ass, suck up a reasonable amount of pain, and do things.
I’m working on it.
It’s been a long time. It’s been about six months since I’ve been on the mats, but more like nine since I trained regular. Had surgery in June, on my left knee, and in November had both hacked into.
It has been the longest, hardest, most depressing rehab of my life. I don’t want to do this ever again. I’m done with knee surgeries. Done!
Which means I’m trying (and sometimes failing, and grappling with buddies while drunk – bad plan!) to listen to my doctors, do the rehab right, and not come back too soon. I’m all out of pieces to put myself back together with, and my brain can’t handle anymore couch time. Marghle.
I’m five months out of my latest ACL reconstruction/bone grafting/miscellaneous roter router work – and thinking hard about coming back, just to drill. I’m back at the gym a little as it is – just helping man the desk. It makes me want to be back in the mats.
I’ve tried a few things – and my list of what I can’t do is longer than what I can do. I can’t really lock guard with any resistance, or lock my knees up (triangle chokes, half guard, etc), I can’t support others’ weight (most sweeps) and I can kneel for very long. Which means I can do open or unresisted guard, and minimal top work. I can practice escapes.
To me… that’s better than nothing. But that’s not much. And probably why I shouldn’t be back yet.
I’m afraid to make the wrong choice.
I know I don’t need to rush back. BJJ will always be there. But, mostly, it’s that I’ve gotten out of shape, have gained weight, had a very inactive winter (lots of snow and ice – and not allowed to ski or bike in it), and really… just never replaced BJJ with anything else. My hobbies have always been biking and BJJ, and so now I watch a lot of Netflix. And drink, smoke, and eat cookies – none of which I did while I was training. It’s a sad, boring life – and I hate it.
This hasn’t been good for me. I’ve fallen far. And I guess – I just want my life back. And that means BJJ. And biking, once the ice is gone from the roads.
So Monday, I’m meeting a buddy to drill – and to see what I can do.
I read This Article yesterday, which talked, in part, about all the struggles folks – women in particular – go through in training, and how sticking it out is worth it.
And it made me measure my costs.
I’d never really thought about it like that, but grappling has done some real damage, had a real impact in my life. Because of that, my family and friends often say: it doesn’t seem like grappling is good for you – maybe this is a sign you should move on?
Right now I’m looking at my third knee surgery (third and fourth, I suppose, since they’re going in on both knees this time) since I started not-quite four years ago. Two torn ACLs, torn meniscus, and cartilage that’s gone – that’s is the physical price I’ve paid to grapple.
Of course I wouldn’t have done it, had I known. What kind of crazy person would? Particularly as my first few years were marked by struggle – feeling like I’d never improve, getting my ass kicked night after night (I don’t think I ‘won’ a proper roll for years – its still a rare thing), and struggling to feel accepted (a personal feeling, not necessarily a reflection of my gym). For years, there were many nights I’d cry on my way home, just hating myself, not understanding why I was doing this. But pushing through it, for the days when I left completely exhilarated.
But I also had some amazing instructors/coaches. Folks who said – BJJ is a personal sport, you only get out of it what you put in. Be aggressive and ask for partners, don’t wait to be picked. It takes a long time to get there, that’s just how it goes. Don’t compare yourself to others. Who boosted my confidence when it was low, who welcomed me and included me, and who kept pushing me to get better.
And then I tore my ACL, about a year after I walked into my first judo class. Going hard in judo class, my partner and my legs had gotten tangled, we weren’t well aligned, and he pulled my leg with a – pop – in the wrong direction. I was devastated and scared.
But by the time that happened, I had been bitten by the bug. I couldn’t imagine quitting. I’d just started BJJ five or six months earlier, and the combination of BJJ, no-gi, and judo kept me busy every night, gave me something to work at and improve at, and was something I loved learning. In judo, I found something I felt natural and powerful and beautiful in – it fed my need for perfection and speed and grace and power. In BJJ, a sport that challenged my intellect, my body and my comfort level – and was always, always fun.
And so I slogged through my first surgery, months of rehab, and hit the mats again about four months later. During my rehab, my mantra was – the harder I work, the quicker I can get back to the mats. When I returned, I had to fight against a body that could no longer do quite what I wanted it to. A knee that needed to be babied. I wore my brace for months, modified everything I did, and slowly rebounded and came back stronger than before.
A year after my first surgery, I competed for the first time. That competition was the best decision I’d made for both my rehab and my jiujitsu – for months, I trained as much as I could, pushed myself more than I believed possible, and grew a lot as both a grappler and a person. I was hooked back in, and much stronger than I’d been before.
Eventually, I was promoted to blue belt – something I still struggle with, because I don’t think my jiujitsu is quite that strong – but something I felt showed, at the least, my instructor’s confidence and faith in me, and helped me see how much I’d grown and improved in the last three years.
I went to class every day, blogged and read and watched videos. I had it hard. I still had (many) moments when I hated how much I sucked (still do), but I had seen how much dogged practice could make me improve, and so I kept at it. Much more slowly, I returned to judo. I had – and still have – a block on judo. I’ve never quite got back my confidence in throwing, always hesitating, never committing, terrified I’d reinjure myself.
A year and a half after surgery, I was still working to get that confidence back. Working one on one with my instructor, I was working to progress my throws with speed, trying to eliminate that fear & hesitation. One throw was too much for my knee, and I felt it – pop – again. I knew that feeling, and I knew what it meant. I was right – I’d retorn my ACL, done more damage on my cartilage, and I’d need more surgeries to fix it again. I was gutted. I was finally getting confidence, feeling like I was learning and progressing and moving, in love with what I was doing, and yet I had to go through everything again. And again. And this time the rehab would be longer, harder, and it’d take me much longer to get back to the mats – if I could do it at all.
Before that next surgery, I threw caution to the wind, trained as much as I could, and competed twice. I thought – if I have to be out, I’ll go out with a bang.
I was spitting mad at the world – for many reasons, including that my injury had made me turn down a position in the Peace Corps. I’d been meant to leave a month later. Turning down what had been a dream, and staying in a career where I was miserable, but had good health insurance, was very hard to do.
After surgery, I hit a real, hard depression. It wasn’t fair, it sucked, this had messed up not just my ability to grapple (and get that ever-needed grapplers-high), but had changed my professional career path and left me stuck in a job I was unhappy in. I’ve only recently started to crawl out of that hole and started going back to jiujitsu. Until next month, when my knees are hacked into again. From which I know I’ll have to rise again.
So, if I knew, would I do it? Would I have gone to judo or jiujitsu for those first classes, had I known how hard it would be, and the price I’d pay? Hell no. You don’t choose your obsessions, though. Grappling makes me happier than any other hobby I’ve ever had. It constantly challenges me, has given me a large family of brothers I’m incredibly fond of, and has given me a confidence in myself that I know now that it made me earn, with very hard work.
I regret that I’ve been injured pretty seriously twice. I hate that it’s changed my body and impacted my life, and I dream of the day when my knees are more or less normal. I hope that these surgeries will do that… eventually. And I don’t know that I can argue that jiujitsu is worth it. I don’t think that’s even the question – and if it is, not a question I can answer. But when my family and friends push me to quit, I just say – I love it too much to quit. If a day comes when I stop loving it, I’m sure I’ll think about stopping – but that day hasn’t come yet. So I keep on trying to rise through.
Since I haven’t updated in so long, I don’t think I can do it in one go. Its been a busy few months with little access to internet or time to write, so its gotten away from me.
The things that’ve happened:
- I competed in the State GI BJJ Tournament.
- I competed in a local exhibition women’s grappling cage fight.
- I got to attend a seminar with Michelle Niccolini.
- I trained as much as I possibly could.
- I battled some shitty depression.
- I had knee surgery.
1. I competed in the State Gi BJJ Tournament.
It was a blast! I competed for the first time at blue belt level. There were seven of us, and three (two, in the end) at my weight class. Not much in the way of competition, but I didn’t really go to compete. I’d freshly torn my ACL, and so hadn’t been able to train as if I were competing. I went on a whim – when would I get the chance to compete again? I was also very aware that I’d been a blue belt all of two months, and that I wasn’t at all at the same level as the women I’d be up against. But that doesn’t matter – I competed for the fun of it, to meet new people, and to challenge myself. I did well.
I went in with three goals. (1) To not get taken down and (2) to pull guard. I was terrified of what would happen if my opponent went for a takedown: put all their weight on my injured leg, sudden vision of myself screaming in pain and tapping before the match had even begun. So I wanted to pull guard. I drilled the hell out of how I was going to safely do it, and committed to it. I wanted to get to the ground as quickly as possible. (3) I wanted to get side control. I knew I was fighting a losing battle, and wanted to take top control at least once. I’m comfortable in guard. Guard is my happy place. I don’t like being on top, because I rarely get there with the guys, and I never know what to do there. So I challenged myself to get on top.
I managed all three of my goals, for every match. I was so happy!
I ended up losing both of my matches – one by submission (a bow & arrow choke my coach teased that I could’ve escaped) and the other by decision. By some twist of brackets, I medalled in both open and my weight division. The hilarity of a small state with tiny brackets!
I beat myself up pretty well about it afterwards, though. I don’t know why, except I wanted to do better than I did. Not in terms of win/lose, but more in how I felt about my jiujitsu. I came out of it feeling pretty solidly like I sucked. Its taken a long time to be okay with where I am technically, and not judge myself. A few months on, I’m happy about competing, and glad I went. I accomplished what I came to do, and made some friends with some awesome folk.
Up next… my Submission Grappling Cage Fight
I survived teaching the women’s seminar! Probably not the best way to start this post, but there we are. I’m not someone who enjoys lots of eyes on me, so I was glad I rose to the challenge. Were there things I’d do different? Absolutely. But did they have a good time and get a good taste of BJJ? I think so.
Around 20 women came. It was interesting – it took a bit for them to embrace the awkward, but good humor and some gentle pushing, and nearly everyone was participating.
It was harder to hold their attention than I expected. Lots of folks would try the technique once or twice and then stop. If it had been a normal class, I’d’ve pushed them to keep going – but, since it was a a seminar, I let them do whatever they felt comfortable with. We covered a range of the basics – basic submissions, transitions and escapes from mount, side control, and guard.
If I were to do one major thing different, I’d’ve had us practice techniques as a group. The general routine of our normal classes are – coach demonstrates technique. class disperses to try it themselves. But when our school just started, and we all were new, I remember that sometimes they’d line us up in rows with our partners, and we’d all do the same things at the same time. This hand goes here, then this arm goes there, and so on. Its a good way to teach a lot of beginners at once.
I was most happy that they all got into rolling at the end. That was the thing I was really curious about – would they drop their awkwardness and give rolling a try? But they did. All of them. And they looked great and had lots of fun and I was so impressed. I really hope some of them come back!
Still thinking about whether I’ll take up my coach’s idea of starting a women’s class. I suppose it depends on what my surgeon says? My first surgery is in May or June – and I haven’t talked to him yet about what the recovery looks like. If I’ll be fairly mobile within a few weeks, I could start teaching a women’s class this summer and see if it takes off. The second surgery, though, I know will have more of a slow recovery – so I’ll have to see how much I can do and how soon I could teach or train after it.
Has anyone taught while injured? Is it something you can do? I like to think that I could still teach with a bum leg, because it isn’t as physically demanding as training or active rolling. I’ve even been telling myself I can train with a bum leg, pretty soon after surgery. The reality is that I’ve been through this before, and I also know and trust my partners, and think I know what I can and can’t do in BJJ, even while recovering. BUT… I’m also willing to admit that I might be lying to myself, because I don’t want to have to spend four months off the mat again.
I’ll take what comes… but also work hard to convince my doctors that I’m to be trusted, and that I’ll do what I can with what I’m given . I feel a bit like a dog with his tail between his legs since, before my first surgery, my doctor was opposed to doing the surgery in the first place. Something about how he thought I’d go back to sport too soon and was going to risk his beautiful new graft. This didn’t happen because I was training too hard/too early! I want to drive that home with him… but I’m afraid that he’ll look at two judo injuries in less than two years and think I’m reckless and a risk and not support my returning to sport. Because the reality is that I’m NOT reckless – if anything, I’m super cautious. It’d been a year and a half since my first surgery, and I was just starting to up my game and get back into judo – carefully, controlled, and with people I trust. It just happened. Probably because my body hates me, but that’s just… blegh. Anyway, I’m not looking forward to seeing my surgeon again. Cause he’s an ass. And yeah.
We’ll see what happens.
My rage and recklessness is coming out now, though… In that I’ve signed up for the state gi tournament on the 18th. Even though my doctor doesn’t want me doing anything but “light walking, and maybe biking.” Not wanting me to damage anything worse. In this, I’m totally willing to admit I’m being reckless and stupid – but looking at the next year of rehab and recovery and not being able to train, I want to at least not have to give up everything at once. I was planning on doing this competition, so I’m going to still do it. I’m not going at it as a real competitor, or as someone looking to do as good as I can. I just want to have fun, and get a chance to roll competitively with another woman – which I never get to do. That’s it. I’m not trying to push my body or hurt myself – I just want to have fun. So I’m calling “light rolling” “light walking” and going ahead with my plans.
Fucking hell – my ACL is gone. Again. Which, even though I suspected it, is still a fucking blow.
They’ll do a surgery sometime soonish to take out the old screws and do a bone graft so they have somewhere to put new ones – and then give me a new ACL in about three months, once it heals. Much more complicated than last time, unfortunately.
No words for how much this sucks. At least ones that don’t involve cussing and throwing things around, which I’m kind of leaning towards right now. In all reality, it means I have to postpone Peace Corps service and hope I can pick it up later – which absolutely breaks my heart. Its been a dream and a plan for a long time, and I’m fucking pissed that this has happened, now of all times, and that it will have such a monumental effect on my plans. Not to mention that it was pretty freaking hellish work just to get back to the point where I could grapple again, and I hate the idea of going through that again. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to come back to the level I am now? Can I do it twice? Shit, I dunno. But I’m going to have to try.
I really freaking hate how much I love grappling. If I was willing to give it up, life would be so much easier! But I’m not. I love this crazy ‘sport’ and don’t want to have to stop, so that means doing what I need to do to be able to keep doing it.
It doesn’t really make me feel better, but I’m beginning to realize it might not be judo that’s the problem – its my body. Which might explain my tearing my stupid ACL twice in two years. Gah – it would seem I fall into a really high risk group for ACL injuries.
I knew that women in their teens and twenties are 5-10 times more likely to tear their ACLs than other gender and age groups – something about our hormones and bone structure – but I didn’t realize that folks whose joints are hypermobile (if you can bend your thumb till it touches your wrist, or lay your hands flat on the ground without bending your knees, and so on… I already knew I’m a gumby) – are also about five times more likely to tear their ACLs. Something about the ligaments already being less stable and more likely to hyperextend or dislocate.
So the uber-flexibility that gives me a small advantage in grappling also sets me up for injury. Lovely.
So anyway… Guess I’ll be sticking around. Can’t get rid of me. I’ll have a ragestorm at the world for awhile, and I’m about halfway through my bodyweight in tears – but eventually, I’ll move on. Dreams die hard, but this doesn’t have to be the end of everything.
Not sure I should update since, hell – I don’t have firm answers yet – but it looks likely that I re-injured my knee. As in, tore my ACL. Again.
As I’ve said, I’ve been working with my Judo teacher to get my confidence back with my throws. Since my surgery, I never really came back – randori scares me, and I didn’t trust myself with a lot of the throws and most partners. It didn’t feel right and I wanted my old fluid confidence back. So my coach and I have been working one-on-one for a few weeks, building up speed and force – picking one throw a day and drilling it until it is comfortable again.
On Saturday, we were working on Tai Otoshi. Which involves, if you don’t recognize the throw name, a pivot on your leg as you drop them to the ground. Which I suspect is a lot of pressure to put on my shittastic knee.
We’d just progressed through set-ups and non-resisting throws, and had reached a stage of very light randori. He would be shooting for leg sweeps only, I would be shooting for a tai’o. Which went fine the first couple times, but on the last, I felt my leg shift out of joint, as it had when I first injured it. A quick pop out and pop back in – something I hadn’t felt – or wanted to feel – since my surgery.
Just like the first time, I didn’t have a whole lot of pain, and minimal swelling – but it felt off. And off in the same way it had when I’d first injured it, a weird loose-itchy feeling in the back of my knee. So I immediately started crying. Overwhelming fear. Because, jesus, I really don’t want to go through that shit again, and I know what that pop-shift might mean. Insert panic and curse-words of your option.
Tuesday I went to my surgeon to get it looked at. She says it feels “bad, but not terrible” – loose, but maybe not “no more ACL anymore” loose? So they sent me for a KT-1000 (a test that measures your knee laxity, specifically regarding the ACL) and scheduled and MRI for Friday.
I was – and am – still really hopeful that its a sprain, not a tear. It feels crappy, but not quite as crappy-and-unstable as it did the first time I tore it. I think there’s a good chance its not that badly injured. Or, that’s what I’m telling myself so that I don’t throw fits. The KT-test was this morning, and it wasn’t promising – my injured leg is a lot looser than it should be. Which, again, doesn’t have to mean its torn, I suppose, it could mean its partly torn or stretched. Hope of all hopes.
But I’m worried and stressed and frustrated. All these fears I had about coming back to judo – realized. The sheer craptasticness of imagining going through another surgery and recovery. The fact that I would likely need to put Peace Corps service on hold. And sadness – because my coaches are recommending I stay out of judo and just grapple BJJ for awhile. It makes logical sense – even if my knee isn’t that badly injured, it clearly isn’t up to the rigors of judo yet… but I love throws. Judo was my first grappling-love, it’s my “flying lessons” and what got me hooked into grappling and then BJJ. My judo coach tells me of the great judoka he knows who are fierce and amazing at leg sweeps, and suggests that might become my “thing.” But it mostly depresses me, because I don’t want to give up the glorious feeling of a perfectly done hip throw. Sadness.
Anyway…I’ll update when I know anything for sure – but in the meantime, I just had to get it off my chest. Cause this fucking sucks.