Why Martial Arts Instructors (& Stunt Performers) Make Bad Patients

Why Martial Arts Instructors and Stunt Performers Make Bad PatientsOver the weekend, my dojo was rented by Jitsu Canada to run a local grading. I hold an intermediate rank in their style (Shorinji Kan Jiu jitsu) in addition to being a Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu 5th Dan. Helping out by being a partner/attacker for these gradings is a guilty pleasure. I like helping out by putting a little extra pressure on the candidates while using my skills to help keep them safe while doing so.

Early in the grading, they were doing a striking “V”, basically an intensity drill to test their ability to strike incoming attackers. The candidate was moving in aggressively as I stepped into attack, leading him to step into my foot, catching my big toe and injuring it. It hurt quite a lot at the time, but I tried to soldier on to keep helping out, insisting I was fine. It wasn’t very long afterwards that a white belt happened to innocently step into my foot and bump it slightly, causing me to step off the mats again. Chris Sensei (who is ranked Shodan in that style in addition to Can-ryu) told me I should get off the mats. As I started to protest that I was fine, he asked me would you let one of your own students continue in this situation. I opened my mouth, then closed it again and stepped down. 

The longer I sat, the more I realized that my toe was more than just stubbed. The next day there was some visible bruising and it was sore to walk on it. I figured it’s probably a sprain so I’d just take it easy on it. A few people spoke up and said I should have it x-rayed because it could be a pressure fracture and I should make sure it’s being properly taken care of. At first, I didn’t want to, figured I knew my own body better, so why waste time in doctor’s offices? I eventually realized I was just being stubborn. I went in for an x-ray yesterday.

The Reward for Our Excuses

As a martial arts instructor, practitioner, as well as a stunt performer, my work depends on me being at the top of my game physically. A part of me doesn’t want to admit to having any injuries that may limit what I can do while I heal. I think many people who do physical work like me probably feel the same way. We tell ourselves we can work it off and that we can just be careful. And sometimes that’s true. But it is always safer to get injuries checked out by a doctor to be sure exactly what they are so they can be properly treated. As I say to my students all the time, it’s better to take proper care of injuries so you don’t make things worse and extend your healing times by trying to go back to normal activity too soon.

So I will sit and eat my humble pie… and replace my running with biking for my high intensity interval training workouts, be selective of what types of strength training I do, and, of course, minimize high impact activities like grappling, sparring, parkour, gymnastics, etc, until it’s healed. I was told that if I don’t hear back from the doctor, it’s not broken, only sprained. So far I haven’t heard back, so I am cautiously optimistic. Plus, it seems to be healing fairly quickly (thankfully!). If it’s only a level 1 sprain, I could be back to normal in a few days. 🙂

Do you have trouble letting injuries fully heal before going back to training? If so, how do you cope? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “Why Martial Arts Instructors (& Stunt Performers) Make Bad Patients

  1. Im in my mid 30s and started training Jiu-Jitsu about a year and half ago. First injury was to my knee after landing badly practicing side breakfalls (holding onto partners Gi). We put some ice on it and went back to training as it seemed okay and I didnt want to miss out. I let my Sensei know that it was hurting the next day and although I had no intention of going to the doctor, he insisted and sure enough when I finally went, turns out I had injured the meniscus. It took a little while to heal but that breakfall is now one of my favourites. A little while after that I started experiencing pain in my lower back/leg which became progressively worse over time to the point where I could barely function and everything had to come to a stop, training included. It took a few months to be properly diagnosed but eventually it was discovered that I had a herniated disc resulting in nerve damage causing chronic and at times unbearable pain. I look back at that time I realize the complete lack of body awareness I had and how much I let my drive for training overide everything else. Thankfully my Sensei had more common sense than I did and frequently reminded me to listen to my body and take it easy. There were a few times when he had to actually tell me to stop doing something because it was obviously causing pain. Had it not been for him I would have continued to ignore what my body was trying to tell me and could have easily created more problems for myself. Its been a little over a year since those initial symptoms and Im back to training but much wiser now. I pay attention to those pain signals and have learned the difference between good pain and bad pain. I balance my love of training with common sense and when something is hurting or doesnt feel right I speak up and limit or change what I do in that moment. There is still have some minor nerve damage but aside from needing to strengthen my core muscles, Ive more or less healed from those injuries and hope to keep it that way as I progress in my training 🙂

    1. It’s a good thing for your Sensei! I like to think I’ve become a little more sensible, but sometimes I can lapse a little if it’s something I REALLY want to do. I usually come around to my senses though.

  2. I find that if I am training while injured, it’s harder to focus because all I can think about is my injury and how to not aggravate it. This is bad for many reasons: 1) you’re not paying attention to those around you or instructions; 2) you may over compensate for your injury and ending up making the injury worse or getting a new injury. You can train injured, but you need to let your sensei and your partners know what your limitations are.

    I’ve had a lot of injuries over the years, all caused by my other activities and not martial arts. I think the most important thing is to listen to your body and when in doubt, see a doctor/physio (better safe than sorry). Honestly, I’m grateful for the injuries because they taught me a lot about myself and being patient/humble.

    It’s ok to take a rest. I know people worry they’ll become out of practice, out of shape, miss out on fun events, or just stop altogether. The truth is, if it’s an important enough part of your life, and chances are it is, you’ll get back into it eventually…whether it’s martial arts, going to the gym, etc. Even if it takes you a year or 2 or 3, you’ll come around.

    Plus, being injured gives you a fantastic opportunity to focus on other parts of your life: you can spend quality time with friends/family, explore new interests or practice other components of martial arts. For example, if you can’t do high impact, you can focus on increasing your flexibility. If you can’t do anything because you’re completely immobile, you can practice visualization training, study terminology, watch videos, or read cool martial arts blogs. ;P

    Being injured is only the end of the world if you make it that way.

  3. I was 43 when I started training jiu-jitsu. I broke my big toe the first week while drilling takedowns. It didn’t slow me down much — I just taped it up and kept on going to class. I did make sure to tell my instructors what my situation was, and I would sit out if things were not going well.

  4. Great post Lori! I find it’s really hard to reduce my activity level when I’m injured, both on the mat and especially on the farm. The chores don’t take care of themselves, and I hate to miss Jujitsu class. I’m currently awaiting MRI results on a knee injury from a randori mishap a week ago, and it’s frustrating to follow my doctor’s orders to not train while we figure out how bad the injury is. I’ve realized that it’s better to heal, than to make the injury worse. While I may not be able to use my leg for the time being, I can still work my upper body and practice with my nunchaku and kali sticks.

    Take a break and give your body the time it needs to heal. You earned it!

    1. Thanks Val! It is getting a lot better. Not 100%, but better. I am going to do some training on it today… carefully.

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