Injury 101: Modify to Maintain Momentum

Injury is a part of life.  While our bodies are amazingly adaptable and adept at healing, they all break down on occasion.  When this happens, we may need to adjust our actions to give ourselves time to heal.  As martial artists, this goes against our instinct to push ourselves and test our limits.  We push ourselves to work harder, train longer, kick higher, and push-up, well, lower.  We resist the idea of slowing down or going easy.

But as hard as it may be, we must learn to listen to our bodies.  We must learn to recognize the difference between pushing for growth and pushing beyond what is healthy.  And when we recognize a limitation, we must respect it.  However, respecting a limitation does not mean training needs to come to a halt.

When you first become aware of a physical limitation due to an injury or medical condition, notify your instructor in writing.  Let your instructor know what you know, including any diagnosis, planned follow-ups, and medical instructions as it pertains to what you do in class.  Even if you do not believe your in-class activity will change, it is important that you let your instructor know.

If your limitation will have an impact on your class participation, you and your instructor can come up with a plan together.  In-class modifications can range greatly.  You may do fewer sets of aerobic exercises, shorter stances, only one side, limited mat-work, etc.  Whatever your limitation, your instructor can work with you to find a plan for your class participation.  Even if your doctor advises you to have no physical movement while you heal, you can still come to class and watch; take notes and practice mentally so that you don’t fall as far behind.  Coming to class and doing what you can is always better than a prolonged absence.

In addition to having a plan for modified activity, you may need to make additional adjustments in class.  This is true for everyone, not just students with a known injury.  Your instructor’s job is to push you and the class to new levels.  Your job is to go as far as you can safely.  If you are ever concerned for your health or safety, it is up to you to act.  You can do this without disrupting the class; if you have a medical reason not to do something, then don’t do it!  After class you can let your instructor know why you made the adjustment.

Proper and smart modifications will help you get the most out of your training.  While you may be tempted to just push through the pain, this may limit your ability to heal and ultimately increase the length of your injury.  On the other hand, using any ache as an excuse to miss class means you never grow and progress.  Whether it’s a minor discomfort or a real injury, your in-class training should continue no matter what.  Injury may be part of life, but for a student of martial artists, training is too.  Come to class, train smart, and modify if needed.

The Secret to Becoming a Black Belt

When we first commit to a new endeavor, motivation surges through us, propelling us forward.  We are inspired by our new undertaking, filled with visions of success and the excitement of the journey ahead.  However, this initial high eventually wanes, and so too does our intense fervor when it becomes clear that our vision will not be so easily obtained.  There will be challenges that we did not anticipate, and our initially hazy image of what it meant to dedicate ourselves to this goal is replaced by firsthand knowledge of the day to day reality of what the hard work looks and feels like.

It is at this point that we are faced with a choice: we can either surrender to the challenges or we can persevere through them.  If we chose to continue, what motivates us must evolve.  A simple desire to achieve our ultimate goal will no longer be enough to drive us forward.  Instead, we become motivated by the process, not the end product.  We find joy in the work.  We live in the now.

In martial arts, rank progression is the initial motivation for many would-be students.  Achieving a Black Belt is a tangible and seemingly “ultimate” goal of joining a martial arts program.  But, as it turns out, there is a lot of work required to get to Black Belt!  There is even a lot of work required to earn your first rank.  A martial arts student is not able to live off of a desire for Black Belt alone.  Those who are able to adjust their expectations and embrace the practice and work itself are not daunted by this new reality.  They are able to find motivation to come to class and to practice, not just to “become a Black Belt.”  They are fueled by an internal motivation.  For those who are solely focused on the external motivation of rank advancement, there are many obstacles.  They will not feel they are advancing fast enough, will worry about the pace that others are moving, or will feel bored with practicing the same things repeatedly and, sooner or later, this goal-centric motivation will not be enough to keep them in class.

That’s the secret to becoming a Black Belt.  First, join a martial arts program.  Second, don’t quit.  But the only way to accomplish this seemingly simple task is to find ways to let your motivation grow and change with the new challenges you face along the way.  The desire to become a Black Belt alone is not enough.  What you need is a desire to do the work of showing up to class each day.  And then one day, you will realize that you reached that “ultimate” goal of Black Belt.  But now you understand that you are just beginning a much larger journey.