Tuesday, July 31, 2007


My biggest worry right now isn't that I'll reinjure my knee, though I do think about that. (The photo at left is my knee 11 days after the ACL operation, which was four months ago.) My biggest fear is that I won't be able to kneel on my left knee--which would be a serious problem in grappling, which often requires you to get on one or both knees. It hurts to kneel on my left knee now, because of the incision and the removal of the middle third of my patellar tendon. My doctor has said that the knee might always be tender post operation.

I'm determined to get that black belt. At the moment I have to hope that as the knee continues to heel I'll be able to kneel.

I talked with "Hulk," one of my buddies in martial arts, about the new sensei at our school, whom I haven't met. Hulk (I call him that not only because of his incredible musculature at age 56, but also his tendency occasionally to get angry and gain superhuman strength) likes the discipline and focus of the new sensei, who's a champ at Muay Thai kickboxing. I wonder how the new sensei will react to my return, and my initial inability to do everything. Hulk thinks he'll be fine.

Yesterday I got in 30 minutes of cardio at the gym--10 minutes on the rowing maching, 20 minutes on the ellipitcal--and I tried crunches on one of those big bouncy Swiss balls. My plantar fasciitis--pain in the "fascae" tissue at the bottom of the foot--afterwards was fairly light (it usually takes impact work like jogging to make it hurt a lot).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back to the Gym

Saturday I had my best cardio workout since my ACL operation. I went to my gym and, after pushups, situps, crunches and some s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g, which I haven't done often, I tried out the rowing machine for 10 minutes, then went on the elliptical for 20. It felt really good.

I've gained about 8 pounds since the operation, but now I can start upping the cardio workouts, I hope that will burn off some of the weight.

Today, after chores, I want to do some physical therapy homework (mostly involving bending or slowly torquing my left knee with weight on it) and then some shadow boxing and a bag workout. I've got a little bag in the basement--I would guess 50 pounds. It's not long enough to do kicking and punching (I mostly kick low, due to flexibility issues at my age, but also since I don't want people catching my leg in sparring). Heck, I can't do much kicking yet anyway. But my sensei said to start using the bag for punches, so I've been trying to do so. (The first time, I realized how unconditioned my hands had become to punching a bag, even with wraps and gloves on.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Training after ACL Surgery

I'm eagerly looking forward to my return to martial arts training, which (depending on my doctor's say) will be in a matter of weeks or perhaps a couple of months. But I didn't want to turn into a sofa vegetable in the meantime, so I had to figure out a way to work out while I couldn't attend class.

ACL surgery itself is extremely painful, your mobility is extremely limited, and I found it difficult to do much of anything at first. I did have lots of physical therapy to do at home as well as in the therapist's office, so this was my first step.

After reading this web page from GrappleArts I started doing push-ups and crunches--I couldn't do sit-ups yet because locking my feet under a couch would put pressure on my knee. I was able to maintain my ability to do 50 push-ups in one set, although I had to come up with variations on push-ups to avoid total loathing of them. For instance, at physical therapy, I now do 50 or 55 pushups with my legs supported on one of those big balancing balls. At home, I'll do 25 pushups with a 4-pound medicine ball under one hand, switch and do 25 pushups with the ball under the other hand. Sometimes I'll finish with 10 diamond push-ups--where you put your hands under your chest and form a diamond with your index fingers and thumbs.

I've started doing sit-ups also (knees bent, feet locked down) with my therapist's permission. But I think the crunches have helped a lot with my core--I'm doing 50 straight forward, and 50 angling to each side.

I also use the physical therapist's equipment for as much of a cardio workout as I can. For instance, I'm now using something like a StairMaster, but instead of only using it for 10 minutes, I double the time to 20.

And at my sensei's suggestion, I'm doing slow kicks--four different kinds of kicks, but extending the kick over a slow five count, holding for five, and then retracting for five. About a month and a half ago, I was finally able to balance my weight on my left leg again--I always follow my doctor's and PT's instructions--so I can now do slow kicks with both legs.

What can't I do? Anything that involves torquing my left leg with weight on it, like a roundhouse kick. Any fast, snapping kicks with that leg. I can't kneel on my left knee yet--something that worries me when it will come to grappling some months from now. I can't run well yet--I start limping within five minutes, even on a treadmill.

But I finally recently got permission from my physical therapist to return to a regular gym. The elliptical machine is fine on my knee, I'm going to try the rowing machine. And I'm going to begin hitting the heavy bags at the gym--I've been doing that carefully at home, now I'm going to try it with more vigor.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Taking up martial arts in middle age

Martial arts have changed my life.

I took up karate in 2001, when I was 44 years old. A doctor cut off a patch of skin cancer on my ankle a few months earlier, and my once-slim waist was fast approaching 40 inches. The cancer showed me I wasn't exempt from illness; my poor condition made me realize I was cruising for a heart attack.

Since taking up martial arts, I lost enough weight (close to 30 pounds when I'm in fighting trim) to cut my pants size to 36. I've dropped cholesterol pills, as my bad cholesterol level dropped and the good cholesterol level rose. My wife, bless her heart, caused a stir at a family holiday in the past year when she said that my body is harder now than when we got married (I was 26 at the time).

Martial arts are a great stress reliever. They've also been, to reach for an overused word, empowering: in a prior job, I was being verbally cudgeled by a room of bosses for a mistake made by one of my subordinates, and it was extremely satisfying to look around and think, "I can knock anybody in this room down."

I've also made great friends at my school. It's amazing how close you can get to people when you're punching, kicking and wrasslin' with each other.

Now I'm facing my biggest challenge in martial arts. In November, at a black belt test, I was injured with only three minutes remaining. A black belt facing me in grappling swept my left leg, and instead of my foot moving, my knee moved sideways far enough to rip my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in half. I didn't get my belt.

It took me several months to realize how bad my injury was. After trying to strengthen my leg for a month and a half, I returned to class for a couple of weeks--and my left leg kept buckling every time I put my full weight on it. Reluctantly, I went to a new orthopedic doctor and got the bad news. I had my operation on March 27.

In early August, I'm going to talk with my doctor again to find out when I can return. His original prediction was that I could go back to non-contact martial arts six months after the operation. My recovery has been ahead of schedule, so I'm hoping he'll give me the green light earlier.

In later posts, I'll talk about what it's like recovering from ACL reconstruction--a very common surgery--and what I've been doing to try to keep in shape.

CORRECTION: Prior versions of this post said I started martial arts in 1991--I meant 2001.