Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Conference With My Sensei

I spent last weekend working out of town--at a meeting with editors from around the globe for my news organization. I missed my family, it was so good to get home, though difficult to have to go right back to work. To keep up the cardio, I did do some workouts in the tiny fitness center of the inn the event was at.

Last night, I had a conference with my sensei. (As I've said, while this school no longer calls itself a karate school--and few karateka would call it that either--it has retained a lot of the form of karate.) The meeting followed a kickboxing/sparring class--one of my first involving kicking since my ACL injury and operation. I was pretty disappointed with my sparring--I was facing another brown belt, a left-hander, whom I haven't sparred with before (he used to attend another school in the same organization). I haven't sparred with too many lefties, and I know they're supposed to be difficult for righties, but I thought ... I would do better.

My sensei said I should take things a step at a time, focus on feeling comfortable with my knee, and once that happens, we can talk about training and testing for the black belt.

He said it looked like I felt comfortable with the basics in grappling, though I will need work on the more advanced moves.

Best of all, he said that my hands looked terrific in sparring. He said I could probably rely mostly on my hands and just do a few simple kicks--roundhouse kick, front push kick, and occasionally a front-leg round kick to the opponent's leg, which is mostly to see if they'll drop their hands.

I was really pleased to hear his assessment--after all, he's a Muay Thai champion. But I pointed out that I felt like I hadn't sparred well that night. After years of work, I'm still dropping my hands, for instance.

He said I have to remember that I'm coming back after a severe injury and long layoff, and that in any case, it's really hard for righties to fight lefties--they encounter them so rarely, and their punches seem to come from the wrong angles.

It was interesting to hear him suggest relying mostly on my hands. Before my injury, I was more reliant on my kicking than most people in my school, and I felt my hands were a weakness.

But in my recovery from ACL injury, I did lots of shadow boxing and bag workouts, and I studied boxing. (Photo above, from Million Dollar Baby, with the fabulous Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Cool movie, very tough ending though.) It's nice to hear all that work improved my hand work. I want to also keep up the defensive movement I have begun to learn in the past few months.

It was a reassuring message from my sensei.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Special Risks: ACL Injuries In Kids

The New York Times online has a story about rising diagnoses of ACL injuries in kids. Doctors didn't used to think kids could get torn ACLs, but they can--the injuries can be seen in MRI scans. The increase in diagnosis may also be from kids participating in more competitive sports year round.

You can't just drill into the knee of kids to reconstruct an ACL, as you do with adults, because the kids' knees are still growing, and drilling into the growth plate damages the knee, as the article describes in one disturbing anecdote. There are some new surgical solutions for kids that don't damage the growth plate, but the long-term results are unknown.

As for adult ACL injury, the article says:
It is “the most common and most dreaded injury in professional sports,” Dr. Kocher said. The well-established operation to repair it often results in a full return to function. And doctors often recommend that adults have the operation because without the ligament the knee is not stable.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Important Lesson

I had a great class Friday night because I learned something crucial.

It was my first sparring class since ACL surgery in which I wasn't just boxing, I was kickboxing. We only did a little kicking, we were mostly working on boxing and moving, and the kicking my partner Larry did was very gentle. But as he predicted, my knee was sore this morning.

As my sensei was watching my defense, he pointed out that I wasn't backing up by shuffling, leading with my rear foot. Instead, I was leading with my front foot--which meant I crossed my legs stepping backwards.

You don't want to cross your legs in stand-up fighting.

Suddenly I realized why I sometimes feel so awkward in retreating--and why, prior to ACL surgery, my leg once buckled when I was moving backward: I was unknowingly moving my front, left, leg and putting my weight on it.

By shuffling backwards, you are in a position to counterstrike, and you maintain your balance better.

It might seem incredible that I would be unaware of what my own legs were doing. But usually it's a very stressful moment when you have to move back, and I just didn't realize I was doing it wrong.

Today, despite being a bit tired and sore, I went to two classes--a core class (punches, kicks, movement but no contact), and then a grappling class. I was so tired after the core class that I almost didn't go to grappling, but I stayed and I was glad I did. A couple of times the front of my left knee (which is minus the middle third of my patellar tendon, and hence pretty tender still) hit the floor when I was rolling, and that wasn't fun. But I am gradually picking up the body knowledge of grappling again.

Oh, and I went without my knee brace in the core class, which is a big step. I figure the knee brace will protect me from a blow to the knee, but core class is non-contact. I'm still favoring that leg and being careful in round kicks, but I'm working on losing that self consciousness.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Grappling Owies

Grappling takes some getting used to.

It's great cross training from striking arts because it's such a different workout.

But the body has to get accustomed to all sorts of traumas, ranging from the the very serious (e.g. ACL destruction) to, more frequently, the tiny and annoying. (My wife, who doesn't like hearing about this stuff, can stop right here!)

Since my body has become unaccustomed, I came out of my return to grappling with at least one little bruise on my arm (I never know how or when I get these), an abrasion on my shoulder from rotating on the mat underneath a guy weighing a lot more than me, and a couple of toenail slices on the top of my right foot. They're kind of like paper cuts, only from a toenail.

Three cheers, incidentally, for BJJ Steve, who recently went to a tournament as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and won all three of his matches. He even has videos of his matches on his site.

I'm still trying to figure out a new martial arts schedule that will include "core," kickboxing, grappling, and still leave lots of time for things like family and sleep after my long work day and three-hour round-trip commute. But I think I'm going to another grappling class Monday night.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Came, I Grappled, I Survived

I re-entered grappling and lived to blog about it!

I went to my first grappling class today since November, 2006, when my ACL got destroyed in grappling at my black belt test. It was somewhat uncomfortable kneeling on my knee, but I didn't twist my leg in any weird way and it was fine.

I did wear my knee brace--with a pad on top of it, to protect my grappling partner should he bang into the carbon-composite-and-titanium thing, which is really hard.

My buddy Larry, who went through ACL surgery before I did (for connoiseurs of ACL surgery: he had an allograft), wasn't at the class. So I was grappling with a young guy named Kareem, who weighs more than me, is a former wrestler, and is really, really strong. So it was kind of like grappling with a force of nature. He could just toss me off him when I was in the mount position, and about all I could hope to do when he was in the mount was to get him into my guard (and I couldn't always do that).

But he was solicitous of my knee's well being, and he didn't twist it or anything.

I was able to re-acquaint myself with a few grappling moves, and it was an excellent workout.

It seems that the Saturday grappling class is very small, so I may have to adjust my schedule a bit. We'll see.

But hey, I'm back.

Next week: kicking and being kicked in kickboxing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Here are a few more shots of Hawaii. The attractive woman holding up the palm tree is my wife of 25 years; the sea cliff is one of the southernmost points in the U.S.; and the 444-foot waterfall is Akaka Falls, in a rain forest.

We also did some snorkeling. We saw the pretty Hawaiian state fish, a little colorful thing called a humuhumunukunukuapua'a. It only attacks people when it's protecting eggs (and it just pecks at them, we heard).

I went back to a core karate class last night, it felt great after a bit of a break. Saturday I'm taking up grappling again. We'll see how the reconstructed ACL does....

Monday, February 4, 2008

Back From Hawaii

Our trip to Hawaii was great--very restorative, a real chance for my wife and me to reconnect.

The photo above is taken at a black-sand beach on the big island of Hawaii. I'm eyeing one of the big green (endangered) sea turtles resting on the beach there. (They don't look green in the air; for some reason, they look green underwater!)

I've added a link to yet another martial artist who's undergone ACL surgery, and in my absence I've gotten comments from others who have undergone or are undergoing the surgery. I know we've got a self-selecting group here, but it does feel like ACL damage is epidemic in the martial arts!