As my students know, a few months ago I suffered a major ankle injury while competing in an obstacle course race. I suffered a level three sprain (which in this case is worse than a break), along with two torn ligaments that required surgery. It has put me in the injured list, preventing me from running, sparring, certain exercises at the gym, and pretty much anything with the martial arts. Wait, cancel that last one…

There’s no doubt injury will slow us down, particularly as we get older. Whether the injury occurs in the dojo (it should be noted I’m incredibly proud of my safety record in my 20+ years teaching), on the sports field, or gardening (one of my students told me she hurts herself more in her garden than she does in class), injuries can limit us, especially depending on where the injury is on our body, and of course the severity of it.

So what do we do when an injury comes? An example is Jasmine Geyer, who I taught many years ago (sadly, she and her family moved to Texas, so she no longer trains with me), who broke her arm at school. Jasmine was a strong fighter, known for incredibly effective punches, but not much of a kicker. As what we lovingly refer to as a “dojorat,” or someone who loves their training and is always at the dojo, she continued to train, even with the cast on her arm. Well, what do you think we worked on during those weeks? You guessed it: kicks! We worked on her balance (under close watch so she wouldn’t fall and further injure the arm), speed, power, coordination, accuracy, etc. of her kicks. Sure enough, shortly after the cast came off, she returned to sparring class, and immediately started to use those kicks. Suddenly her kicks were just as devastating as her punches.

In my case, I’m limited in what I can currently do with the ankle. Just like Jasmine couldn’t work on her punches, I can’t pivot or move my feet with the same swiftness I can when I’m healthy, but my mind is just as sharp as ever. Over the last few months, most of my training has been done from the comfort of my desk chair, doing mental repetitions of my forms or techniques. When I am on the floor working out, I go extra slow and work on the exact placement of every move so I commit it to my mind. When the ankle is healed, I’ll speed up to my previous level of intensity.

Of course, always listen to your doctor’s advice, but make sure your doctor knows that you may still do things that don’t involve the injured area. Some doctors hear “martial arts” and assume we slam each other around every class. As our students know, that’s simply not the case. Doctors often recommend patients to get active (to one extent or another) after injury so that the range of motion and strength in the area returns as soon as possible.

An injury doesn’t mean you’re out forever, or months, or even weeks. In fact, just like the example of Jasmine, an injury can be an opportunity for us to improve on weak areas that otherwise we don’t give enough attention to.

Any thoughts? Questions? Want to add your two cents? Comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Mike Delfino