I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.

-Chuck Palahniuk,   Fight Club

I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m not sure how much of the night was spent trying to find a comfortable position for my leg, and how much was spent dreaming about finding a comfortable position for my leg. It’s the third night in my life I’ve spent like that. I’ve never broken a bone, (except possibly a toe), I’ve never even stayed overnight at a hospital, but three times in my life I’ve damaged a knee to the point that I couldn’t sleep properly. It’s always near the end of training, and it’s always doing something that should be easy. It probably goes to show that I’m careless with things I’m competent at. It sucks. It really sucks. As I was turning in the air, I could tell I wasn’t going to land on the leg I’d intended to. I thought I could swing my other leg around fast enough to get me on to my feet. Had I of bailed, I’d be fine. For a moment I felt silly for crashing a 540 kick in front of the people at gymnastics. Then I stop feeling silly and things move in slow motion. My body is about two feet off the ground, with my right foot swinging down from over top of me to try and land (left side of my right foot is approaching the ground). It contacts before my body does. My foot and lower leg stop. My upper leg does not. There’s a sickening feeling as my knee briefly dislocates towards the ground, and I can feel the tendons and ligaments stretching (tendons are supposed to do this a little. Ligaments are not.). Before my body hits the ground, I feel foolish again. I feel foolish for throwing a move that I’m not good at at the end of a practice on a day when I’d had to walk for thirty minutes in the cold and I hadn’t been able to jump properly all practice. I feel foolish for damaging the knee that was still perfect.

I feel foolish for trying to show off.

Then the pain comes. I’d be lying if I said it was the worst I’ve ever felt, or that it was blinding. It was neither. But it was tremendously disheartening. A string of obscenities followed, not from the pain, but from the pain that was to come. In that moment I could see 6 months of recovery, hobbling about, wincing with every step. I calm down, and focus on my breathing, and the pain gets better. Practice ends. People offer to help. I stubbornly refuse. I get home. I wake up, and it’s today. I call in to work. I can’t make it down stairs let alone to work. A shower helps a little. Gradually, while reading in bed, the mobility returns. I currently have almost full extension, and can get to about 30 degrees of flexion. This is a good sign. I don’t think it will be as bad as the first time, and only marginally worse than the last time, which saw me back training within two weeks. What follows are the reasons I’m thankful for this injury, and for the others I’ve sustained.

  1. Freedom -Once I was up on my feet, I joked with one of the other people who had been at practice that I’d spent 8 years favouring my good leg, afraid of re-injuring my other leg. Now I don’t have a good leg, and I can become a more balanced athlete. Fear comes from having something to lose. There’s no reason I can’t make my leg stronger than it is now. My other leg is certainly stronger than when I injured it. Now I don’t have a “perfect leg,” to lose; instead I have two legs that can be broken, and can be fixed, and can be built stronger than they are. 
  2. Feedback -I know that if I had been at the same fitness and strength levels as before I came back to karate I would not be walking today, and would probably need surgery. My knee is (well, was, and soon will be again) more flexible than it has ever been and stronger than it has ever been (pistol squats were pretty unthinkable two years ago). The muscles around my knee protected it from a more serious tear that could have required surgery. As well, this tells me that I need to improve my discipline even with moves that don’t seem dangerous. I took my mind off of what I was doing, panicked, and hurt myself. Lastly, this shows me how much I’ve learned about my own body, and the body in general since my first injury. Rather than feeling at a complete loss for how to proceed, I feel comfortable assessing different aspects of what I’ve done, and am beginning to think of a regimen to get me back into fighting form (after a few days rest that is).
  3. Challenge -It’s relatively easy to keep your spirits up and persevere through something like the Tough Mudder, or even a black belt grading. You’ve got this great goal that you’re about to achieve. You’ve put lots of work in, and you’re finally going to be rewarded if you can just get through the next few hours. Injuries, on the other hand, are a different sort of challenge. They come uncalled and they seem unfair. Perseverance is the only option. You put in weeks, months, and sometimes years of work to heal completely, and what are you left with? You’re back to where you started. The challenge then, is to keep up hope: to see every difficulty as an opportunity to grow as a person and to meet the difficulties head on. There will be pain. There will be days when you don’t feel like stretching, or squatting, or getting out of bed.But at the end you’ll move smoothly and easy again, and nobody will ever know that you were injured. But you’ll know, and you’ll know that you paid for your right to move freely with your blood sweat and tears.