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Dbryan's picture
Reflections of the injured Karateka

Dear Silverfox Karateka,

Yes you. The 40 something (and up) leaving the Dojo, waking up the next morning and instantaneously reaching for the Ibuprofen bottle fixed permanently to your nightstand. How are you? As I’m writing this, I’m finding it almost therapeutic and may continue it as my own form of “martial arts journey”. I am not a Doctor, but I would like to base this on my personal experiences and hope that my fellow “Grey Haired Bushi” will also share their thoughts, stories, and home remedies.

Currently, I have reaggravated an old injury in the middle of my “reenergizing/midlife crisis” exploration into Karate. I was diagnosed with 5 herniated discs in my lower back 3 and a half years ago causing me serious pain when walking. Part of the problem is that I have a genetic defect near my tailbone causing an odd curvature that nothing can be done for. (Doctors estimate Im roughly an inch shorter because of this, but I make right turns walking very well) :-)

For 6 months, I could not walk correctly nor even tie my work boots. As you can imagine this becomes even more complicated when you are a construction project manager for a living. Anyways, after visiting multiple doctors who told me the only options I had were:  A.) Time, and B.) Spinal Fusion, I chose Option A and went through an extremely depressing 6 months. In that time frame, I tried everything imaginable. Now to be clear, I am not advocating any treatment nor am I here to argue with anyone’s ideas. What works for you Works if it doesn’t remove it. (Thanks Iain Abernethy ) What finally worked for me was not only the time, but also Physical Therapy worked for me.  I entered a program which included spinal decompression, strength and stretching. Within a few months I was finally able to get full range of motion back. You cannot imagine the joy of being able to tie a shoe or put on a sock when you haven’t been able to accomplish these monumental tasks for half a year. So, you’re probably saying to yourself  “Great…. where is he going with this”?  Good question. I’m not sure!

The conclusion I have at this point is simply this: without going through those dark times, I would not have found my way back into Karate. At the suggestion of my Physical Therapist I decided to take up martial arts again and 2.5 years later I could not be happier. I would not have discovered practical applications, the teachings of my current instructor Keith Freeman, Iain Abernethy, Peter Consterdine, Leigh Simms, and I would not have discovered so many fellow “Grey Haired Bushi” that I now communicate with and consider friends.

“But you reinjured yourself?!!!“ 

I reinjured myself because I put blinders on and only focused on my training and not including the Physical Therapy with part of my martial arts journey. Acceptance that you cannot do at 40+ what you could do at 20 is easy on the surface but In the mind, that’s a whole other battle.

Scenario: You go to class, have a great night working bunkai drills, spar with a 20-year-old, go through Heian Nidan as smooth as glass and its easy to forget your age. (which may be part of the problem?) :-) But my advice is always be aware that the journey can continue, but always remember to give yourself a good listen to.

Carry on my fellow Grey Haired Bushi. And do not forget the Ibuprofen!

SimonSutherland's picture

Great post.

I have officially retired here in France (minimum age 62) and I now feel fitter than at any other time of my life (anything above 0 is good). Yes, I did start karate at 18 but stopped at 21. I then played golf, a lot. But I also did many business trips around Europe and ate lots but not well - on expenses. So, back then I couldn't really say that I was fit. I restarted karate in a 3K club just over 10 years ago (52 years old) and had my fair share of careless injuries - two broken fingers and a displaced bone in my wrist from a badly timed mae geri / gedan berai that bent my wrist back.

But in these last 10 years or so, I've really got back into karate. I had a full cardiac exam at that time and the doctor told me I was fit enough to do any sport that I wanted. I've discussed with my instructor and told her that if I didn't go "full out" in the class, I would feel that it wasn't worth my attending (so many of the young teenagers think its a social club and chat all the way through the class and hardly put any effort into their learning - a red face doesn't mean that you are going to pass out).

Like most people in this forum, I too felt unconfortable with bunkai that had to start with an "oi zuki" coming at you from the next village and that missed key actions of the kata (arms left dangling in the air or added as an after-thought). So I am really glad that I discovered practical karate via mainly Iain's but other websites.

Now I continue at my 3K club as a form of exercise and because I have helped and continue to help interested youngsters understand karate better and help develop their techniques. But for me I have realised that the exercises that Iain has shown me for the kata fit my new interest in karate and they are less strenuous than bouncing around a dojo after 12-16 year olds. I have a 18kg punch bag at home that I can punch fairly well - even with my displaced bone in my wrist (because I know how to punch correctly too). I have pads and some kids come around to the house to practise this new method of learning about karate - 4 stage kata exercises. We spar very little because I have not yet built that into the exercises we do together - but it will not involve lots of flailing arms and legs, hoping for hits !!! I wear a knee-brace because I have a torn meniscus - probably all those kiba-dachis - urgh ! But like this I can do all the exercises - jumping up and down gets to it sometimes - but I tend to only have to do them (yes I do stop) during warm-ups. Now I make sure that nobody uses a mae geri on that knee - just in case.

I started doing Iain's 30 minute Warrior Workout - but I've adapted it ( I do 7/8 exercises at a time, so an approx. 5 minute Warrior Workout and I can't do push-ups so I do 'elbow bends'). I might try the full 30 minutes one day but then again I might not.

So, I come back to one of Iain's main points - why do you do karate ? I do it for fun (lots of material to learn), I hit things, correctly (because its fun). I help others (because its fun and rewarding). I don't enter competitions (don't get me started !), I don't spend much time getting hit (except by 12-16 year olds - because its not that much fun) and for me, the by-product is that I do feel fitter than I have probably ever done.

I have also come to understand better my body and its strengths, weaknesses, its ability to move, or not, in certain directions/ways. Also, given my age and my interests, I have also a better understanding of what I can do and what I want to do. I go full out but no further (like Einstein said 'Make things as simple as possible but no simpler') and with this new knowledge, I hope to continue to follow this passion for many years to come.

Karate has done this for me. There's so much it can offer, we need to take the parts that are interesting for us, adopt and adapt them.

I'm glad to hear that you made your way back to karate and can tie your shoe laces now. I am shorter than "normal" but only in the legs. My mum used to say that I had Duck's disease - short legs - and that I took after my dad who was the same. (My brother inherited the "full leg length" gene and so is nearly 6 foot tall. My son has the same gene so he's over 6ft.) The good thing about having short legs is that touching your toes is so much easier :-).

Stay healthy and happy karate-ing - from someone who's been grey-haired for many years now. We can do it !

P.S. Does anyone else feel the aches kick in 2 days after the training, rather than the next day? Is this the body takings its time to adapt / react to the effort I've put in ?

Dbryan's picture

SimonSutherland wrote:
P.S. Does anyone else feel the aches kick in 2 days after the training, rather than the next day? Is this the body takings its time to adapt / react to the effort I've put in ?

Thanks for the encouragement! Yes I feel the aches in pains exactly the same. (especially the legs). I find what helps me during my "rest days" is basic stretching followed by a nice walk if the weather is cooperating.