Training with injuries – the recovery

armEvery time I get injured and I see doctors they always suggest total rest to avoid aggravating the injury.  I somewhat disagree about total rest being the best solution for my fast recovery. Here is my latest first-hand experience.

On 7 April 2016 I sustained a serious injury: while demonstrating a leading hook punch against the shoulder of a 97Kg student of mine I tore the tendon of my left bicep.  Difficult to say how that happened after hundreds of thousands of these punches I have thrown in my life but there I was:  A&E at Cambridge Addenbrookes’ hospital at 8:30pm, just after the end of the Thursday’s lesson.  I managed to get a consultant to see me in emergency the following day and, although he advised I could have a nearly normal life leaving the arm as it was, I decided to get operated on the first available slot.  The operation took place at Addenbrookes hospital at 12 noon on 14 April, 7 short days later.

I was released from hospital on the same evening; my left arm was on a sling and I received precise instructions about what I could and should not do with the operated arm.  Basically I could squeeze the hand and move my fingers around; lifting absolutely nothing, not even the arm’s own weight for the first 6 weeks and then no more than a cup of tea for the following 6 weeks.  When I was still in Italy 20 years ago I saw my master sustaining a similar injury which also needed a surgical procedure and he carried on training while he was wearing his sling.  By the same token I had a strong opinion that total rest, which would have driven me to total craziness while make me very unfit, was not the best option for me.

Here is how it really went, while keeping myself safe and injury free:

  • I missed the Thursday lesson on the day I was operated (14 Apr), most people were joking about me turning up at class.
  • I was in pain the Friday and a bit on the Saturday (15 & 16 Apr); did not work on Friday and took a total of 3 pain killer tablets. That was the total pain killer intake for the whole time after surgery.  Friday was the only day I actually missed from the office and worked from home, doing the minimum necessary.
  • I could not really move fast so, while I accepted to miss the Sunday (17 Apr) lesson, I decided to walk, with arm in sling, all the way to Kelsey Kerridge where we train and watch half of the lesson; total walked distance about 7Km. Being in the room with other people training made me feel very well.
  • Walked to the office on Monday up and worked a full day but missed the lesson on that evening (18 Apr).
  • Turned up at the lesson on Tues and run the beginners course (19 Apr); I kept the injured arm totally safe in its sling and demonstrated everything with my right arm and legs; in this occasion I did the minimum amount of warm up and stretching exercises to get ready but did not break a sweat during the whole lesson.
  • On Weds (20 Apr) I also run a lesson for Cambridge University and managed to show all combinations with one arm and two legs or by asking someone to demonstrate what I was asking for; I realised then it was easier than I imagined.
  • On Thurs (21 Apr) I continued with the beginners course.
  • On Friday 22 Apr I had the first check-up with the consultant, together with X-rays; the operation went as well as expected and it was progressing well. Next check-up three weeks later.
  • During the following three weeks I started to take part in all warm up sessions and increasing the number and intensity of exercises, getting to a decent aerobic cardiovascular workout. I was using my legs to kick any possible combination while still keeping the arm at rest.  I received some good advice from one of my physiotherapists which helped a faster recovery of motion and strength.
  • On 13 May I had the 4 weeks check-up which confirmed a very good progress of recovery and rehabilitation. The consultant suggested keeping the arm away from full power exercises for the following 5 months.
  • Within the next few weeks I started to use the left arm for very gentle punching, just for straight punches and still avoiding block of any technique.
  • On Monday 6 June I did my first sparring session since the operation; I trained just with beginners, females under 65Kg. This allowed me to perform most of my techniques at a slow pace, keeping the left arm in guard position but without using it for any form of attack or defence and just punching with the right arm.
  • On the same week I also started swimming once per week; about 40 lengths on the first attempt, 60 slow ones on the second one and 60 at a good pace the following times.
  • Over the following weeks I kept training kickboxing regularly and increasing pace and strength to most techniques. I pay lots of attention to avoid direct strikes on the left arm and still use it just for straight punches but I feel at least 80% in shape.

Having spent a couple of months at a slow pace training, carefully avoiding tough classes and technique I realised how much fitness I lost in terms of strength, power and endurance which I am now working hard to recover.  On the positive side I was supposed to do next to nothing for 3 months and then start a slow recover afterwards while I managed to cut that by two thirds: less than 3 months after the operation I am feeling great.

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Martial arts and binge drinking

Massimo kicking AndreaI recently went on a holiday where I spent ten days in different places in France and Italy. I noticed, once more, how these countries have a very different drinking culture compared to England where I live.  In most southern European countries it is very much about drinking in small amounts while socialising.  Although British drinking culture is also associated to socialising, there appears to be more  emphasis on the drinking itself.  The result is often having seriously unhealthy side effects with people experiencing hangovers  which incapacitate their activities the day after drinking, or some times longer.  This post discusses a simple martial arts orientated solution to binge drinking.

One of my students was pointing out, a few nights ago, how he drunk excessively on a Friday night and felt awful  throughout the whole weekend.  He felt totally frustrated as he was incapable of doing anything physical.  I find it strange that people want to drink to this extent knowing they will feel sorry for it.  Then, the next time they have a chance, they are back to the same binge drinking.

So I suggested to this student a simple and practical advice which I have been applying to myself since  I can remember.  Force yourself to train, just turn up to a class and train.  Training martial arts when hungover is a very fast way of recovering for the following reasons:

  • The need to move fast will have a cardio vascular effect which will help sweating and getting rid of toxins
  • The release of adrenaline will sharpen your mind
  • Drinking plenty of water at the end of training will re-hydrate your body and make you fill better

Having advised to date a reasonably large number of students I can draw this conclusion: perhaps the first time you train when hungover it will feel very weird but, in my experience, it will have the following long term effects:

  • Helping faster recovery from hangovers, e.g. shorter hangovers
  • Better functioning in the long term
  • Fostering the reduction of drink intake by reminding you, next time you drink, that training the following day is not optional

Here is the story of another student of mine called DB.  He was a computer programmer who used to have a simple life style:

  • Monday to Friday: work 8-9 hours, go home, cook dinner, eating while watching TV and drinking no less than a bottle of wine or a few cans of beer, every single time.
  • Weekends: finding one or two parties around the region, attending them and drinking all night, feeling hungover and sorry the following day.

His perception of his drinking was hardly ever  excessive as he rarely felt drunk but he noticed how his physical and mental performance was decreasing. At age 30 he felt like an old man; he realised  how sluggish his reaction time was and how bad his physical performance was in terms of speed, power and endurance.  When he joined our club he soon realised how people of a similar age, or even much older, could perform so much better than he did.  He progressively reduced his alcohol intake to the point he was going totally dry for weeks and get the occasional drink at parties over weekends.  His will to gain martial art performance pushed him to reduce his drinking by 80-90% within months. Training martial arts helped him to understand how badly he was treating his body when unaware of the damage he was causing.

So next time you go for a drink or a party make sure you commit to training the very next day, no excuses for hangover or laziness.  Repeat several times and let me know the results.

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Running an accessible club while encouraging meritocracy

FrontKickMartial arts, particular traditional ones, are often based on rules which resemble military regimes.  In many Dojos it’s common to refer to the master/instructor/coach as “master”, “sensei”, “sifu”; in my opinion this is often excessive and encourages an unnecessary distance between students and instructors.  I always allowed my students to call me by my first name and establishing a collaborative role where I share my knowledge and experience.  At the same time I make sure they respect me for my experience and ultimately my position of authority within the club they have decided to join.

I always aimed at running a club which is accessible for anybody to join, train and improve their technique and overall skill.  I enjoy training with instructors and advanced people that help me challenge my technique and fitness; at the same time I also train regularly with beginners and intermediate students so they can experience first-hand my teaching and feedback.  All of my instructors are encouraged to do the same.

I am aware of many so called fight clubs, particularly boxing clubs, where there is a very strict hierarchy about who can train or be trained by whom.  In those environments only the key fighters have access to high quality tuition while the others, inexperienced or just not good enough, have to accept being considered less valuable students.  This, in my opinion, might discourage potentially good fighters who did not yet get the chance to move up the skill ladder.

Of course meritocracy has to an important role to play and it naturally does.  Students who train more often, attend to more lessons, tournaments and become more involved with all club’s activities are automatically more visible.  They get more exposure to key lessons and more naturally get chosen as training partner by the most experienced students and instructors; the more this happens and the better they get, a very natural selection.  So if you are an advanced or intermediate student who is already getting the right kind of attention from instructor you are in the right place.  At the same time if you feel a bit invisible within your club and would like to change this you should try to get more exposure toward the better part of the class; train more often, try to learn better techniques and keep practicing; it’s a long journey.

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The first UFC defeat of Ronda Rousey

I was intrigued by the content of this video with testimonials from Dana White and lots of Hollywood celebrities which built a great hype about this event.  Personally I had no strong opinion about what could be the result of Rousey vs. Holm at the UFC 193 in Melbourne. Being a kickboxer and loving strikes I surely had a natural preference for Holly Holm who is a Kickboxer and Boxer. She has been winning most of her MMA fights with kicks in her opponents’ heads which is kind of exceptional.

As Sylvester Stallone said in short interview: “one of them will win and the other will lose”.  That’s what happens every time. Obviously expectations are very high when you have a challenge between two undefeated fighters: at the end of the fight one of them will be a former undefeated fighter.

When I saw Rousey’s defeat by Holm’s flag strike, a kick in the head, I was pleased of such a spectacular win but also surprised of what that defeat has generated.  My surprise to the results has a number of different angles which I will explain in a few points:

  • Nearly superfluous to say Rousey is a great grappler and managed to finish most of her latest fights by using what she knows best: judo throws followed by very fast punching to the opponent just grounded or armbars.
  • It was pretty obvious that Holm would not want to go there, hence her very mobile footwork, succeeding to maintain a stand up fight where she is strongest. By using this strategy Holm managed to keep Rousey at bay and hit her in the face a number of times with strong cross punches as well as with a round elbow strike.
  • I was very surprised to see Rousey losing her usual control to the point that in the second round she charged Holm so aggressively and uncontrollably that she fell against the net.
  • Perhaps not having the level of control she is used to have and feeling the pressure of an opponent who would not be as controllable as others she lost her concentration. Definitely her guard was not where it was supposed to be and one by one each of the strikes chipped her down to the point that Holm’s kick had a clear path to Rousey lower jaw and neck putting her KO.
  • Rousey doesn’t really behave like shy as a person; she is full of herself and proud of being a tough fighter which was undefeated until last Saturday. Dana White himself, having discounted for years women being part of UFC, has been promoting her as the best fighters he has worked with. Regardless of this result hopefully he will not change his point of view about her.
  • Fame doesn’t come without repercussions and her bravado has definitely irritated lots of people. Her behaviour just before the fight, including her refusing to touch Holm’s gloves in my opinion should have not been accepted by the organisers.  If we accept substandard sportsmanship behaviours what are we teaching to all beginners and children that look at us to learn how to behave?
  • Despite Rousey’s arrogance I was surprised, to say the little, about the amount of poison spewed toward her. Starting from her main contender Meisha Tate, which is kind of understandable, to Donald Trump and many others all were very happy she lost and filling up social media feeds with their negative comments.
  • This fight reminded me a bit the famous rumble in the jungle when Muhammed Ali challenged and defeated George Foreman in Zaire. Foreman was so sure of winning this fight that entered a three years of depression due to his defeat.  Mind coaching and mental rehearsal have become standard practice for most professional fighters so I assume Rousey’s will be no different.  I trust Ronda will be surrounded by enough councillors, sport psychologists and mind coaches which will help her to analyse what went wrong, cope with the defeat and get ready for her next fight.

I am pleased that after some time in hospital and a few long days of silence Rousey has released an official statement explaining she will take some time off and come back stronger than before.  Martial arts, taught in the traditional way, promote humility and being humble: unfortunately these qualities don’t fit too well with the show business which fighting sports, and UFC in particular, have become.  Perhaps this loss will teach Ronda Rousey how to be a real champion, someone that after falling this hard goes back to the drawing board and understands what went wrong, learn from her mistakes and becomes even better.

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Tae kwon do and flexibility

Copyright Duncan GrisbyTao Kwon do is a Korean martial art mostly based on kicks, delivered above the belt.  Having trained with several black belts of this discipline over the years I got to the conclusion that lower body flexibility is not really optional when training and practicing Tae Kwon Do.  So in my perhaps naïve interpretation I always assume that people practicing this martial art should be flexible or at least having pushed their flexibility to its limits.  Most of the experienced Tae Kwon Do practitioners which joined my club have usually a few common treats:

  • Typical side stance when sparring
  • Good combination of fast kicks from different angles
  • Not very good punching skills
  • Hardly any guard

This description is perhaps stereotypical but accurate for over 90% of the people I met in many years of experience.  Good news from my point of view as a teacher and fighters’ coach is that:

  • They have good kicks
  • Stance and guard can be adjusted
  • Punches can be taught

So in general I am happy to train with and teach kickboxing to experienced Tae Kwon Do practitioners.

A few weeks ago I had an enquiry from someone with over two years’ experience in Tae Kwon Do who I welcomed him to join us which he did.  After training with us a few times with a group of beginners, he proved to be part of the 90% I described above.  Nothing too surprising apart from his flexibility which was quite modest despite him being in his early twenties.  On his third or fourth lesson I suggested him to train with a group of more advanced students as, on that night, the beginners were practicing very basic material.

Funny enough he decided to stop his membership immediately after this lesson justifying himself he wanted to pursue his Tae Kwon Do experience. Read between the lines: he did not like getting punched and felt overwhelmed by the pressure that punching combinations caused.  This is not really the first time this happened but the surprise came to me when he prised, among the good things about our club, how good is the stretching we do as a warm up which gave him an inspiration about improving his flexibility.  I do appreciate we spend a considerable time stretching, but I just considered funny the fact that someone who did Tae Kwon Do for over two years had to realise his lack of flexibility at a kickboxing club.

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