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I’m Thankful For My Injury

Warning: Lots of feelings here!

I’ve been down rehabbing a major injury for 18 months now. It has been difficult to be so removed from “my thing” for so long and I have gone through many phases of mourning, anger, and sadness. Now I am finally reaching “hope” since my surgeon has cleared me to ease back into training with a check in another 4 months to give me a final clear to compete once more (eye on the European Championships!)

In the midst of the process, I have been doing an assessment and re-organization of my life. My goal is to build a better foundation for myself moving forward with my return to the competitive circuit. I was running on empty for so long; mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. I never allowed myself to get caught up in any of these things because I felt like the forward momentum was the only thing keeping me upright and focused. I knew it was unhealthy, but I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

Financially, I had been living off about $1,200 a month (pre-tax) between teaching bjj classes and doing massages in my office. I got really good at living at that level – I used a combo of bus and bicycle to get around (60-90 mins commute each way/day), rented a small bedroom, and did most of my own cooking on the cheap. I would ride an overnight greyhound bus to tournaments in order to save on airfare and hotel expenses, got exceptional at trip planning (went to Europeans on $500 airfare and lodging included), would work tournaments to offset travel costs, and somehow managed to not go into debt.

Mentally/Emotionally I was running myself into the ground. Due to issues at my long-time academy (see This Post for that story) I lost all my main training partners and was still expected to perform at peak level. I couldn’t disconnect like my teammates who had left – so I had to pretend I was okay and keep focusing on my goals. It felt like walking up a sand dune – I was still able to reach my goals, but I had no energy left to celebrate or enjoy the view since I knew I had to go right back into the pit. Competing became more about the trip/escape than the actual event itself. I was desperately hopeful that if I just stuck it out, it would circle back to the way it used to be.

One of my autism features is that I can’t read subtext – if someone says something, I believe them. So many promises were made to me that things would get better “we are working on it”, “trust us to get this done” – I went emotionally bankrupt waiting to cash in those promised checks. I saw the pattern and still chose to trust it even though I knew better logically – because I couldn’t see another viable option.

I know I allowed myself to be manipulated: I hoped that in doing so things would get better and it would pay off where I was. Foolish hope I know, when all the people who cared for me were pushing me to give up and move on. I hate that in allowing myself to be manipulated it made me complicit in a system that hurt so many people that I care about. So far no one I have spoken with has laid any blame on me, but I apologize regardless of blame – and I think it is helping the healing process for everyone.

Getting injured force stopped my hamster wheel and left me in complete disarray – I’m almost at a point where I can be truly thankful for it. I eventually would have hit a breaking point mentally, and I don’t know that I would have recovered from that – and I know I was so very close.

I just parted ways with my therapist who has helped me through this transition process to leave my old academy for good. She admitted she was rooting for me to leave but of course professionally couldn’t insert her own opinion on the matter – Her that her relief/celebration when I told her kind of gave her opinion away of course. She also guided me toward a place where I can finally have an official ASD evaluation (scheduled for next month). I’m hoping that they will be able to help me identify areas that I don’t realize I’m compensating and help me find better tools to bring me those to balance a bit.

Financially I’ve gotten set up in a much better situation. I took a job working for a teammate as a project manager. Another autistic feature of mine is that I am really good at pattern recognition and organization of complex systems – so this job is a perfect fit for me. It also pays well enough for me to get my own apartment and (slowly) pay off my surgery bills. Since the majority of the other staff members also train bjj, we have mats in the warehouse where I’ve been getting my training groove back slowly.

The lynchpin was me finally leaving my old academy and breaking the cycle, and it took my injury shaking up things to do so. I have a lot of healing to do still mentally but my coach has my back, and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

People have been messaging me all kinds of different things after my writing that initial “break up” article. I had people from outside my association/region relating to it, local gym owners commiserating watching the decline in my old academy’s local reputation, students wishing me well and being sad for me. I also had people telling me that I needed to share all the good things about my old academy since it wasn’t all bad – but the bad overshadowed the good too much and made me so miserable for so long that the best I could do was try to be balanced with my initial break up article.

There are a lot of feelings flying around, and my team has a lot of healing to do. It sucks so much to see how deep a wound has been caused by just a handful of people. What I appreciate is that our coach is taking active steps to help mend the hurt – because it proves that he genuinely cares. He hates giving up on people which is why dropping my old academy from the team association was such a drastic step for him. There are still many people there who are greatly loved, and it makes it that much more tragic of a development. Not being allowed to talk about things (however ugly and uncomfortable they might be) keeps things from ever really healing and is what enables a broken system to thrive. I’m thankful to have things out in the open – it’s not pretty, but we can focus on fixing it now.

Anyhow, feelings are messy but I’m finally starting to make sense of mine – I can visualize now what it will be like next year when I return to competition, and I can’t wait to show what I can do when I’m actually healthy again!

Post-Op Update – All Clear!

I saw my surgeon 3 weeks ago for my 7 month post-op visit. To me, best case scenario I was hoping for was that he would say I don’t need a follow up procedure and can go ahead and start drilling lightly again on the mats.

To recap: I dislocated my knee sideways while playing single leg x-guard – 4/17/2021. Freak accident. Tore my PCL, LCL, Popliteal tendon, and several other things (basically blew out the outside of my knee joint along with the PCL inside the joint, Dr could rotate my fibula behind the back of my knee). Tried for 8 months to rehab without surgery but no dice and had reconstruction surgery 12/16/2021 (my mom’s bday!). 4 screws, several donor ligaments, and a staple later I have a zombie terminator knee with a rad 8 inch scar up the side.

He did me one better! I have a full release to train again! His words: “I’m okay with you doing whatever you want to do for training, it’s not going to hurt it”. Since he works on pro football players and a good number of the Jiu Jitsu folks in town, I figure I can trust that and go for it! I will see him again one more time at the beginning of December for my 1 year post-op visit – that’s where he gives me a final check and then clears me to compete again.

What Does That Mean?

I still have to regain a lot of functionality. The reconstruction is solid but I still have some muscle fiber areas that don’t engage properly, and my range of motion is around 125 degrees flexion. The Dr said it would continue improving slowly over the next 6 months – and the more I move the better it will be for the joint recovery.

I have not been allowed to actively engage my hamstring muscles in almost a year and a half – so you should see my pathetic attempts at hamstring curls! I have a lot of work to do in the next 6 months to get myself back up to 100%. The strength will come back slowly so my primary focus is mobility and getting to where I can touch my heel to my butt comfortably again (kind of a necessary function for Jiu Jitsu). I’m slowly building endurance on my bicycle again as well.

My PT had me drop to 1 day a week after meeting with the surgeon. At my session last week, she told me that we are mainly working on strengthening now and she can trust me to know how to do that safely on my own. She sees no reason that I have to continue coming in for what is basically a personal training session, so I’m going to do 2 more sessions with her and then just work on it on my own.

Jiu Jitsu Training

As of right now I am still in limbo land for training locations (read my last few blog posts if you’re nosey enough to know why) but I like the direction things are moving. Thankfully I work in an office with several other people who train (including my boss). We have really nice roll out mats that I can use after hours and on weekends – so we’ve been hosting small group training sessions and people pop in randomly to drill or roll. I’m still teaching my Saturday open training session and have started drilling with that group as well.

It’s probably good for me since it forces me to ease back into it instead of going full throttle when my body isn’t used to it. That’s a recipe for winding up back in the Dr’s office with something else injured!

Return to Competition

I’ve got my eye on the AJP Tour Grand Slam events for next year! They are now holding two events back-to-back – Masters on day 1 and Pro on day 2. This means two good sized events for one trip! My must-do list is; London, Miami, and Tokyo – then circling back to the World Pro Championship in Abu Dhabi in November. I’ll try to fit in the Rio Grand Slam as well if possible.

I know my coach wants me to do the IBJJF Master Worlds and Pans, and if I can fit it into my travel schedule, I’ll plan to do Worlds as well. I’ll likely also do the IBJJF Nashville and Atlanta opens as they pop up (schedule permitting).

I get about 3 weeks of PTO (15 days) per year from my job. I’ll be doing most of these events quickly so I can save the PTO to linger longer in Japan and at the World Pro (may try to pop over to visit Israel from the UAE).

Altogether, I’m trying to be patient with the process. I still have a long way to go but at least the worst is over finally!

Inspiring Loyalty

This is a bit of a follow up to my “When the Vibe Changes” post from last month. That post circulated more than I thought it would! It opened up a dialogue for a lot of people to talk more openly about things – both locally and elsewhere. Things have changed significantly since then and needs an update!

As people began sharing more about the changes that made them leave my old academy, it was apparent that the teachings of our association head were no longer respected or taught, along with other issues. Long story short, my old academy has been dropped from the team association – our coach finally had enough of the centralized drama stemming from ongoing policies that don’t match his philosophies.

My loyalty is to my coach because he has earned it over the years of having my back and investing in me. He returns that loyalty, and it is obvious even to people outside of our association how much he cares for all of his students. Yes, even the troublemakers (you know who you are!)

When I tell people how amazing my coach is they just don’t get how he can inspire such a loyal following and assume it must be cult of personality. Then they meet him and say, “oh I get it now!” See he genuinely gives a shit about seeing people succeed and surpass his abilities. If you look at the black belts he has produced, you will notice they are all unique with different styles and methodologies. He doesn’t try to mold us in his image, he instead seeks out what makes us tick and nurtures that into its own thing. His affiliation has grown in the mid-south so much in the past several years, and that’s without him ever actively trying to coax people on to the team, in fact he wasn’t even intending to run an affiliation but the black belts under him all requested it. He inspires people to want to follow, and he is a good enough person that he understands the responsibility of that.

This is what differentiates a coach from an instructor (by my definition at least). An instructor gives you valuable knowledge for you to then implement. A coach goes deeper and develops more than just technique, they develop mindset, philosophy, and individual training plans based on a student’s strengths and weaknesses. He actively watches the trends in Jiu Jitsu and if he sees something that he thinks will work for a student, he takes the time to study it and help a student integrate it into his game – even if it’s something that is outside of his personal style. For example, spider guard was just coming onto the scene when I was a white belt. He saw it being used at worlds and brought it back to show me saying “I can’t do this with my hips, but you are gonna love it!” I remember staring at him in disbelief that I would ever use this ridiculous looking technique… But he was right, and I still actively use it to this day!

You can’t demand loyalty from people under you. Loyalty is something that is awarded to you by virtue of proving your merit and care. If you have to demand that people are loyal and respect you, all you will be is a dictator who rules by fear (which can look similar but will feel hollow upon receipt).

A major goal of mine is to one day be able to inspire people the way he does. At any rate, I look forward to the future and am allowing myself to feel true excitement and anticipation again! I see my surgeon again in 4 weeks and will find out if I need another procedure on my knee to break up scar tissue. Either way my prognosis is excellent for return to full impact with zero restrictions, it’s just gonna take a little more time.

Still Kinda Broken – 5 Months Post-Op

Technically I am no longer broken, but it still feels like it at this stage.

I had my 5 month check up with my Doctor’s PA this past week. I expressed to him my frustrations at my rate of healing. I was hoping that I would be able to train lightly at this point, but I’m still rebuilding muscle tissue that hasn’t worked since my nerves were cut during surgery, and also range of motion has been extremely slow to improve. In fact I have not had much R.O.M. improvement over the past several weeks – hovering around 116 and 118 as my maximum flexion when pushed by my PT. It makes me feel like a failure, that I must be missing something, and wondering if this is just going to be as good as it gets.

He assured me that I am still on track for a complete recovery and return to the mats with zero restrictions. It’s just gonna be a slow process because of how much damage was done to my knee, the amount of extensive surgical repair it took, and the 6 weeks splinted to let it get really stiff. He said my bones are sitting in perfect alignment now within the joint and they are feeling super stable.

What is holding me back most right now is my range of motion. It was very intentional that we let it get stiff post-op because he knows the type of activity I do on a daily basis (he’s worked on a lot of bjj athletes as well as pro football athletes). We are riding the fine line of getting as much stability as possible in the repair before we loosen it up. It’s easier to loosen it up afterwards, whereas if it heals too loose, we would have to re-do the original surgery. We want my knee to last the next 60+ years and handle all the impact I plan to put it through.

I see the surgeon again in 6 weeks. At that point I will be in that 6-7 month post-op window when the new ligament grafts will be sufficiently healed and we can turn our attention more to the mobility issues. If I’m still not making much progress at that point (mobility wise), we will likely do another procedure in the surgical center to break up the scar tissue. It sounds scary but they assured me it’s nothing like the massive 3 hour long surgery I had in December – I’d be able to walk and bend my knee immediately after waking up. What’s nice is that I’ll have insurance coverage this time around – that first procedure was a little yikes!

So I’m hoping that towards the end of the year I’ll be freed to train again. Right now I am not even allowed to swing a kettlebell – although I was recently cleared to ride my bicycle again and am increasing load bearing exercises in twice weekly physical therapy. Comeback is coming – and I’ll know I earned it!

When The Vibe Changes

An Academy’s culture is built by the instructors/administration, and the students that they attract. Each academy has a different vibe because of different teaching styles and methodology. Like attracts like and that’s why academies will get a rep for various things (when I began training, we were known as a pressure heavy competition academy). New students who come into the academy will eventually absorb and conform to the overall vibe – if not they will quit or find an academy whose vibe matches more what they are looking for.

Different vibes are not bad. If everyone trained the exact same way, innovation would crawl to a halt and we would probably still think half guard is a losing position. This is why I love to visit different academies when I travel and learn a new way of looking at a position or move.

But what is one to do when your academy culture/vibe changes and you no longer fit?

The hardest part is in that transition phase before you realize that things are changing. Mine started changing 5-6 years ago. My coach had to sell his ownership in the academy and take a back seat from the administration aspect of the daily processes. I felt pushed out of things I had been previously invested in – but not much change in the gym culture happened since our coach was still there teaching on a regular basis.

As he began to take more of a backseat role and focused on his other academy that was closer to his house, things started to shift more rapidly. Most of the crew that I had spent the past 6 years training with felt the push and pinch of the changes brought on by a new administrative approach. This led to wildfires and full-on shitstorms.

Eventually all but a few left for places where they felt more free to train the way we had in the past. Some left quietly, others burnt every conceivable bridge on their way out. To those leaving, it felt like the people enacting the changes were the villains who were destroying a sacred safe space. To those implementing the changes, those leaving were the toxic influences that were holding back progress.

With the old established crew cleared out, a new culture was free to develop unhindered. I count myself among the old crew but I had to keep my head down and stay clear of the crossfire because I wanted to earn my black belt from my coach (who was coaching me remotely). To reach this goal I had to remain at an affiliate academy – and since I am unable to drive, this was the only one I could reach on a regular basis. I made the most of my time, creating a ladies Jiu Jitsu program, but was continually frustrated and hurt by the changes – the academy culture no longer fit what I wanted to get out of my Jiu Jitsu journey and I had no control over it.

I have been in a state of mourning for quite a while now. I’m finally reaching a point where I can accept that some things cannot be repaired. I hate that this sort of thing has destroyed my safe place and hurt so many people that I care about. Knowing how much my coach cares about each of his students, I’m sure it is even more painful for him to see these people so divided that he has heavily invested over a decade of his life into.

I don’t know what my training future is going to look like, but I have given up on my old academy ever being the right fit for me. It may be the right fit for others, but not for me. When my surgeon finally clears me to return to the mats, I will be working 1:1 with my coach in the warehouse at my office (we have mats). I’ve been invited to drop in at various academies around town for group classes and will avail myself of that; as well as hosting a small group of my own to train at the warehouse. I’ve been in therapy trying to process all of my repressed emotions over the past couple of years of this process. A lot is still up in the air but I’m finally reaching a point where I think I can start talking about it, in hopes it will help others who may have been feeling the same way. If nothing else, writing it all out is rather cathartic.

Jiu Jitsu and Autism Pt 4

It’s been requested over the last couple of years that I write a follow up post to my “Jiu Jitsu and Aspergers” series from back in the day. I thought I had gotten everything out with that series, and honestly it was a scary one to publish since I hadn’t disclosed my diagnosis to many people at that point. This might be a rehashing but there’ve definitely been changes since I wrote that piece 8 years ago! (Click Here to check out the article that started it all)

Two big changes:

The Aspergers diagnosis is now defunct and dated (as are the terms high/low functioning), my diagnosis is now simply “Autistic”. The other change being that I was promoted to my black belt last year.

So where does that leave me?

I’m still me. I’m learning and unlearning a lot through work with my therapist. Autism seems to have taken a recent spotlight through media representation, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Education and awareness is good in general, but media will of course represent the extremes of something from their own vantage point, not understanding what actually goes on in a brain that is wired differently than theirs. The stereotypical autistic person they usually end up portraying is the sensationalized version that is a small fraction of the diagnosis spectrum.

Sensory Issues:

Since my last posting on this topic, I have had to stop driving a car. It is just too much input/reaction for me to safely handle. On bad/low tolerance days I could focus either on; watching my speed, staying in the lines, or driving directions. I got speeding tickets because I was having to focus so hard to keep my car going where I wanted it and safely avoiding all the other moving (and stationary) objects that I just didn’t pay attention to speed, or I would be swerving in and out of lines while watching my speedometer. It all added up to more stress than it was worth to me. I switched to a combo of bicycle and the bus. The bike is easier because I don’t have to watch a speedometer, and can stop easily if I need a focus break. It was less convenient on the surface (especially given the state of the bus system in Nashville), but a better choice overall.

More recently I have started paying closer attention to my tactile sensitivities. Can I push through the day with a jacket sleeve touching the base of my thumb or an odd feeling fabric making up my gi pants? Yes, yes I can. But these little stressors add up and if it’s something within my own control, shouldn’t I control it and make it easier for me to handle the things I have no control over? As such I’ve done a closet purge and gotten rid of items that I find uncomfortable, got myself a floofy fleece hoodie to relax in at home, and am eyeballing an oversized Totoro plushie I found online.

I recognize now that while I can’t tolerate light physical contact, firm to hard is actually soothing. I’m guessing this is another reason why Jiu Jitsu is a good activity for me!

Pattern Recognition:

I’m starting to make some realizations about how deep my penchant for pattern recognition goes. I have realized that I don’t read people’s facial expressions emotionally, but I can recognize a change in their behavior pattern that tips me off if something (positive or negative) is up. So, the better I know someone (and get the hang of their normal behavior) the better I can read their emotional changes.

It’s frustrating because I can predict to pretty good accuracy an issue down the road – but no one takes me seriously if I try to point it out. Then the crisis hits and they all scramble to address it and I just heave a sigh.

In Jiu Jitsu it has definitely been an asset! When I figured out the mechanics of a triangle choke, I was able to easily apply the same thing from all angles (inverted reverse triangle finish anyone?) Learning my training partners’ movement patterns helps make me seem like I know a lot more than I actually do.

Special Interests:

My primary special interest has remained Jiu Jitsu – I’m going on 11 years now of it! It brings me great joy that I’m surrounded by people who don’t think it’s odd if I want to talk for hours about training techniques or theory.

It has been particularly difficult for the past few years. First, we had all the gym shutdowns with the coronovirus, and then just as we were getting into the swing of training again I had a very bad injury. I’ve been recovering for over a year now and haven’t been allowed to train properly (at all in the past 5 months post-op). I had the best possible sports osteopathic surgeon piece my knee back together again – he is confident I will be back to full impact with no restrictions, it just takes time.

Not being able to participate feels like a part of me is just a dark empty space that nothing can fill. I’m back on the outside looking in again. I have tried my best to keep myself engaged through teaching and watching film, but it is a pacifier that can’t be sustained. It has reached a point where I can actually see a life for myself where I never train again, and it terrifies me. I am determined that I WILL be back!

Social Stuff:

Being around the Jiu Jitsu community has made me feel much more competent and confident in social settings. Overall, I think the sport attracts the awkward misfits who are more accepting and forgiving of the awkwardness of others.

I have never dated, and probably won’t in the future. It is so difficult for me to maintain friendships that adding deeper levels just seems an insurmountable task to me, more trouble than it would be worth. Just know that if I count you as a friend, that means something.

I find it difficult to make a good first impression without feeling like I’m putting on a show of something that isn’t who I really am. The term is “masking” where I hide my natural pattern of speech behind a mask that is more socially acceptable. Everyone has always told me to “just be yourself and people will appreciate the real you!” – but in my experience that is a well-meaning lie. The real me is awkward, makes people uncomfortable with bluntness and vocal inflections, doesn’t have a filter on facial expressions, etc. Probably the reason that, while growing up, the other kids in my peer group thought I was “creepy.”

Nine times out of ten, if I greet people with the real me, it just doesn’t begin or end well. So many of my (now) friends have said that when they first met me, they thought I hated them. If I wear my goofball mask it is a predictable role that other people know how to relate to right off the bat. It’s less stress in the moment, but more stress in the long term. Sometimes I’m so exhausted when get home that I just sit down and stare at a blank wall for a solid hour before I’m able to start to relax with a book or movie.

That said, it’s better than it was before. I’m more aware of my limitations and am getting better at regulating myself. Controlling the things in my environment that I have control over means I have more energy to deal with the ones I can’t control. Since people with Autism have to expend more mental/emotional energy to do simple daily tasks, I have to conserve my energy where possible in order to make it through the day.

Anxiety:

I had a 3-day long anxiety attack last week. I learned something new from my therapist through it. Since my brain has no filter for the world I will eventually hit “critical mass” and my brain/nervous system just says “no.”

I say it’s like boiling a pot of water. Everyone else can boil their pot uncovered but I have a pressure cooker lid firmly in place. The pressure that would normally just dissipate from the act of heating up the water (aka, functioning in society) has nowhere to go for me.

Even as I explain it, it sounds like I’m just making excuses. Especially when people try to relate by saying “I think everyone is a little autistic” – which to me sounds like a minimization of my own difficulties. I can function if I try hard enough, so I must be lying or exaggerating. The toll it takes on me though is not sustainable over the long term.

In Closing:

Not a ton has changed really. I am still me. I am just trying to learn more about myself so that I can be a better human. Achieving my black belt was a huge saga that I will one day possibly share, but I need to be a little further removed from circumstances before I do that.

As I have risen in the ranks, I have felt the responsibility to look out for my fellow students. I would spend my weekend rehearsing all possible questions and interactions that I could come up with so that I could have an answer for someone as opposed to my classic deer in headlights stare. They know I care, even if I’m still a bit rough around the edges.

I’ve been more open about my diagnosis in the past couple of years. I think it’s because I have come to accept it more and feel more confident. That said, I’m actually awaiting an official assessment through an ADA approved evaluation center. I’ve been diagnosed by several therapists but if it’s not done through the approved evaluation center it’s not considered “official”. It’s an expensive drawn-out process, which is why I haven’t done it before – but with the salary from my new job I will be able to afford it!

12 Weeks Post Knee Surgery

I dislocated my knee during a light sparring round April 17th, 2021. I didn’t let my partner know how bad it was because it was a freak accident and didn’t want him to feel badly. Thankfully I was able to quickly get in with one of the top Sports Orthopedic Surgeons in the area. He specializes in high impact athletes (16 years working for an NFL team) so I knew if anyone could get me back on the mats it would be him!

My diagnosis was a torn and frayed PCL (opposite of the ACL), torn LCL, several tendons torn, and basically the entire outside of my knee was mush (posterolateral corner/PLC). I have underlying hypermobility and joint instability (It’s a degenerative condition), so the Dr said it was difficult to tell how much of the instability was caused by the damage, and how much was just my normal baseline. (He said my “good” knee felt like a bad knee – but it is functional for me). He wanted to opt for more conservative treatment at first. “I have enough people to do surgery on. I don’t want to put you through surgery if I don’t have to.” I appreciated that approach since I do not have health insurance and would have to pay out of pocket for any expenses.

I did twice a week physical therapy, with regular check ins with the doctor. The idea was that we would let it heal and stabilize on its own as much as possible. When I plateaued that is where we would decide how functional I was. I hit the plateau early November and was able to walk around with a brace on, but my bones were shifting too much for me to be able to train safely. We scheduled surgery for December 16 (after I got back from coaching students at Worlds).

Surgery day was fun. I was actually a lot calmer than I thought I would be and looking forward to a nice nap. I was the doctor’s first surgery of the day – and must have really thrown off his schedule because it took him three hours to put my knee back together (his surgeries are usually about an hour). He said it was like trying to stabilize jello. I now have a few donor grafts and several screws holding my joints together, they also gave me a round of PRP in order to help speed healing. He had to drill through my bones 5 times in order to anchor everything. He had to get “very aggressive” and as a result they had to put me under very deep anesthesia; it took me 3 hours to properly wake up afterwards. He was however very pleased with the surgical outcome and confident it would heal strong and be more stable than my other knee.

The first week was super rough. They gave me opioid pain meds for 10 days, but I switched to Tylenol after the first few days. It was hard enough to get up to use the bathroom without dissociative drugs in my system. The anesthesiologist took me seriously when I told them I metabolize nerve blocks quickly so he must have given me an extra special dose – I couldn’t feel my lower leg for the entire first week. It’s probably a good thing based on all the work that the dr did.

I spent my first few weeks post-op with my leg locked out in a splint 24/7. I was allowed to be weight bearing “as tolerated” but until I regained sensation in my foot, I kept that to a minimum. I was on an ice sleeve machine for 5 out of every 6 hours and sleeping with my leg elevated to keep swelling to a minimum. Physical Therapy started the week after surgery right after I finished my first post-op visit where they removed my stitches and half of my staples (there were 39 total staples holding the side of my knee closed, the other half were removed a week later). Physical therapy at this point mostly focused on controlling swelling, isotonic muscle work, and passive prone mobility (bending my knee while I was face down).

At my 3 week checkup, I told the doctor that I had managed to complete a 300-hour game on my Nintendo switch (The Witcher), and he told his PA “Let’s get this girl moving”. He gave the PT clearance to start unlocking the hinge on my brace so I could start bending my knee while walking and pushing my range of motion more. He told me I could be as weight bearing as I was comfortable to do, so I found I could stand for a few seconds with my weight evenly distributed. I also got to remove the steri strips that were on my smaller incisions. The larger one (about the size of my hand from wrist to fingertips) I had to keep taped up a bit longer.

At the 7 week mark I hit a wall for range of motion. For the PCL ligament, they had to keep my leg locked out straight for the first 6 weeks because in that position there is no pressure on the new ligament. This enables all the bone grafts to start healing and the ligament to stabilize in its new home a little bit. The more the knee bends, the more pressure it puts on the ligament. Only time I was allowed to have my knee bent was twice a week under the direct supervision and application of my physical therapist. So now that it was anchored, we had to start stretching it out more aggressively. 90 degrees is what you need to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. I was stalled out at 35 degrees and crying/sweating buckets when the PT would push to stretch it more. We were way behind schedule, so my PT called the dr’s office and they put me on a steroid pack for 6 days. With that we were able to get past the hurdle to 50 degrees. It’s very useful that my PT clinic is connected with my dr’s office, and they can share notes back and forth in the same system.

Since then, range of motion has still been a game of slow improvements. I see the doctor again tomorrow for my 12 week follow up and I know they were hoping I would be past 90 degrees by now but I’m barely passing 75 right now. I may be looking at another steroid pack, or possibly some injections. We shall see what the doctor says tomorrow!

On the positive side, I’ve been walking with a much more even gate. Doing light leg press exercises, single leg balances, and even walking across the floor without my brace on at PT. My hope for tomorrow’s appointment is that the doctor will okay me to get rid of this massive post-op brace and switch to my smaller custom brace for walking around. I plan to ask if he still thinks I have a chance of being able to safely compete at the World Pro tournament in November. Before surgery he said absolutely yes, but I know he had to do a lot more work in my knee than initially anticipated.

Here’s hoping!

With Great Power…

So I’m a black belt now. What does that mean exactly?

It simply means that I was too stubborn to quit and demonstrated that I can persevere long term and become good at something. This does not make me a honorable person who is worthy of your highest level of respect – I still have to earn that by demonstrating long term that I am a worthwhile human being. I know plenty of black belts who I have zero respect for, due to their actions as human beings.

Being a black belt does not give me a license to bully or harass those below me. My task is to make the path easier in that regards. Just because I was given a hard time going up through the ranks, does not mean I have the right to make things difficult for others as well. I choose to break that pattern. I choose to nurture other students and create a safe retreat for people to work hard without extra distractions.

So all that said as preamble… a lot of people are finally starting to talk about sexual harassment and bullying among the ranks of Jiu Jitsu. It’s both heart breaking and refreshing at the same time. We like to foster this fantasy that earning a black belt also perfects your character, but a rotten foundation does not lead to a stable house. I know black belts who think that since they paid their dues that it gives them license to do whatever they want – when it really is the opposite. There’s this thing called power dynamics, think “with great power comes great responsibility”. I must hold myself to a higher standard now that I know people are looking to me to model behavior.

So… Dear Black Belts/Upper Ranks:

Yes you worked hard to get to where you are. You should be very proud of your accomplishment! Now regardless of if you are an official instructor or not, you are a teacher. This is the way.

You can be a badass killing machine without being a douche canoe.

If you make a racist or sexist joke, a lower rank is going to hear that and think it is an acceptable behavior. It’s a trickle down effect that influences the entire culture of your training space.

Mimicry is real – meaning people will model behavior that makes them seem like part of the group. Good or bad.

Don’t protect one another. If someone is being a creep to other students, you need to draw a hard line and call them out on it. Friendship can only go so far and some behavior cannot be excused by “they mean well”.

If you want your gym to be a safe haven of badassery, then do that. Cultivate the culture and boot out the bad eggs.

Dear Lower Ranks:

We appreciate you and love that you are starting this journey! It takes guts to step on the mats the first day. Whether your goal is weight loss, confidence, recovery, becoming a ninja assassin… your reason is valid!

You deserve to train in a safe environment.

Just because someone outranks you, does not mean that they have the right to make you feel threatened or uncomfortable.

If you get creepy vibes from someone, please tell your instructor. If it is the instructor giving you creepy vibes, tell your gym management. If the problem is systemic and you aren’t taken seriously, then go to a different academy. Training is hard enough without dealing with emotional turmoil from bullying or harassment! Some things aren’t worth pushing through.

If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe training with someone, say no to training with them. There are people who I will not train with even if my coach tells me to. If he wants to know details, he asks me after class. I am working to instill this in my students as well. Right of refusal applies here!

In conclusion:

I had a meeting with management at my academy a few weeks ago along with an HR rep. They have promised to toe a hard line on zero tolerance of online and in person sexual harassment/bullying. They banned a member on the spot for sexual harassment. We have police officers in our academy who have given us a legal course of action we can take if needed as well. The amount of relief I have heard from our female members is both gratifying and saddening. It is going to be a tough road ahead as things get unearthed, but it will be worth it.

Black Belt Promotion Quick Thoughts

Well I was promoted to my black belt yesterday.

It’s going to take some time to sink in really. The whole experience was super overwhelming and everyone else was crying so much that I haven’t had a chance to cry myself yet. It seems like I have been training all my life, and also feels like I’m just starting to learn what this thing is all about. That is one of the things that has kept me hooked for the long term, the never ending potential for learning – and I am going to keep on learning and pushing myself to be better. It has become a habit now.

I keep trying to compile a list of people to thank… But I’d have to list every person I have ever trained/competed with because each person has made an impact and helped to push me forward. So if we have ever rolled, know that you have had a part in making me who I am (for better or worse!) I’m gonna have to limit my personal thanks to those who have really acted as long-term consistent pillars in my journey.

Top of the list is my head coach, who put his stamp of approval on me and awarded me my black belt, Shawn Hammonds. If you have never met him, you wouldn’t understand how much this man genuinely cares for people. If you talk to him, he will make you feel like you are the most important person in the world. There is a reason our team grows and adds new schools without ever actively recruiting, and its because of him. I have been burnt out on living in Nashville for years, and have stuck around for this man – because he promised he would make me his first home grown (white to black) female black belt – and he delivered. Love you coach!

Master Lloyd Irvin. He and his crew have always treated me like family and welcomed me. He has always had an open door and has taught me a lot of valuable lessons when I have been able to come train with him out in Maryland. I learned about mental focus and how to push through, as well as the value of standing your ground when what you know to be true is challenged. Oh, and he’s the reason I have a killer loop choke that makes all of my team mates say “nope” if my hand gets near a lapel. I’m super proud to have him in my black belt lineage and promise to do the line proud!

Javier Arroyo really has been a constant in my journey as well. When I started training he wore the rattiest old purple belt you had ever seen. He was promoted to brown belt the same day I was given my blue belt. He loves to teach and when he sees potential and desire to improve, he does everything he can to help it grow. He has been teaching me Judo in addition to Jiu Jitsu and he is Dante’s favorite person – that alone has to count for something!

Bryan Tidwell was our brown belt fundamentals instructor when I first started training, and I think he was the first black belt promotion I witnessed. He started training at our academy under Shawn when he was (I think) 17 and will tell you that it literally saved his life. I have seen him get bored of playing side control bottom on some big dude and decide to just stand up, and he then does it. It doesn’t make sense how, but he does it. We call him “The Matrix”. Looking forward to more learning ahead!

My parents were able to come down to witness my promotion. Those outside of my family won’t know how difficult that was for them, so that alone gets me in the feels. They have always supported me and had my back, and I know how precious that is because I have many friends who do not get that kind of unconditional love and support that should be a given when it comes to family.

I’m gonna wrap this up now so I can get back to lesson planning for the week. Life continues on just like before, although I will say, it is true that black is slimming!