Printed in MAWired, Vol 4, No. 6, July 1997.

Time Out for Injuries

Thomas Howard


Something ThumperWabbt wrote last month stuck in my mind, as I was getting my monthly fix of MAWired:

There was no real injury involved. I simply woke up one morning in pain, ignored it, and went about my business. Even when the pain became inhibiting, I foolishly refused to see a doctor--it would "go away." It was just arthritis, I've had that for years, the pain gets better and goes away for a while. I didn't need a doctor to tell me that.

After a few months of it, Mike The Nurse decided otherwise and dragged me off. The doctor listened carefully to the symptoms, began probing painfully, twisted and turned and yanked and pulled my leg in every conceivable direction and asked "Do you do karate? TaeKwonDo specifically? I see this all the time with people in TaeKwonDo. Those crescent kicks are killers on the hip joint..."

And it brought to mind something that has been observed in my hapkido class all the time by people watching: "Does EVERYONE here wear a brace on something?!"

Sometimes it seems like it. Let's see---out of the last class, four people had knee braces, one had a wrist brace, two had bound shoulders, and one had an ankle brace. This is out of a class of around 12-15 people.

Pretty significant percentage, don't you think? Particularly when you bear in mind that a number of these people have been wearing these braces for a LONG time.

But the humorous thing about this particular tally of injuries is this: none of them occurred in class. To people watching, it appeared as if we broke people every night----but our class had nothing to do with it.

But the point of this little blurb of mine (yes, there IS a point, I'm getting there) has to do with martial arts practice and injuries that you already have. Many people enjoy the martial arts SO MUCH that no matter how they feel, or how much damage their body has, they go practice anyway. And they shrug off the pain, and act like they can work out to the extent that they would have if they were NOT damaged.

And they damage themselves more. Two of our "knee people" got their injuries outside of class---but practiced like normal anyway. So, they've been wearing the braces for the last year since it wasn't healing, as opposed to the original expected time of three months.

It is HARD to not practice everything along with everyone else in class. If you've got a knee that is twinging, and your doctor says take it easy, surely just one or two more high sidekicks won't be a problem . . .

Just because your hip has been really sore lately, and you've been icing it every night, surely that doesn't mean you can't work a COUPLE more kicks . . .

[Sigh.]

When you phrase it like that, it doesn't seem THAT stupid to work out. So, many people do because it's fun to practice, and it's important to us.

But it just damages us worse. Left alone, knees and hips can heal, in many cases. In some cases, light workouts, slow, fluid footwork----it can actually help those knees and hips heal faster.

But you've got to set limits, and more importantly, stick to them.

We've got a simple rule in our class: If it hurts, Don't Do It. If you have an injury, tell the instructor, and during practice, DON'T do the things that hurt. Not even a little bit. Remind the instructor, and have him or her alter your techniques slightly. Practice what you can, watch what you can't, and work variations on the normal techniques that don't strain your injuries. Saying things like "Well, it hurts, so I'll just do a couple" mean that you've damaged yourself more. True, it could have been worse----but why do it at all? Are you in THAT much of a hurry to perfect this particular technique? (Cause if you are, I've got some bad news with regards to how long it takes to "perfect" techniques . . . :-)

In our class, the above Don't Do It rule is generally followed by: We practice self-defense here. That means keeping yourself safe and unharmed. Making an injury worse is NOT self-defense. (Note: while we have this rule, some of us still act stupid and practice when we shouldn't. But we're working on it . . .)

Don't make yourself worse. Give yourself time to heal, and work on other things. It's not like any art is so narrow that one injury can bar you from practicing it completely. Yes, a knee injury in TKD is a problem. Similarly, an elbow injury in Wing Chun is not good. However, there are still plenty of things to work on.

It's hard to not work everything with everyone else---so consider it another one of those character-building exercises. :-)


Thomas is a hapkidoist who hasn't gotten hurt at all during his hapkido training----though his knee is acting up a bit, which simply is a sign he should have paid more attention the last time he was rock climbing. Send comments to: Thomas