Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On fighting hurt

This post was written on Friday, September 9, but will not be published until a later date, for reasons that are about to be obvious. I've mentally committed to myself that I will hit the publish button on this post whether I win or lose this fight, and regardless of whether or not it happens.

Friday, September 9:

On Wednesday - two days ago - I sprained my ankle in practice. It was an unlucky accident. My partner and I were doing fairly light wrestling drills with only 50% resistance. He attempted a takedown and I stumbled backwards and just fell with all of my weight on my bad ankle.

I've injured this ankle multiple times in the past and it has never really re-gained full mobility despite much physio, rehab, and training.

The likely cause is just a little bit of overtraining. On Tuesday night I went six hard rounds of five minutes each. I did very well, I was tired at the end of it, but I performed well and it was a great way to end a great camp, or at least it should have been. It's a little bit ironic that I was able to go six full rounds of sparring with high-intensity wrestling, striking and groundwork without incident, but 24 hours later, a simple drilling session would cause a major injury. But on the other hand, it's not ironic at all - fatigue is something that builds over time.

I'm writing this on Friday, still not sure if I can fight in 8 days. Right now it doesn't look good. I can't walk and I can barely stand. Yesterday I could put no weight on it at all and confined myself the couch all day. My hope is that on Saturday I'll be able to walk with a normal gait and maybe by Sunday or Monday I can shadowbox a little. If on Tuesday I can hit a pad with full force and cut/pivot quickly, I'll fight. If not, I won't.

If I don't fight, I don't know if I have more fights left in me. This training camp was the best training camp I've had. I feel like I grew tremendously as a martial artist. But it took a lot out of me and I'm devastated about this injury since it looks like there's a good chance I won't be able to fight. I'm slightly disappointed that friends, family and so forth won't get to watch me compete, but not nearly as disappointed as not being able to compete myself and put into practice everything I've worked for these last six weeks.

Someone might take the view that I should be process-oriented. That I shouldn't worry about the fight because going through the camp was a process that improved me. But going through the fight is also part of the process. Practice and training is the theory but the cage is the laboratory. It tells you the truth about what you have learned or haven't learned. Everything up to the fight is mere speculation. I think I've become technically a better fighter. I think I'm physically stronger with better conditioning. I think my mental game is on point.

But if I don't step in the cage on September 17, I can't know.

If I don't step in the cage on September 17, maybe it's time for me to move on to something else. My MMA journey has unquestionably made me a better person. But maybe it's not the only thing that can make me a better person. When I'm in a fight camp, I remove a lot from my life. I spend less time with friends and loved ones. I cook all my meals and I don't eat out at restaurants. Every night I see the inside of a sweaty gym instead of an amazing sunset on the beach. And most of the time, I love it.


A big part of me hates the narrative that I'm quitting because I faced adversity by getting injured before the fight. Quitting on that note would be a tough pill to swallow. I want to be the guy who faced adversity and overcame. I think we all want that. But when is the time to walk away?

Before this week, I was sure that I still had a great future in this sport. I had a vision of fighting at least two or three more times before the close of 2016 and making a run at one of the big three organizations. I had created a narrative before myself: I'm going to be one of those guys who takes care of his body and keeps performing at an elite level in his late 30s and 40s.

Now I'm sitting here on the couch, with my foot on top of a stack of pillows, contemplating retirement in a career where I thought I was just starting to turn the corner. It doesn't seem fair, but it's what I chose. I don't get to feel sorry for myself.

I just have to hope that I fight on September 17.

Update: September 19.

Well, I fought, and luckily, I won.

It took a lot of work on that bad ankle including a ton of compression, elevation, contrast therapy, massage and other manual work, resistance work, and mindset work.

On Monday the 12th (three days after the above post), I went to physiotherapist Harry Toor of Envision Physiotherapy gave me an assessment. His assessment went something like this: I'm not going to tell you that you should fight, but I'm also not going to say you can't. I'm not going to say you'll be 100%. You won't even be 80%. But you can fight if you choose to. He admitted that a doctor would tell me not to fight, that the ankle probably wouldn't even reach 80% until a month after the injury. But as someone who trains and is around athletes, he knows that athletes never compete at 100%. He showed me how the ankle should be wrapped, and once he did it, it felt very well supported. I walked home, and largely stayed off of it.

On Wednesday 14th, I saw him again, and had him wrap the ankle again a little less tightly. After a hypnotherapy session with Elliot Roe, I went to the gym to throw kicks. Only one of the 30-40 kicks I threw was painful, and my movement was acceptable. That's when I started to feel confident I would be able to do this. I knew I wouldn't be as quick or as nimble as I wanted to be, and I knew there was a chance of re-injury, but if you've read everything that I wrote on the 9th, you'll know why I decided that I was definitely going to fight.

And so I did! It worked out. The ankle held up structurally during the fight. The tape brace meant I didn't feel tremendously light or agile as I would have liked, but it was structurally strong, and sacrificing some speed for some strength seemed like the right play. I probably got hit a few more times than I should've, and maybe there was less pop in my punches on the feet, But it held, and that's all I could've possibly asked.

It was a wonderful feeling to get my hand raised on Saturday. Not that I would ever want to be injured, but going through that adversity makes victory that much more sweet.

Today the ankle is pretty sore, and I am trying not to stress it too much for the next week, but hopefully I'll be back in the gym next week, doing what I love to do.