Saturday, December 19, 2009

Me and My Bad Left Knee

I thought about going in the army. I thought about going overseas.
I wouldn't have trouble with a piss test; only problem is my bad left knee.
The Drive-By Truckers, "Never Gonna Change"

More than one inspirational thinker has noted that pain, or the fear of pain, leads to motivation then action. I feel qualified to attest to this as a truism. I was off and on with martial arts as a young man, mostly off. I always wanted to, but for one reason or another never committed to serious training. Then as I was approaching thirty I came down with a rare form of arthritis, or rather rheumatism, that sidelined me for a while and ended a military career. It also motivated me over time to be more self-reliant and open-minded in terms of health and healing. This eventually led me to Bhuddhist thought, which led to Qigong, which led to Taiji, which led back to other martial arts. Now, some twenty years after the first onset of my arthritis troubles, I am training fairly hard for a 49 year old and have no intention of stopping my study of the martial arts. I am however, still stuck with arthritis. But the symptoms are much less severe and the episodes are further apart. The occasion is rare that I am totally sidelined or stopped because of it. Even then my greatest challenge is my left knee.

I am sure that sometime in my younger days I damaged my left knee and it just festered, waiting for an excuse to misbehave. Somehow, between jumping and falling out of trees, motorcycle wrecks, football, fighting, and general boyish activity I planted a bad seed. Arthritis became that excuse to misbehave. But that bad knee has also become my motivation. It did mess me up pretty bad a couple of years ago. I had been practicing Judo and Aikido at the time, but twisted it or hyper-extended it (I'm not sure what really happened) at work, and that put me on ice for about six months. I was still able to do limited slow Taiji work with a brace, but overall I had to take it easy. But I have insisted it would not stop me.

I have worked intentionally on leg strengthening exercises with the idea that as long as it's functional enough to support me through normal day-to-day activity, it should be able to support extra-normal (no-to-light impact) activity as well as long as I build the muscles around it accordingly. So in my individual training I have focused on squats, the Shaolin horse stance, the Warrior II pose, bicycle riding, and Zhan Zhuang Standing Pole. This has worked to a large degree. I had a setback about six months ago when I pulled a hamstring on the same leg. This has caused strain to be exerted on both the knee and hip joints in that leg as the hamstring itself heals. But overall my leg muscles on both legs are quite developed now, at least consistent with if not beyond the strength needed for normal Taji and Aikido training.

I feel as if I'm winning this battle, at least for now. I am able to do the low stances and moves in the Chen Taiji that I study, as well as the Suwari Waza in Aikikai Aikido. In fact, my Aikido Sensei insists this training will in itself work to heal my knee. I don't know. But I do know it helps in the long run as it works to strengthen the surrounding muscles in a unique way. I am still wearing a brace on that knee most of the time when I train. My hamstring still bothers me some, which aggravates the knee. And the old arthritis visits all my joints ever so often. But I am confident in one thing: I am much healthier, mind body and soul, practicing my arts than I would be without them. That much I know. Perhaps this pain is a blessing afterall.


Studio Xing said...

I found our writing to be very inspirational - I have a "bad" right knee and am not able to do lower stances (something that I loved) anymore. There is arthritis in the knee, but also a torn meniscus, which I am reluctant to go under the knife for, since it seems to be roughly a 50/50 chance for success. I would enjoy hearing about your training methods so that I might gain more strength in my legs and the muscles surrounding my knees. Susan (from Wednesday night classes with David)

Rodney said...

Thanks for your comments Susan. I hope you can avoid surgery, if possible. In any case I'm happy to share anything that's worked for me. Perhaps we can work on some things after class sometime.