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A student of mine missed class this week due to a shoulder injury. He has some concerns that this may bother him for a while. Since I know he reads this blog, let me first say that I am not picking on him for his absence. On the contrary, his injury has reminded me of an idea I have been wanting to write about. “How does one stay focused on training when injuries or sickness get in the way?”

We have all been there at one time or another. Whether it be a pulled muscle, or bruised ribs, a bum knee or a bandaged hand; you can’t do something physically demanding, week in and week out, without occasionally developing an injury. And almost any doctor of sports medicine would recommend at least some amount of rest and recuperation before putting that body part through it’s full paces again. But, too much time off and you might become an armchair warrior or, worse even, take up knitting (no offense Sis).

The crux of the problem lies in how you define productive training. If you only see value in a whole-body, physically exhausting, sweat-dripping experience, it is time to widen your definition. To be a martial artist for life means to continue training regardless of the changes that come from injury, disability, weight gain, or age. We are getting older and, given enough time, we are all going to change. The key is learning how to work with those broken or missing parts. Injuries simply force us to consider this earlier.

In the case of my student, he can work on his hand techniques, on his good side, and connect them to his lower body. When one is used to pulling one hand back while punching with the other (typical karate punch), finding strength without the pullback is hard, but useful. I suffered a dislocated shoulder many years ago that forced me to train in a sling for six weeks. Keeping a sparring partner at bay with one hand is an excellent learning experience. Kata too can be practiced one handed, or very slowly, to work on perfection of motion. In this type of training, you are forced to see your body differently and become more aware of how each part works. When you finally get your missing parts back, you will appreciate their contribution even more.

For those with leg or knee injuries, consider how your techniques work from a seated position. Practice the hand motions of your katas and see if they suggest alternative applications that don’t rely on larger body movement. Many of the iaido sword drawing forms begin in kneeling positions. These forms require the swordsman to develop good technique without the aid of being in a standing position. They were developed so that samurai could effectively defend themselves even when not on a battle field. Why should the same logic not work for those of us practicing unarmed arts.

This leads us to one of the most important reasons to keep training when injured. What if you find yourself in a combative situation and you immediately get injured right out of the gate. Do you have the skills and presence of mind to stay in the fight? In a life protection situation, choosing to sit it out will not be an option.

Whatever you do, keep an open mind and focus on the parts that do work. By changing the pace of training, the body parts involved, and by taking your real life situation into consideration, there will be lots to work on. If you are truly laid up for a while, there are always books to read, videos to watch, blogs to read (hint, hint), and thousands of years of history to consider. No excuses. On any given day, you are who you are, right then and there. Make sure that person is prepared.

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