I started training for the Essex Open last week, thinking that my knee was much further along recovering from an MCL injury sustained in December. In addition to the piece of soap my partner stashed in one of the grapes included in the salad I’d made for lunch, I had a nasty April Fool’s when I did the first sparring from stand-up I’d attempted since my injury. Missed a move and ended up landing bit funny on the injured leg and twisted it quite badly. Started an ibuprofen course to get the swelling down and I also invested in a new and heavier duty knee brace.
After some online research into the best knee braces for MCL injuries I settled on the Mueller hinged knee brace. Hinged knee braces are supposed to provide the extra support against lateral movement, which is where I’m weakest, but these babies aren’t cheap and the Mueller was one of the more modestly priced and had decent online reviews.
I ordered my brace from online UK retailer Vivomed, as they promised next day delivery and I was pretty keen to see how I fared in takedown practice with a properly strapped knee. Alas, it hadn’t arrived after 5 working days, so I gave them a ring. They were very helpful and suggested that it might be stuck in the postal system somewhere and I should contact my local sorting office and get back to them when I knew more. After an eternity on hold and responding the automaton Sarah with key presses, I spoke with a Royal Mail rep to discover that I needed to wait until the 22nd to claim for compensation (as the brace was sent first class and so had no tracking attached to it). I rang back Vivomed, but before I could even ask that I order a new one and return the missing one if it showed up, they offered to resend the item if I agreed to return the previously posted brace if it did show up. Wow! Fantastic customer service; true to their word I received the brace today and will be fully strapped at training tonight. Would recommend these folks to anyone needing physio equipment.
I got tapped today. OK, this in itself isn’t remarkable; I’m lighter than most of my training partners as well as less skilful than some, and while my defensive game is not too shabby, I am not unused submitting. Let me rephrase. I got RNC’d by a white belt today. Last year or even a few months ago this would’ve really brought me down. I’ve got one stripe on my blue belt and I work really hard to defend my rank against heavier, stronger and/or more experienced players by working my defence and striving (though often unsuccessfully) for the top position/submission opportunity. Recently I’ve been really trying to up my guard game. While I can take guard, for example, from an opponent’s sloppy mount attempt or by transitioning from half-guard I often have trouble ‘closing the deal’ from that position. So, for the past three weeks, on coach’s advice, I’ve been working on ‘guard retention’ and, where that fails, neutralising an opponent’s pass by shifting to knees, ready to re-engage. Over this time period, I’ve been working these techniques in every sparring session and seemed to be making some progress, including at this afternoon’s practice. In my final round of sparring, I made two attempts. The first time my partner got my back but I defended the body triangle with a foot lock; not strictly allowed by competition rules, but I did it really slowly and he’s familiar with the technique and I just couldn’t have someone taking the piss with a technique that works best when one’s not allowed to counter. On my second attempt, my partner took my back swiftly and cleanly and sunk in a super sweet RNC. I was caught, fair and square. Getting tapped trying out my shiny new move highlighted to me that I was missing some crucial aspect and after class I asked coach to run it with me quickly so that I might avoid having the back taken. Next week’s goal is to include this missing component in my attempts.
Marc Walder, my coach’s instructor and our master BJJ instructor, held at seminar at Dartford BJJ in early March. In addition to some fine technique, Marc’s seminars include discussions of the philosophical approach that he’s used to develop himself as person and as a BJJ player. A lot of what he says seems to boil down to the need to relinquish ego. By doing so, it is possible, for instance, to roll with detachment and therefore adapt to the available positions rather than struggling to hold on to an opportunity that has evaporated. Furthermore, this approach should allow the practitioner to roll without fear, in particular fear of tapping. Of course none of us like to submit, but it is an important part of the learning process and without this very crucial feedback it is difficult to see where our game needs improvement. In this vein, Marc recounted his earlier days on the mats, when he’d be working a new technique into his game, which might lead him to getting caught out, but ultimately allowed him to integrate the new technique and improve. If he’d feared being submitted, he’d not have attempted techniques outside his comfort zone and so never have progressed.
It can be tough to ‘leave your ego at the door’ and it is something I struggle to put into practice everyday, but I feel like today I’ve made some progress. I’m working hard on bringing a new technique into my arsenal and in the course of testing it out I got tapped fair and square. For the first time I didn’t feel bummed out or embarrassed or any other negative stuff, and I was really pleased for my partner as it was some good, clean work on his part. Perhaps this is a green shoot of a maturing sense of self? I’d wager so, but it is also a testament to the supportive group of people I train with. I find myself often getting quite paranoid that I don’t have the respect of some of the men that I train with, and, indeed, recently flew off the handle and accused a training partner of taking the piss (I’ve since apologised and humbly asked forgiveness which has not yet been given, stupid insecurity demon). While I occasionally give in to the fear that I’ve not got the respect of the men I train with, I’m often struck by how much love and respect I do get from my BJJ brothers, and so when I was tapped today I didn’t sweat it; I’m confident my training partner won’t think I’m a chump just because he got the better of me today. Being able to work with people I trust and have a great deal of respect and affection for makes it much easier to give up fear of being tapped and get on with trying to develop myself and my game. So, while I’ve still got miles to go to before reaching anything approximating ‘BJJ excellence’, I know the journey can best be made with a fearless heart.
I mentioned in a previous post the possibility of refreshing a worn Koral gi with a bit of Dylon magic. I had great success dying an old Koral Classic blue kimono; two packets of Dylon’s ‘Ocean Blue’ returned it to its original glory. During this process, I noticed that Dylon has recently changed its directions; I’ve used Dylon over the years to refresh curtains, duvets and things. While, previously, users were advised to dye the fabric at 40 degrees and then wash at the hottest temperature the fabric could handle, current directions suggest dying and post-dying washing be undertaken at 40 degrees. I stuck to the old directions and washed my gi at 90 degrees to ensure all extra dye was removed. Further, as described in the earlier post, the gi’s patches are not cotton, so come through unscathed. Being pleased with the results, I decided to attempt dying my oldest gi (also a Koral Classic blue), black. Again I used two packets of Dylon (‘Velvet Black’) and this took nicely to the cotton of the gi, however, the stitching is not cotton and so does not accept the dye. An attempt to colour in the stitching lines with black permanent marker (pen stated that it could be used on cloth) was only marginally successful: those areas of the gi that suffer a lot of friction during training, such as the trouser’s knees, lost the marker after the first training session. While the blue stitching looks okay and certainly this gi, nearly 4 years old, was in need of some sprucing up, I am investigating purpose-made cloth-marker solutions that might withstand training (comments welcome!).
It is worth noting that Dylon’s directions state that while going from a lighter to a darker colour should not require any lightening of the fabric prior to dying, if going from a darker colour to a lighter shade, then colour-mixing rules apply. Thus, a team mate’s attempt to change a black gi into a blue gi (without first bleaching the fabric) resulted in a navy blue kimono.
Koral gi are some of my favourite. A couple of folks, men and women, have asked my opinion on how Koral wear and hold-up. I have found my Koral to be hard-wearing and comfortable, and I would pass on a few tips regarding how the different lines (Classic versus MKM) fit and how to reinvigorate a worn gi.
I have four Koral gi: two blue Classic (A1); a red MKM (A1); and a white MKM (A0). The Classic gi are tough and good for everyday training, however, as they have a slightly heavier weave than the MKM they can be difficult to dry (if, as many of us here in Britain, you air dry your clothes). I prefer the slightly lighter weave of the MKM series, and while the gi top’s fabric is slightly lighter than for the Classic, the collar is equivalently robust. The MKM’s weave is a bit softer and more pleasant to wear and it dries much more quickly.
The MKM are cut more generously than the Classic and you may find that you need one size down from your Classic size. I’m 163cm and 60kgs and, according to Koral’s site, I should fit the A1 in both the Classic and MKM ranges. It is worth noting that I am rather lean (this is a nice way of saying I’m a bit deficient in the TnA area), so you more blessed ladies should take this review with a grain of salt. I first bought a Classic cut gi and as the A1 fitted me as I’d like it to, when it came time to get the red MKM I opted for the same size. I do find it is a bit loose and I much prefer the fit of my white MKM (A0). In particular, I find the trousers to be too baggy; they end up very gathered to the back of the waist and I prefer the mid-calf length of the A0 MKM trousers.
Similarly, while not entirely obvious from the photos included here, the MKM A1 top gathers and gaps quite a bit and is much longer (the bottom coming level with my palms rather than with the tops of my wrists as with the A1 Classic and A0 MKM). I find this very bothersome and a little spar can leave my red gi totally bedraggled, loose and begging to be used against me, while it is easier to keep the other two tops under control; for this reason I don’t compete in the red gi (not to mention formal regs state that only white, blue and black are allowable, though I’ve seen red, beige and camo gi at British comps). While, for me, the smaller MKM has worked well, team mates who are between sizes have had trouble with ripping out the backs of their trousers when going for the smaller size, which is worth considering.
I wash my gi after every training session and while there has been significant fading to the blue (and I’ve noticed the same with team mates’ black gi), the red colour has held up well. Koral pre-shrink their gi and while I’ve had to wash some of my gi on a very hot (90C) wash to remove mildew smell (particularly the slower drying Classic), I haven’t noticed any shrinkage.
Coloured gi fade pretty easily, but they can be dyed back to their original glory. I’ve used Dylon’s Ocean Blue dye on one of my Classic gi, and it looks like new. The patches are not cotton, so they don’t take the dye and come through largely unscathed (a few washes seem to get the little bit of residue clean from the patches). It is a great way of giving your worn gi a new lease on life and several members of my club have dyed their gi with good results (the idea for dying gi was actually a team mate’s, not my own).
The choice of gi is ultimately down to personal choice, and Koral’s gi may not be for you, but I can heartily recommend the Koral range of gi and say that Koral is the choice of most of my team mates who, as far as I know, have no reason to complain about the Koral’s ability to stand-up to regular training.
I FUBARed knee #2 on Tuesday night. In the short time since, I’ve been through denial, despair and am into acceptance. I’ve been down this road before and I know the drill in terms of following the RICE protocol in the initial stages followed by a build-up of physio exercises. It is a major bummer, but a word with BJJ brothers and sisters confirms that knees are an endangered species in the sport, or as one friend put it, ‘Once the meniscus is messed up, it is gone. Best to just cut it out. Very much apart [sic] of the BJJ game. Poor meniscii.’
Two years ago I mangled my right knee. Classic why-novices-don’t-use-heel-hooks-in-sparring situation. As readers may know, the trouble with heel hooks is that they target the knee and unlike, say, an arm bar, there is little indication of the joint being in danger before it is too late. I had no experience with this technique at the time – my opponent had not learned it in our instructor’s class – so, in ignorance, I rolled straight through the knee; the memory of the loud ‘pop’ turns my stomach to this day. After the initial shock and the adrenaline dump, I felt all right and thought I was able to stand, but I buckled under my own weight and dropped like a stone. I was out of grappling for 9 months.
Recovery was a slow, painful, arduous and demoralising process. I could barely walk for the first month. I started seeing a private physiotherapist about 8 weeks after the injury. While I had been to my GP and A&E the day following the injury and was referred to an NHS physiotherapist, the wait ended up being too long and of course a private physio could work around my schedule rather than the other way around. Essentially, I’d messed up my MCL and meniscus. Months of dedication to physio, starting with getting in and out of my chair on one leg and building up to a weights routine in the gym, paid off and I’ve successfully managed the injury through exercise. Since the injury I’ve become a regular runner, even doing pretty well in the BUPA London 10K last May (48 minutes and change). I do still get occasional weakness and clicking in the knee, which dictates what sort of conditioning I do alongside training from week to week, but overall I’ve been happy to maintain the leg without surgery. What was hardest to heal was my confidence. It took years to feel really safe on the mats again, and only in the last couple months have I been able to confidently pursue take downs.
Having finally ‘gotten over’ my fears and hesitations about moving from standing to the floor, I hadn’t expected to blow out the other knee while doing some light take down practice in no-gi class. This time was pure accident. I had my partner’s leg over wrapped with my right leg and was seeking to take him down by pivoting towards the right while hooking his leg further up. As his weight started to shift he pushed back towards me and the pressure and angle was just not quite right on my supporting leg (the left) and the knee collapsed. My training partner was close to my weight and I believe in this instance it was a case of several factors re. the positioning of my leg as I twisted and as he moved his weight that conspired against me. I managed the walk and bus back home all right, but had to ring my partner to come collect me from my stop as I needed a little support getting back to the house. At this stage, the adrenaline was wearing off and I was becoming increasingly worried that the knee would buckle badly and worsen my injury. I got home and started the RICE protocol and the first dose of a 10-day ibuprofen course, and sort of felt as if I’d only be out of action a few weeks.
Wednesday I was really blue and had a ‘crisis of faith’. The swelling was coming on, the knee was super stiff and I had pain on the inside of the knee and a lot of instability if I tried to get about without a strap. The thought of handling another MCL injury along with the worry of how the hell I was supposed to keep the ‘bad’ knee strong with the ‘good’ knee out of action made me hysterical. I was weepy all day and felt that perhaps I’d be better off getting out of this crazy game that has left me with two bum knees.
By Thursday I had my emotions locked down and had accepted that injury is as much a part of sport as, for instance, drills, warm ups and cool downs and competition. Indeed, as I’d ‘tweeted’ my injury, I heard from half a dozen players also suffering knee troubles at the minute, so I’m in good company. Ultimately, there is a process of recovery that can’t be rushed, and while it is frustrating to be forced into inactivity, it could be a lot worse for me. As an ‘Internet entrepreneur’ I’m in the privileged position of being able to work on my lappie from bed with my leg up and iced; I don’t need to be physically fit for my living, which is a blessing. My legs are pretty strong as I’ve been working conditioning and physio for two years to maintain the right knee, and this should help recovery. I’ve also got a wonderful coach and team that will help me ease back onto the mats, once I’m rested and well along the road to recovery, perhaps in six to eight weeks.
Today, the knee is still swollen but much less stiff. The RICE and ibuprofen treatments are paying dividends and walking up and down the stairs is much less terrifying and I can support my weight on one leg. I’m hoping to start some light physio next week, but am concentrating for the moment on getting the swelling down so that the muscles can fire properly. It gets me down that I’m going to be out of action for some time, but if I take care of myself I can recover well and get back to being a sweaty mess. In the meantime I can work Pilates as the knee allows and try to enjoy my newly freed up time. As coach says, injuries allow us to take stock of where we are and force us to work in new ways while increasing our tenacity and mental toughness.