Category: taekwondo

Two and a half weeks ago, my surgeon cleared me to do pivoting things with my knee, and to go back to tae kwon do. He also said, very seriously, that as soon as my knee started feeling tired (the quivering exhausted muscle sensation), I was to sit my ass down and be done for the day.

A week ago, I went back to the do jang for the first time since June 1st. There have been some really nice improvements- new mats, the women’s locker room has been painted. Otherwise it had the same feel and the same smell (this is not bad, it just is).

I chatted with one of the head instructors about where to start. I knew, even if I hadn’t been told (very firmly) that a class was out of the question. But I wasn’t certain on where to start. (I tend to get paralyzed by too many options, and even if my instincts say one thing, my brain goes over all the other possibilities and is like, “but is that the BEST thing to do?”)

Really, what was important that day was going, and getting up the stairs and just starting SOMEWHERE. Where didn’t matter all that much. It was the step in the door that did.

However, I have retained some flexibility (when you start with nothing, being able to get your leg up on the barre is something to be proud of), and muscle memory. I ran through the blocks and strikes from the first couples of belt levels and tried a very few (very very very gentle) kicks. I realize that the weakness in my hamstrings is going to make just holding my leg up for kicks hard.

THen I ran away to Vancouver for several days, and went back a week later. This time I went through the blocks, tried some more kicks, and went through the first three forms. All in all about 20 minutes after stretching, and then the muscle fatigue set in.

At which point I had the better angels in my head argument- where I didn’t want to stop just then, but the ACL is BRAND NEW and I cannot afford to get a new one again so soon, and baby steps lead to bigger steps, while over doing leads to being crippled.

It was hard. The worst part is the effort it takes to get there for only 20 minutes of working out.

But that’s where we are. In a few weeks, I hope to be able to join at least the first part of a class and who knows? I have this hope of being able to take my black belt test this fall, we’ll see how long the practical part of rehab takes.

At any rate, it is really good to be back.

So I am also going to be covering my knee rehab, and (eventually) my training for my black belt test. Which means I should tell the whole story.

My knee and I haven’t been on good terms for a long time. When I started tae kwon do as an adult in the fall of 2008, I sprained the knee not long before my yellow stripe test on a hopping roundhouse kick (which I then gritted my teeth through, took the test, and then took a month off). MRI showed that I had a cranky IT band, and a miniscule (1-2 mm) tear in the ACL. Barry, my wonderful muscular therapist (at Muscular Solutions who is AWESOME) was of the opinion that the ACL would go at some point if I insisted on sticking with the taekwondo.

I did, and sure enough, it did. I was working on Choong Moo, the red belt form. In that form is a 360 jump spin, which I’ve been having trouble with. I don’t really get enough height on jumps, so I decided to try jumping and then pulling my knees up to my chest. And completely fucked up the landing. My knee crunched and POPPED really loud and it hurt like a bitch.

So they hauled me off to the side with some ice and continued on with the rest of the class, where I made some suggestions to people working on their forms (….what else was I going to do?) I managed to hobble home (the neat thing about ACL injuries is they don’t hurt much until the next day), made some contingency plans because I was leaving for London the next day, and that was that.

So I got back, had Barry check me out, he said “You tore your ACL!” went to the ortho, who said “Yup, sure looks like a torn ACL to me!” and sent me off for an MRI, and then I scheduled the surgery. My surgeon is DR. Lars Richardson, at Meeks and Zilberfaub, and I liked him very much. He speaks my language.

So given that this was my first surgery, and I would be more or less pathetically helpless, my parents came out from Minnesota. I was told to be at the hospital at 5:30 am, two hours before my surgery, and we got there at 5:35, and no one was there until 6.

I really can’t say enough good things about the team at Beth Israel’s Shapiro Surgery center. I was really scared, and also really not awake, and hadn’t put my contacts in, which is internal code for “I’m not taking this day seriously.” They were professional, and really nice, and made sure I had warmed blankets.

I got changed into the hospital gown and the first nurse came by and asked what we were doing and set up the checklist of things I needed to have done. Anethesiologist (who I swear, looked like she wouldn’t be allowed to buy beer) came by and put in the IV (which Mama Red poitned out I hadn’t had one since I was five) and looked down my throat, and then her supervisor came by and bluntly taked about the tube they were gonna put down my throat (which I knew about, because a) I watch Grey’s Anatomy and b) I read up on general anethesia before I went in) and then I had to sign the consent form.

Dr. Richardson came by, and signed my left knee so they wouldn’t operate on the wrong one (I’d been considering writing “THIS IS THE WRONG KNEE” on my right leg) and assured me and my parents that he could do the surgery paperwork in his sleep and that he does 100 ACL reconstructions a year, so it would be fine. And then I officially picked my graft. I went with the hamstring, instead of the much more D-Movie plot worthy cadaver graft.

I picked the hamstring graft because they have a slightly lower failure rate, and that’s what he recommends for his professional athlete patients, (Did I mention he does knees for the Boston Bruins?) even though the healing is a bit more painful. There were a couple of days I regretted that decision, because you use your hamstrings for EVERYTHING. But that healed up pretty fast.

So they gave me a shot of something in my IV (As I have woken up enough to ask questions) and take away my glasses and wheel me into the OR. I remember going into the OR, and I remember there was some conversation there, but I don’t remember what it was. The next thing I know I’m being wheeled into recovery. My leg HURT and felt VERY swollen. I didn’t have my glasses and I was pretty disoriented.

At some point fairly quickly they asked if it hurt, and I said yes, and they gave me something intense in the IV, and asked how painful it was on the 1-10 pain scale. I said I couldn’t really quantify it (I think the pain scale is not that useful- if 10 is the worst pain I can imagine, well, I have a pretty damn good imagination. Also I was not all THERE). So it hurt, and they brought some percoset, and I said “NO NO NO please not percoset, I don’t like it it makes my heart race and that’s scary.” The nurse said “Okay, well, that’s bad, and that counts as a drug allergy. So you should tell people about that.” Then they got the vicodin (I remember a bunch of stuff about changing the orders for the vicodin) and that was nice.

Then a guy came over to put on my brace, which is in many parts and gets assembled on the leg. And at some point he was fussing and I was like “OH MY GOD AREN’T YOU DONE YET” and they had an oxygen mask on my face and all the wires and everything. They took away the oxygen mask and then the nurse said “And do you have any drug allergies?” and I said “OH I KNOW THIS ONE IT IS PERCOSET” and she said “Good girl!” and let me have a drink of water.

So then they notice that my oxygen stat was down around 90, when it needed to be more like 94 before they’d take me into recovery 2. They put the thingies in my nose (cannula?) and said take deep breaths. Because apparently heavy pain medication makes you forget to breathe. WEIRD. Even though they gave me the vicodin like over an hour before. It did not seem like that much time. Somewhere in there Dr. Richardson came by and said everything went well.

I also hadn’t gotten my glasses back, so I finally asked “I’m really sorry to bother somebody, but I can’t see, can someone please go get my glasses?” And then they brought me into recovery 2 where my parents and my stuff, including my glasses, were waiting. I got some crackers, and then crutches, and then took a very slow, painful trek to the bathroom (with the orderly walking behind me holding my hospital gown closed and also there in case I fell over). I posted to facebook that I was out of surgery (“Out of surgery thkngs went el thank did for vicodin.”) We waited a bit more until I was discharged with instructions, and then we loaded me into the car.

Getting home was lots of fun, because even though we’d done a dry run the day before, it’s Boston. So I was sort of giving directions from the back seat. We got home, got me out of the car, and up to my apartment and to the couch, where I mostly stayed for a week. Mom and dad ran out to fill the vicodin rx, while I waited impatiently and posted to twitter whining about my lack of pain management. And also I took a nap. I took lots of naps.

I used a Continuous passive motion machine for two weeks, which wasn’t bad at all-it moved my leg, so my muscles didn’t lose all definition (just mostly- seriously it’s pathetic) and I got it up to 100 degrees flex. I start real PT tomorrow, with the goal of being able to be back at taekwondon by the end of february, and back into training for my black belt test. I’m shooting for testing in a year- fall 2011. I’ll have been out for over 8 months at that point, so there will be a lot of relearning to do.

So that’s the story of the surgery.

So the trip to London is not quite started, but it’ll be a grand adventure. In the Chinese “may you live in interesting times” Curse kind of way.

Last night at my last tae kwon do class until I get back, I was working on my form, which includes a 360 jumping spin. I was trying to work on just getting height- not even the spin part, and my knee crashed out from under me. One of the black belts who was there is an ER doctor, and she did a quick assessment- she doesn’t think there are any fractures or any major tears. But it’s painful. So I’m icing, and ibuprofining, and I’m taking my crutches with me to Europe. Because I leave for the airport in five hours.


I spent my trip getting home from the do jang last night making plans for getting to Logan, and getting from Heathrow to St. Pancras, and then on to the train to Paris. I am hopeful that my compatriots who are meeting me in Paris get the message that I need them to meet me at the train station, because I don’t expect to have the brainpower to try and find the hotel when I’m jetlagged all to hell.

So it’s a Grand Adventure. It’ll be fine. It won’t be the trip I planned on (no climbing to the top of Notre Dame, for one thing), but it’ll be fine.


As I mentioned earlier, I did manage to sprain my knee in class two weeks ago.¬† It was stupid- an ax kick gone horribly wrong.¬† I know (or, at least, I’m pretty sure) what went wrong- I locked my supporting leg instead of flexing it.¬† And it is weak; more or less the same thing happened in November (only it was a hopping roundhouse that time).

Anyway, the upshot it that my ACL is weak and already has a small tear and it’s living on borrowed time.¬† It will go at some point.

Unless I quit.

Which I’m not going to do.¬† Because I do love it, and it keeps me sane¬†in a life that has a lot of insanity in it.¬†¬†

Knowing that, of course, means that I know¬† that even some stupid easy kick (like, say, an ax kick) could be the thing that is my undoing.¬† And¬†there is a limit to how much I can do¬†to¬†try and put it off as long as possible.¬† I’m working on strengthening my hamstrings, and¬†stretching them out, my quads are¬†pretty¬†good as it is,¬†and I’m getting a new knee brace that will hopefully provide some better suport (this latest injury happened with the current¬†knee brace ON, which was doubly frusterating).¬†

But still, there’s the waiting, and trying not to let the fear of¬†injury get the better of me.¬† I already have a very uneasy relationship with sparring (as in, I¬†don’t like it, and I suck at it, which is aprt of the reason I don’t like it, but the get better I should do it more, but I don’t like it, soooo….).¬† And worrying, constantly, about¬†is this kick (or this blow I’m taking) going to be the one that kills me?¬†¬† That’s tiring.¬† And not fun.¬†

I guess what I’m trying to do here is to be able to say “YES I AM SCARED OF GETTING HURT AGAIN.”¬† So I can at least¬†begin to figure out how to deal with it.¬† It’s the dealing¬†by doing more than trying to cowgirl through it that I’m getting stuck on.¬† I mean, I’m still¬†worried about hopping roundhouse from last winter’s injury,¬† but I have worked hard on making sure I get the foot placement right and¬†everything aligned just so to make sure¬†I don’t¬†fall out again.¬† On that kick.¬† But¬†it’s like it doesn’t matter, because¬†a stupid-easy ax kick (with no jumping, or fancy¬†anything)¬†can do it.¬† Much less a jumping front kick, or 360 roundhouse (oh there’s a post there- muscle memory and how it FUCKS YOU UP sometimes). ¬†

As for right now, I have to head off to class, because it’s forms tonight, and while I’m not allowed to do any kicks for another week, I can do¬†90% of my new form (which, by the way, I LOVE) and I don’t want to get too behind again.

This was originally posted in my livejournal- and “Last Friday” was me, at forms class,¬†reijuring my knee¬†on an ax kick gone awry.¬† And¬†it was really really frusterating because a) it hurt, and b) the promotion test was on Sunday.¬† Master Kim, who was right there when it happened, told me not¬†to worry about it- he knew that I knew my stuff, and¬†he would pass me right there.¬† And then he told me to go find out what was wrong with my knee, because I was getting really good.¬† Which I’m still in shock over.¬†

It was a lot of mood swings in a very short time. 

(Um, that said, I was perfectly happy to not have to spar.) 

Last Friday, in all of it’s heartbreak and amazement, really did happen. I got my new belt on Wednesday.

And the thing that keeps me going “No, really, did that all just happen?” is the part where Master Kim said that I was good.

Because, really. I’m not. I’m not naturally good at anything physical- I have to really work at it, and my body, being what it is, has it’s limits, and objects strongly when those limits are tested much. So I have to find ways to work within and around those limits. And here is where it’s become really obvious that in spite of, oh, everything, I have grown up a little.

I said last week sometime that one of the things that’s great about tae kwon do class is that it’s 2 hours or so each time I go in that I, very literally, cannot worry about anything else. The world, for me, for that time, is shrunk down to the do jang, and what the instructor wants us to do and me and my feet on the mat. There is nothing else.

¬†And that’s the key- no screwing around. You pay attention. You ask for clarification when you need it. There are other students who go to more classes than I do, but don’t have the same focus during class. They just do their thing, where I have to make sure that I know what I need to ask my body to do (and here’s the kicker) (…sorry), and how to ask my body to do it. That’s not to say we don’t have setbacks.

Barry and I think we were able to piece together what happened on Friday (Instead of flexing my knee and sitting a bit in the kick, I probably locked or hyperextended my knee and the ligaments don’t support as well as the muscles do). I know what I should do, and 90% of the time, I do it right, and most of the time when I do it worng, there isn’t any real damage done. But shit happens.

Anyway. That’s the key. Focus. Work with what you have. Be who you are. And you go from there.

When I got home on from sparring class a few weeks ago, I was talking with¬†my roommate¬†about the sparring thing, and she said, a little dubiously, that she wasn’t sure how’d she handle being hit, even in a controlled environment like the do-jang. She’s taught a lot of self-defense classes, and was down with the actual hitting of people, but had never actually had to take a hit.

I pointed out that I was really glad I’d learned how to do both when I was invincible- there isn’t much for me to think about, except “Oh… it’s a good thing I don’t bruise easily.”

There are many things that women have to confront when learning self-defense or a martial art. First and formost, we’re not supposed to hurt people. We’re just not. When starting out, it’s very common for women to not put all thier power into a strike, and apologize after. Most instructors recognize this, and are able to work with it. (Even if sometimes that is by looking at the female student and say “You’re being too nice!” True fax!)

However, there’s something else- I think you need to know how to take a hit. Not in terms of adjusting your body to minimize damage (that can come later), but in terms of not getting frozen by the fact that the hit happened at all.

The first time (assuming of course that you’re doing this voluntarily and there’s no injury), your brain goes on overload. Simultanious “OMG HE HIT ME” and “OMG I DIDN’T DIE” and maybe a little “OMG THAT’S IT?” and “OMG WHAT DO I DO NOW?” And I think that having that overload in a controlled space is good, and if you can get through that, if you’re attacked, you can at least deal with the “OMG HE HIT ME” part with the “I KNOW WHAT TO DO NEXT COME HERE FUCKER” part.

Maybe I’m not making a lot of sense. But I think there’s value in teaching people how to take a hit and be able to not really shrug it off but be able to set it aside to deal with later.