“It’s not what happens to you that determines how far you will go in life;
it is how you handle what happens to you.” – Zig Ziglar

I thought I was done with martial arts. Twice.

The first time I injured my knee was on Christmas Day in 1998. Someone got in my way while I was skiing, and forced me to twist my leg in a way it wasn’t supposed to. I heard a loud *snap* and felt an intense and searing pain. I fell. My friends hockey-stopped above me to spray me with snow (naturally, as this is what we did whenever anyone fell). I piled snow on my knee in an attempt to ease the burning pain, and waited for ski patrol to take me down the mountain. It was a long, bumpy, and painful ride. I was 16 and scared out of my mind. It would have been traumatizing for anyone of any age.

He got in my way!
I saw three doctors with different opinions before the last one informed me that surgery was necessary to reconstruct my torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and repair my meniscus (cartilage). I ended up having surgery** nine months after the accident, and it would take a few months before I could be physically active again.

I started kung fu when I was almost 15. Just one year later, I was out for over a year. I was angry, bitter, depressed, and jealous – nothing out of the normal realm of teenage emotions, but they felt very intense at the time. I remember watching class while sitting in a chair with my crutches in my arms. Some of the kids on Demo Team were slacking and goofing off. Inside, it made me jealous to see them waste their healthy bodies and not try harder. But they were just kids. We tend to take things for granted until we lose them. I didn’t fully appreciate my body up until my injury. Now, I was almost immobile. I thought my kung fu career was over! I could never be in a kung fu movie now!

This could’ve been me!

But it wasn’t over. I came back at age 17, and trained for another year. My knee would never be the same as it was pre-injury, but I worked around it and earned my 2nd stripe before going to college.

As a teen, kung fu was my favorite hobby, but it wasn’t a passion. I stopped training while in college, and did not have the courage to start it again until I was 25. I kept thinking I was too old and out of it for too long to go back. With the encouragement of a kung fu friend, I decided to try. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain. This time around, kung fu became a passion. I wanted to understand it at a deeper level and attended class as much as I could.

Kong Shou Dui Gun (空手對棍 Barehand vs. Staff) is tough on the knees. The person on the barehand side is required to take big hops to close distance between himself or herself and the staff side. You want to be out of range of the end of the staff by being close to the person holding the staff. This is where they are vulnerable. In February of 2011, I was practicing the barehand side of this sequence many times over in preparation for my test. I was tired, but I didn’t listen to my body. I practiced Qi Xing Dao (七星刀 Seven Star Saber) and got to a part where I shifted from Si Liu Bu (四六步 Four-Six Stance) to Deng Shan Bu (登山步 Mountain Climbing Stance). It’s a seemingly simple movement, but it takes a lot of practice to get the timing and coordination down. It’s an important one to use when generating power from the legs. I shifted stances and heard a few *crackle* sounds. Just like that, something felt wrong, and I sat down. It continued to feel off so I missed my chance to test.

I thought my knee would recover on its own. I waited for two months until I finally saw a doctor. The MRI scan revealed that a piece of my meniscus had lodged itself between my bones. Surgery was required. Great. Not again. Fortunately, my ACL was fine and only my meniscus needed repair. The operation took about one hour, and three days later, I was able to hobble around without the aid of crutches.

Correct cap :)
(Custom made pillow by IL)

Unlike my 16 year old self, I wasn’t angry or jealous this time. But I was very disappointed and felt sorry for myself. I was already 28 years old and past my prime to be training kung fu (or so I thought). I didn’t know exactly how my injury would affect my training and whether or not I could ever reach my goals. I wanted to do lion dance, just once in my life. It didn’t matter if I stayed under the lion head the whole time and no one ever saw me. I just wanted to do it. I wanted to perform well at a demo. I wanted to compete in a tournament. I had never competed before, and I didn’t know if I would love it or hate it. I just wanted a chance to see how I would do. None of that mattered compared to my desire to progress overall as a student. I wanted to continue training. I vented to my close friends, and although they were supportive of me and tried to keep me in positive spirits, I wasn’t easy to deal with. I was draining at times.

But I wasn’t done. I took the beginner taijiquan class. After limping around for 6 months, the first things to go are strength and balance. Taijiquan helped me rebuild physically, mentally, and emotionally. I can’t help but feel more relaxed, refreshed, and positive after practice. In October, I started going to kung fu class again. Eventually, I passed Kong Shou Dui Gun and Qi Xing Dao, earning my 4th stripe in February 2012. I have also performed lion dance and competed in my first competition this year.

Like my beard?
(Chi-Sun Chan Photography)

I’m not done with martial arts. My injury put me out of action for a year. I allowed my physical limitation to take over my mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. It was obvious to me that I was unbalanced, but this was before I began my quest for self cultivation and improvement in those four areas. I hope to reprogram myself in case I get injured again. I don’t want to go through that same slump and create mental and emotional roadblocks. I don’t want to give up. My injured knee will never be as strong and healthy as my good knee, but I work around it. The keys to dealing with it physically are: conditioning and listening to my body to know when to rest. To deal with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is more challenging. Every day, I must be patient. I have to balance the desire to push myself with precautions to stay injury-free. There’s so much more I want to learn and achieve, but I have to be grateful for what I have, in case it all ends tomorrow. In all of this, that’s the hardest thing to accept.

My setbacks are far from tragic. There are people who suffer far worse injuries than I did. Some lose limbs, become paralyzed, or are told they can never walk again. Some prove their doctors wrong, such as this disabled veteran. Their stories of perseverance and recovery are truly inspiring. They have taught me the definition of inner strength and appreciation for what you’re born with. It doesn’t mean I have them yet. Still working on that.

If I can’t train kung fu, I’ll train internal styles like taijiquan. If I can’t train taijiquan, I’ll study the theories and teach. I will continue to do something as long as I am able.

I’m not done.

Thanks to my friends and family who put up with me :) 

**I highly recommend Dr. Christian Andersen at Agility Orthopedics. He performed both surgeries on my knee. He’s very experienced, knowledgeable, patient, and personable.

5 thoughts on “Reprogramming

  1. Michelle, we have talked about this briefly in the past, but seeing your story written out here, alongside your determination and commitment, is utterly inspiring. You know how, when something hits close to home, it feels immense well beyond its technical reach? That's what this is for me. I see so many similarities to my own journey, my own self, and my own quiet determination, which currently feels like a forgotten potential, a sleeping truth. Thank you for sharing this and for verbally & emotionally kicking my butt as a reminder to find a way to listen to my soul and find a way to continue.

  2. Michelle,This is so lovely! I have felt similarly (although more because of my poor lifestyle while at school, than because of injuries) when I visit and take class between semesters. It's hard not to be frustrated with the place I am (in terms of fitness and training) as opposed to where I think I could be/would like to be. But that is sort of how I am with most of the things I do! So it is important and inspiring to think about finding a better balance, and taking smaller steps to do what we can do now.Thanks for this!Grace

  3. "What you don't do can be a destructive force.""With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts."Both quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt.Another strong woman I respect. Peace, IL

  4. Pingback: Tears and Blood | a Rabbit and a Dog

  5. Pingback: How To Injure Your Shoulders | a Rabbit and a Dog

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