Risk and Reward

Euphoric, confused and concerned.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a day of kung fu training where I left feeling all three of these emotions, but I did tonight.  All came from the same occurrence: a correction of a move that I didn’t know I’ve been doing wrong for nine months now.  I’m still trying to sort through the implications of the evening; so let me take these one at a time.

“You’re lifting your leg nice and high, but then you’re lowering it almost to the floor before you drop down to do the slam,” Siheng Allen said.  He was referring to the portion of the form when one slams the staff against the ground (the idea being that there’s an imaginary opponent being smacked pretty hard by a long, hard stick that’s backed by the full weight of a person’s body).

“You mean, I’m supposed to essentially jump to the ground with a leg already bent, and you don’t want me to plant the foot first?”

“Uh-huh.  Exactly,” he answered with a pronounced nod and broad smile.

I immediately had visions of landing for the slam and having what’s left of my knees, buckle or shatter or explode – you name it.  Something that would end in me being loaded into an ambulance.  But there was no ambulance, no injury – no problem!  The slam looked and sounded great, and my legs got into proper position faster and easier than when I was planting the foot first for safety’s sake.

I’d gotten so used to doing it the safe way, I’d totally forgotten it wasn’t the right way.  And as it turned out, the right way was not – is not – the least bit detrimental to my knees.  It was a euphoria-producing discovery.  Then came the confusion.

What do I do now about moves in future forms that look like knee stressors?  I already push myself further than many think I should, avoiding only those things that I know will exacerbate an existing injury or compromised joint.  Clearly, I made the wrong decision in altering my feet positioning in the slams for the sake of my knees.  Should I try all risky moves until pain and swelling confirm that I shouldn’t?

That idea strikes me as inviting injury – which must be what I thought when I was first taught the slams.  I wish I could remember consciously deciding not to make the drop, but I don’t.  Which brings me to concern.

How many moves have I subtly changed without even realizing it, for fear of yet another significant injury – perhaps even one that would permanently end my martial arts life?  Have I done less than my best when I didn’t have to and without realizing it?

“Did you know I wouldn’t hurt my knees when you told me to drop without putting the foot down?” I asked Siheng Allen on the way out the door.  I expected the medical doctor to answer yes, to tell me that he knew something about the impact that I didn’t.  After extended explanation of theory based on leg positioning, I could only deduce that he’d made an educated guess the drop wouldn’t hurt my knees.

Eventually he said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt my knees.”

I didn’t remember until I was driving home that he too has had a knee operation and surgery on his back as well.  It was reasonable for him to think that what didn’t hurt him wouldn’t hurt me.  On the other hand, he can do kicking combinations and tornado kicks without the slightest problem, while I can go months at a time being unable to do either without pain that would reduce me to tears.  So it could be risky for me if he assumes that what doesn’t exceed his threshold won’t exceed mine.  Such assumptions are another cause for concern.

My head is obviously still swimming over it all.  But most importantly, my knees are still working. 🙂

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About T. D. Davis

Baker and former journalist. View all posts by T. D. Davis

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