Knowing when to train and not to train can be a tricky minefield to navigate.
Every martial artist has experienced this. Whether it’s soreness, injury, family or work commitments, car trouble, bad weather or just not feeling like it, we can always find excuses not to go to training.
Where this gets difficult is knowing the difference between ‘excuse’ and ‘reason’.
Knowing the difference can help you in so many important ways: preventing injury, maximising your performance, and improving relationships with your training partners and teachers, and also with your relationships outside of the dojo.
So how can you tell the difference? Read on!
There are a few sides to every story, and it’s important to understand all the factors that can influence the decision.
Here we go:
- Bruised, but not broken: That’s the saying we often use for gradings in Krav Maga. At the end of the grading you should be bruised, but not broken. I think the same applies to all martial arts training, for a given value of ‘bruised’. Martial arts training can be tough on the body, and learning to recognise the signs of impending injury, when possible, is an important skill to acquire. It can save you literally years of being on the sidelines with injuries. Speaking from experience – and mostly the bad kind. But how can you tell the difference?
- Experience – yes, sometimes the bad kind of experience will teach you to recognise when something is close to injury. Unfortunately, you might have to get hurt a few times before that happens. You also might not. Here’s to that.
- Trust your intuition – sometimes you might feel like something is ‘wrong’ even though it’s not broken (yet). Maybe your knee doesn’t feel stable, or your shoulder is catching or fatiguing way too quickly, etc. If your gut tells you that pushing through it will not be good for you, learn to listen to it!
But here’s a super important point about this: You need to be sure that it’s not just your mind that’s telling you to quit because the workout is hard. If you do, you’ll quite every time it gets hard! So how can you tell the difference? I use the ‘down up/Up down’ approach. If it starts from my head and works to my gut, many times it’s just me trying to break through mental barriers. If it starts from your gut with that ‘something doesn’t feel right’ and then I try to consciously rationalise and identify it, it’s often my body telling me something’s about to go. In other words, if you feel it then think it, be cautious. If you think it then feel it, push through. This is similar to how teach self-defence, interestingly enough. More on this here.
- Learn to manage your ego: There’s an expectation in many martial arts clubs, especially those who focus on competition, that you don’t quit. There’s a whole culture of embracing injuries like badges of honour. Training through pain and injuries is expected, and even encouraged. This is where managing your ego and peer pressure are important. It may be hard to say ‘no’, just like it is in any social situation where you have a group dedicated to a particular activity. You may feel under pressure to come and train. You might even feel like you will lose your place in the pack if you don’t train.
Don’t worry – if you are with the right group of people, they will understand. You also need to learn to recognise your own internal voice in this. Often times it’s our own projection in these situations. Reality is that anyone who trains regularly is familiar with aches, pains or injuries and no one wants to see their teammates suffer (despite the playful banter!).
A side note – I’ve trained with instructors who say things like ‘doesn’t matter if you’re injured or sick, I expect you at training’. I think that, for the most part, it’s criminally dangerous. Sure, there are some exceptions if you are a high-level competitor, etc. But for the most part, being broken is a legitimate reason not to train, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Oh, and if you're sick stay at home. Don't spread any of it around to your teammates!
If you are injured, not training is ok. There are still plenty of ways to get better if you are on the sidelines. For one, you can work on different aspects of your game. Here’s an example – I broke my right ulnar in sparring several years ago. Badly. Emergency surgery and a plate later, I couldn’t take any impact on that arm for months. First session back, I had a feeling I shouldn’t spar. My gut was telling me it was a bad idea, but I shrugged and said ‘sure, I’ll do a few rounds’. First round in, I copped a spinning heel kick right on the edge of the plate and fractured it again. Out for another 3 months. So, no right hand for about 7 months. But guess what? I was still at training every day. And my footwork, head movement and jab improved more than they have in the previous 3 years put together. It was all I could practice. If nothing else, you can come and watch the classes. And there are ways to get better too – some suggestions here.
- Get over yourself – Ok, here’s the part you’re probably not going to like. This is the part where I call ‘bullshit’.
Firstly, think about your priorities. If training is important to you, really important, then you’ll find a way. The weather, Aunty Susan’s Visit, getting your car serviced, having an assignment due the next day, being busy at work, etc., are, for the most part, excuses, not reasons. I know plenty of single parents who work extra shifts just to be able to afford training and they will find the time between two jobs, university and raising kids to get into the dojo and train 3 times a week like clockwork. And I’ve been there myself.
Yes, we all have days where motivation fails us. That’s when discipline is important. We can all make it to training on the days we feel like it and it’s easy. It’s when you’re busy and tired that you have to make the choice to go do an hour of training instead of sitting on the couch with Netflix. Learn to prioritise and manage your time effectively. Yes, it’s part of being a well-functioning adult. If you think I'm being preachy, well, good. Maybe I'm it's cause I'm saying something that you don't like to hear? 'Yes, I see what you are saying, but I'm a spcecial case because X and mine are reasons'. Sorry mate! Chances are, you are not as special as you think (in this context, I'm sure you are a wonderful, specila person).
But what you will find is that there are huge benefits to doing this. You’ll actually get closer to achieving your goals. You’ll be in a better mood to deal with Aunty Susan (read the link above if you don't get it). You’ll do better at work or on that assignment because you’ve had some time to decompress and relax.
While you may lose an hour or two on the training itself, you’ll more than make up for it with productivity afterwards.
A saying I’m a big fan of is ‘done is better than perfect’. If you are legitimately broken, then don’t be silly. Stay home and recover.
Learn to recognise what is a legitimate injury and when your body tells you that rest is required.
Learn to recognise your ego and how it affects your decisions.
Finally, learn to recognise the voice that tells you it’s ok to be complacent (read ‘learn to recognise your own BS). Spend some time prioritising and managing your time effectively and your productivity in training (and outside of training) will skyrocket. If you need some tips for getting motivation when you don’t feel like it, refer back to Aunty Susan.
See you in training!!!
Stay safe, stay tuned.
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