Alive and Kicking #21 – Middle-Aged Martial Artist with a Bung Knee and a Dawning Realization

by on February 20, 2012

in Alive and Kicking


Alive and Kicking – Martial Arts Over 40


Monday 20 February 2012: Issue #21

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Published by Brett Kraiger. Your comments are always welcome.


Hi there!

Welcome to this week’s Alive and Kicking, the newsletter for martial artists over 40.

I’ve got a update on my visit to the surgeon about my knee, and this leads on into some thoughts about accepting our limitations or stubbornly ignoring them!


A few days ago I went to see an orthopedic specialist about my knee. I have been having intermittent pain in the knee, which intensified after I went for a run one day with not enough preparation. I’d done no running for quite some time, decided one day that I would do a 1.5 mile run at speed, forgot that I was 42 and not 24, and promptly injured myself.

Not my knee

An MRI scan I had a “horizontal cleavage tear” of the meniscus – basically a tear that cuts into the meniscus. Many meniscus tears are what is called a “bucket handle tear” where a small piece of the meniscus comes away from the main area. It sort of looks like a bucket handle, hence the name. My tear is different, sort of like someones cut into the side of it. It shows up on the MRI as a horizontal line going from the outside of my knee towards the inside, right through the middle of the tear.

The MRI also showed that I had some areas where the cartilage was completely missing, and perhaps the onset of damage as a result of that.

As much as I prefer to avoid surgery, a big part of me was hoping that the surgeon would tell me that he would operate, sort out the problems and I would lead a pain-free existence for the rest of my life!

I guess I knew that was going to be unrealistic, but I still had some hope that he’d be able to do something. I guess you can tell where this story is heading!

After giving my knee a physical check, poking, prodding, and pulling he declared that I actually had quite good stability in the knee considering the damage that was there. I put this down to some exercises I was given a decade ago when I ruptured my ACL. He then looked over my MRI and asked me questions about whether my knee was locking (No), grabbing (No) or giving way (very occasionally).

And of course he asked me what activities I was trying to undertake, and in particular whether I was still an active participant in martial arts. (Yes)

And the verdict… No surgery for me. Basically because there is nothing loose in the joint, no catching or locking, and my knee is generally stable, he is not sure that doing surgery on the tear will actually improve things.

He was able to tell me that I can pretty much count on my knee being problematic for some time to come, and that my only option is to carefully manage the pain and inflammation (with anti-inflammatory drugs).

And then came the thing that I knew was coming but I really didn’t want to hear.

He said “You are going to have to realize that you are not getting younger, and that this injury means that there will just be some things that you can no longer do.”

Oh I hated to hear that. As someone active in two martial arts, teaching one and just beginning in the other, and just in the process of rediscovering my fitness through intense training at the gym, being told that I am going to have to slow down or accept my limitations was about the last thing I wanted to hear.


Of course that then naturally leads on to a discussion about what can we expect from our bodies as we age, and how we handle ongoing injury or niggles.

And should we seriously consider disengaging from activities that cause us pain?

I was planning on talking in general terms here, but it was just too hard to write. So I’m going to share my current experiences and thoughts and allow you to draw your own parallels from that.

So here’s where I find myself as a 43 year old middle-aged martial artist…

I have a bung left knee, and a bung right shoulder. The shoulder is worse than the knee.

I am doing Taekwon-Do. Lots of kicks, jumping, striking and punching. What hurts? Well jumping hurts my knee, bouncing as we do for sparring hurts my knee, punching and striking hurts my injured shoulder. But mostly, things don’t hurt too bad. A small proportion of the movements give me grief, but the majority of the time I don’t think too much about it.

I am also doing Aikido. In Aikido we spend a lot of time either heading towards the floor or getting back up off it again. This is really working my knee hard, and when it is aggravated this does become very painful. If you are not heading towards the floor or getting back up off it, chances are you are being manipulated by your partner in such a way that you are soon going to be heading towards the floor! Many of these movements put terrible strain (i.e. Pain!) on my shoulder.

So I find myself in the situation that just about everything that we do in Aikido causes me considerable pain. It’s a constant companion. On top of that, one of the things you need to learn to do in Aikido is to relax and go with the flow. But when you know pain is imminent, it is very hard to relax. We humans are not designed that way.

Big difference huh… Taekwon-Do hurts a bit, every now and then. Aikido hurts pretty much all the time.

But … and here’s the really hard thing… I love Aikido. I don’t want to give it up. But I honestly don’t know if I can keep putting myself through it.

What’s my point??

My somewhat long-winded point is that you have options. I have injuries and limitations that are really hindering my enjoyment and progress in Aikido. But I am finding that I can cope with Taekwon-Do with few problems.

A little further back in the newsletter I mentioned that my surgeon had said “You are going to have to realize that you are not getting younger, and that this injury means that there will just be some things that you can no longer do.”

I think he’s right. As stubborn as I am, Aikido looks to be out of the question for me until I can get these injuries under control.

But what he’s not said, is that there is always something else that you *can* do.

If you are in a martial art and finding that you are really struggling with it, then perhaps it’s not the right martial art for you. There will be another one that is a better fit for you.

Don’t quit. Adapt. Find another art that suits you better.

For me, that will probably mean I will have to leave Aikido behind, and continue concentrating on Taekwon-Do.


That’s all for this week.

As always, if you have anything you would like to see on the website or in a future newsletter then you can get hold of me by replying directly to this email, commenting on Facebook, or leave your comments on the website.

Thank you for subscribing (and reading!). Back in a week.

All the best!


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dennis Burns February 21, 2012 at 12:12 am

Placing age related limitations on how you do martial Arts does not mean you get any less out of it, it just changes

At age 40 and and only beginning to practice Taekwon-do I was also Diagnosed with “knackered Knees” with the prognosis very similar to Bretts. and Boy did I love to do flying kicks and for a few years, I ignored my surgeons advice – Until one Day I landed badly and having no stability on the right knee, collapsed to the floor, luckily by collapsing I avoided major damage and after a rest period, recuperation and a revist to the surgeon was back on my feet. The only difference was a categorical NO FLYING Techniques !!!!

Since then I have adapted how I practice Taekwon-Do (to stay on the ground), and though I envy the younger ones leaping and flying about, I pat my self on the back, that at 54 and a 3rd dan Black belt, I can still practice and enjoy and participate in my Martial Art. Taekwon-Do

So whatever age you may be and whatever form your Martial Art activity may take, do it to the best of your ability with whatever limitations time may inflict, and be proud to do so.



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