My life as a role playing game

by Jinryu

Went to the physiotherapist today.  First time back in that place since November.  December was in Hong Kong working, January was me doing intensive summer classes, February was more summer classes, March was my practical legal training (licensing) course, and … wait. It’s still march.  Wow where did those last 4 months just go?


For those of you who have problems with joints, I highly recommend spending the time to find a good physiotherapist.  It’s actually quite difficult, because they’re really hit or miss.  Some of them baby you too much and don’t explain to you what’s going on with your body or why you’re doing whatever exercises you’re doing.  Some of them are too technical.  Some of them just want to make money.  But if you find one that’s just right? Stick with them.

I know a lot of you people out there like to go to chiropractors and take herbal medicine and all that, but I’m very much wary of those sorts of things– I’m sure there are a few good people out there, but the idea of having someone crank parts of my body or taking chemicals (natural or not) without any recognised clinical evidence is a really not a good idea.


Physiotherapy is a lot like going to the gym, or signing up for a yoga class– except that there’s a focus on understanding specific muscles and ligaments, and how small things can really throw a wrench / spanner in the works.  I’ve had personal trainers in gyms before, and sure– they’ll give you a program to make your body look good.  But will they give you an actually functionally balanced body?

I’ve only been doing physiotherapy for the past year or so, but the results have been great.  About half a year ago, I severely damaged my surpraspinatus (part of the rotator cuff) to the point where opening doors that had those hyradulic auto-close-behind-you things on them was actually difficult.  Even brushing my teeth with an electric toothbrush was painful.  And while sure, time heals everything, one of the major themes that goes through physio is that your body doesn’t always heal things in the right way.

Since my rotator cuff injury, I’ve rebalanced my shoulders.  Plural.  Not only does my dominant right arm (the injured one) work almost as good as before the injury, but I’m confident that I’ve rebalanced the muscles throughout the shoulder so that the liklihood of that injury reoccuring has substnatially diminished.  As good measure, I’ve also been working the left shoulder so that it can enjoy the wisdom obtained by his brother.

My most recent injury was to my knee.  I’ve always had problematic knees, ever since high school– volleball and Jeet Kune Do was terrible for them.  But about three weeks ago, while doing some groundwork at an Orientation Week club demonstration, my overzealous partner did something weird. I heard some rice crispies noises (snap, crackle, pop) and next day, I couldn’t walk without a cane.

I thought it was a lateral collateral ligament from self-diagonising myself with youtube, but the physio did some tests and set the record straight– wasn’t too far off the mark, but he says it’s an illiotibiial band sprain.  The good news is that since I’ve been working my ITB since about a half year ago, I’m already mostly doing what I need to do to rehabilitate this knee. In fact, even though the injury was 3 weeks ago and I haven’t had the time to see him until now, the fact that I’ve been doing knee related exercises and streches consistently during the injured time is probably why today I can already run and do judo.  Otherwise put, my usual physio routine has made my recovery time signifiacantly shorter.


My knee still isn’t perfect, but my point is that the physiothearpy solution to knee problems makes a hella lot more sense than some of the things that chiropractors and herabalists claim.  Yank my knee this way or that way? Make me eat glucossamine?


Knee pain is usually due to ligaments or tendons getting inflammed, caught or rubbing in places that they shouldn’t due to lack of flexibility or a disbalanace of antagonistic muscles. So the solution to a knee problem isn’t to just hit it until it works they way you want it to, nor is it to take some pills to kill the pain or magically regenerate cartilege.  It has to do with fixing the machinery that stabilises the knee to begin with.


In my case, my right knee is supported by a weak gluteus maxius, an overpowered hamstring, a really tight hip flexor, and a really tight ITB.  So what I need to do is basically stretch all of the above, and work that glute more.

It’s interesting how when the physio pointed it out, the muscle development on my right leg is significantly different from the development of my left leg– you can feel it just by touching.



In the past, I’ve thought of calling it quits— stopping martial arts altogether due to acumulated injuries and creaks and groans.  But physio?  Physio has unlcoked this entirely new gaming experience for me– in which I get to customise and balance a character who happens to be me.

It has somewhat changed my outlook on life completely.  The problem with any game is that once you beat it, you don’t pick it up again.  Things go obsolete and that’s that.  But suddenly?  Suddenly I’ve discovered that not only can I work on the world around me– but I can actually work on myself.  And that’s an interesting revelation.  


Although it was my shoulder that I injured about 6 months ago, at the time I did ask him about my knee pains as well.  Since then, I’ve been working on rehabilitating my knees.  I’ve cut down on biking to balance out the muscle mass of my quads and calves.  I’ve stretched more dilligently, I’ve worked on deeper rangers of motion.  And the results?  The results show, and I can feel them.  Even with the recent injury, my knees are more stable now than they’ve been in years.

Nowadays, I treat the physio exercises like grinding away at a JRPG.  I’m putting points into specific muscle groups, either in strength of flexibility.  And then I’m keeping in mind how putting points into those stats affects the balance of the localised area, and how that local capability translates to the whole body’s dynamics.  Essentially, I am building a machine out of my own body, experimenting on the best builds and trying to find a setup that best works for what I need it to do.

As with gaming, I’ve been being consistent and miticulous.  I’ve been paying attention to the ranges of motion available to me; how much effort it takes to squat the same weight people at judo; how much time it takes to warm up a muscle group; how much it takes to make that area sore; and the kinds of injuries I get.


Yesterday, I did randori against a white belt.  He was 18 kilos heavier than me (about 30 pounds).  Not only that, but he’s a highly fit guy.  It’s the first time I do sparring since the knee injury, but it’s also been three weeks of very specifically intended work on balancing my body.  Even though I did the sparring left handed, and had my right leg back at all times (which means that I really only have particular left handed throws available) I was highly successful and never felt like I was out of my element.  The confidence of knowing that my body was working the way I wanted to work really counted for a lot– it meant that I could operate less violently and take my time. I didn’t need to take any extreme measures to will my way through tight situations– I just needed to use my muscles the way I could, say balanced and low, and do my job.  It’s true that he was a white belt– but even so, I think I’m pretty proud of myself to say that with one knee on the rehab list and doing everything on my non-dominant side, it is not a small thing to throw an 86 kilogram person down to the ground..

On the ground, I was doing groundwork with some other people and similarly did really well.  In a strange way, really paying attention to my body over the past month has given me a very different and new sense of confidence in sparring.  It’s a bit hard to describe.


I guess the easiest way of putting it is that in the past, a lot of my “substance” as a fighter has been iron will, or fighting spirit.  A lot of the other orange belts who started at the same time as me recgnise that the difference between me and them is that I’m not scared of any of them– and that gives them a reason to be afraid of me when we spar or compete against eachother.  That fighting spirit comes from being willing to hurt people.  I’m not saying I’m going to gouge out your eyes or something like that– but I am willing to throw you down, which is actually something that beginners in judo have a hard time developing.  It’s a sort of focused agression or killing instinct.


But lately, that energy has been changing.  I think, because I’m becoming more attuned to my own body and capabilities, there’s a gradual philosophical shift in the way I conduct myself.  Now, I’m seeking technical superiority.  I have enough willpower to match even some of the most agressive opponents– but now, I’m relying more on technical and leveral advantages.  I have a better understanding nowadays of the angles that my body works at and doesn’t work at– and that has given me better options and allowed me to make better choices in situations, trading up a few moves ahead of my opponent.


Where was I going with all this… physiotherapy is good for me.   If you have problems with your body, take an interest in it.  Go see your general practitioner, sure– but keep in mind that your health is an involved process.  You can’t just treat it like a car with bi-monthly checkups– you have to take an interest in it.  You have to do the maintenance.  You have to appreciate its limitations and the ways that it can be improved.


I suppose I don’t yet have a flying car, but some advances have been made, and I do appreciate them for the quality of life they’ve given back to me.