Broken Ribs, Yes; Broken Spirit — Never!
How gratitude can make pain pull a Houdini.
It was the final “roll” of the Wednesday session. It had been an arduous week, and an equally arduous session thus far. My competition was easily ten years my junior and outweighed me by at least one hundred pounds. In any other contact sport, this would make most run for the hills. But this was Brazilian jiujitsu, the chess of the martial arts world, where technique always beats strength. We slapped hands, then bumped fists, and the grappling ensued. A few short moments and a shriek later, two of my lower left ribs were broken and I was trembling with pain, flat on my back.
“Focus on your breath”. Sounds easy enough, right? Gasping for air from anaerobic exertion, with two ribs now collapsing into the organ responsible for said “breath”, all I could do was focus. Inhaling felt like an Excalibur sword twisting in my torso. Exhaling was also extremely unpleasant, although not to the same extent. Again, the voice. “Focus on your breath.” I squinted through my pain grimace, and registered the source of the voice. A mythical creature, the club black belt instructor.
Very few Brazilian jiujitsu practitioners will achieve black belt status. Injuries are very common roadblocks, however lack of commitment is number one. On average it takes over ten years of dedicated training to reach the coveted title. A lot of life happens within those ten-plus years. Staying committed and training around injuries takes discipline. Discipline doesn’t come natural to most. So, when you find yourself crippled with an unfamiliar pain, just listen to the black belt. (This applies to all aspects of life, I have come to learn.)
I focused. I closed my eyes once more and inhaled. As my diaphragm expanded, the familiar sharp jolt of pain hit my nervous system. I stopped the inhale, felt where my newfound O2 capacity was, and slowly exhaled. At the end of the exhale, more movement of my tender rib cage. I now discovered the threshold of expelling my breath. For the next few minutes, focused, I stayed within these parameters. It was now time to drag my sorry ass off the mat and get home to my wife and one year old son. Keeping the same breathing rhythm, my new normal, I cradled my swollen ribcage and went out into the night.