I screwed up my left arm in a judo match about two months ago. Nothing went “pop,” nor was there any obvious sign of injury. About an hour after class a muscle in my forearm started to burn. It lasted a few days, but I didn’t let it bother me much. Because I’m a stubborn asshole, I went back to judo class a week later and had another match.
I could feel the same muscle aching during that second match. Once again, an hour later, it hurt like hell. Any pinching motion with my fingers felt like a hot poker to the forearm. It settled a little, going from burning to aching over the course of a few weeks, right up to and through my black belt test.
With the test coming, I couldn’t stop training altogether. Not a chance. So I trained around the injury. I had no trouble with kata. I had to be careful grabbing and pulling, and I put a pad on my forearm for partner work, but I could do just about anything else in class and practice.
Flash forward a few more weeks to today and I saw the athletic trainer at my day job. He diagnosed what I already suspected: tennis elbow. He told me keep doing the stretches I found, then suggested adding ice, massage, and some exercises with a giant chunk of rubber band. I asked him if I could keep training, and he told me to keep working around the injury until it heals up (which, unfortunately, could still be a while).
The key is finding out what you can do. Too many people have a small, nagging injury and declare it couch time. This doesn’t do any good. Can’t run? Do some upper body exercises. Hurt your arm? Run. Hangnail? Suck it up, buttercup.
A back injury may be an exception, but there’s generally a way to work around injury. One of our black belts screwed up her knee, so she did kata from a chair, just working the upper body movements. After her surgery, she did kata while staying in one stance to rehab the knee. It paid off: her doctor was shocked at how quickly she healed.
Succumbing to a small injury is just finding an excuse to skip workouts. Cultivate the opposite and find an excuse to work out, and you’ll be able to accomplish more than you think.