In the first post I mentioned that the first few posts in our study group would be Prolegomena, or preliminary thoughts about the world of self-protection. I continued by sharing information about my background as a way to be an encouragement that irrespective of you pasts or your present you have the ability to receive this training. I gave you the number one rule of self-protection: Don’t put yourself in a situation where you need to fight. But I also mentioned that it isn’t always easy to follow Rule Number One. (Sorry, Dad.) :)
Further, I hinted at the second reason that I put together this study group. The timeline of my life was that I graduated from high school in 1991 and received my honorable discharge from the Navy in 1995. From 1995 to 1999 was a period that I refer to as the “Dark Ages.” I was a mess back then, in many ways, and said and did things I’ve long lamented saying and doing. I’m sure you all know about what I’m talking. Many of us have our own “Dark Ages,” periods of our lives that, if exposed to the harsh light of day, would leave us humiliated and paralyzed with shame and inaction.
I bring this last point up because 1996 I suffered an injury that, as I noted, was the first domino to topple in a series that would put me here, talking to you. At the time, I was working as a coffee shop manager, living with my cat in a one-bedroom apartment, and generally going through the motions of life with no real purpose.
The winter of 1996 brought with it, in Richmond, VA, where I lived, a series of major snowstorms. My particular area had over a foot or so of snow and yet my store (it was a coffee shop in a bookstore) was still open. I’d worked the full day’s shift, since I lived closest to the store and I didn’t want my employees to drive in that mess. However, and this is crucial to the story, I didn’t put my boots on when I left the store to drive home.
I stopped off at the grocery store across from my apartment building and picked up some food. On my way out I slipped and fell in the slush-filled parking lot. Remember that I still had dress shoes on since I didn’t put my boots on when I got into my car. I recall thinking, “I’m just going to run into the store for a minute. I’ll be fine.”
The problem I had was that when I fell my foot stayed in place but my body twisted. I remember lying in the snow and looking at the left side of my left foot touching the ground while at the same time my knee was pointing to the sky. This was not good, to say the least, and I actually said out loud, “That’s not good.”
Thanks to some good samaritans I was able to get to my apartment across the street and set up on my couch, with my foot elevated and enough over-the-counter drugs in me to last for a while. I called my dad and told him what happened and downplayed the injury. “Oh yeah, it hurts, but it’ll be fine.” He was set to help me move into a new apartment, a downstairs one, in the same complex the next day, so he told me he’d see it then.
Well, the next day came and my dad saw my injury. I should tell you this about my dad: He’s a man who’s never minced words. He took a look at my foot and said, “Your toes are purple, stupid. Your foot is not fine, dumbass.” It was clearly wishful thinking on my part and the next day I went to an urgent care facility (one of those stand alone clinics). The X-ray showed that I had a break in my fibula but the doctor there referred me to an orthopedic specialist for the following Monday.
At this point I figured that I’d be out of training for about six weeks or so. I didn’t think it’d be a big deal. Of course, the last paragraph should’ve shown you that perhaps my thought process wasn’t as realistic about this injury from the start.
I hobbled into the orthopedic doctor’s office with the girl I was dating at the time. She’d had a pair of crutches that she let me borrow and I was taken in and my leg was X-rayed from different angles than the other doctor had used. When I came back into the waiting room my then-girlfriend’s face was pale and she looked surprised.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“Well, I didn’t get a chance to look at the X-ray in detail but when the doctor looked at it, he said, ‘Oh my!’ This might not be so simple a break.”
The doctor came in and began discussing my X-ray. He said that I’d broken my fibula, dislocated my foot, and tore two ligaments. He launched into a typical jargon-ladened discussion of the surgery that I’d need to fix the injury. He’d place a plate and 8 screws on my fibula and that they’d stay there forever, and how he’d put a two-inch screw through my ankle to hold everything in place, but that that would come out.
Oh, by the way, if you put any weight on it it would break and it’d be tough to remove it. The doctor also told me he’d have to remove one of those ligaments and that the other would heal on its own. You know, no big deal.
I tried my best to follow along, figuring that I could always call and ask for clarification later, and asked the question I’d already begun pondering. “Doctor, that’s cool, and my insurance will take care of the surgery and all, but how long until I’m back at 100%?”
“Twelve to eighteen months. You’ll have to keep weight off of your left leg for at least two months.”
Huh. OK. Twelve to eighteen months. “Well, when can we get this ball rolling?” The date was set for the next week and I began to process what was happening.
I’m going to skip the details of the surgery and some of the rehab. Frankly it’s pretty boring, since the surgery was a success and you don’t need to read, “… and then I stretched some more.”
But I bring up my surgery for multiple reasons. First, while I was drifting through life at that point, and I certainly had done things of which I was not proud, I managed to have people in my life who cared enough about me to be there when I needed them the most. They helped move my stuff to my new apartment, they got me set up after my surgery, and they brought food and generally checked up on me.
I can’t thank them enough if I had a hundred lifetimes to do it, and even though things didn’t work out with my then-girlfriend (I’m happily married to a fantastic woman and have been for 19 years.), I’ll always appreciate how she handled that period of time.
Most of you have people like this in your own lives. Perhaps you haven’t been in a situation like mine. And actually, these people that I mentioned were there for me farther down the road in this tale, when things got even worse.
But maybe you have had people like this in your life, people who’d go to the mat for you and stand with you. Don’t overlook them and don’t forget to thank them.
Second, I had a lot of time on my back to read and watch fight footage. I began to think, to analyze techniques, read books and magazine articles, and, as it turns out, began the process of becoming a teacher, something I never thought possible at that time, in spite of what I know about myself and my gifts now.
The time I rehabbed also give me clarity regarding my martial arts school affiliation. When I finally got back to training, nearly 14 months later, my first night back, I was put at risk by a coach who was training a guy for a fight. He put me in the ring with him as a sparring partner, in spite of my lack of conditioning and training rust.
I wound up with a chipped tooth and a concussion. Eventually I had a moment of clarity where I realized what kind of a school I wanted to attend and what kind of coach I wanted in my life. I walked out of that school and never regretted it for a moment.
Third, I lost my job shortly after the surgery. It wasn’t really something I’d consider fair or the right thing to do but the company cut ties with me since I couldn’t work for months. That, as you can imagine, led to problems paying my bills, and then problems paying my rent.
One thing led to another (Yes, I’m omitting some details. But there’s a coming article about why.) and I eventually found myself evicted, arrested, and being left with my car, my cat (that I had to rescue from the pound and find a new home for, since I was homeless at that point), and the clothes on my back.
Those friends of mine did what they could. One offered me a place to stay for a time and I appreciated it. Others helped out as they were able and I don’t want to downplay that, either. I ate for months on coupons for free hamburgers and I detailed cars for gas money for my car/home.
I taught alongside a friend of mine and that allowed me to keep and develop skills while losing some of the weight I’d gained in my layoff due to my surgery.
But the fact of the matter is that I’d sunk to a place where on the one hand I wanted to be better but on the other didn’t think I was capable of being any better than what I was at that point.
I was functionally homeless, laden with debts, with criminal charges hanging over my head, and no genuine prospects for a better life.
Looking back on it now, I had more than I realized. My friends cared enough for me to not get on my case for being monumentally stupid. They cared for me when I didn’t care for myself.
What I lacked, what I only now see that would’ve changed everything, was humility. My pride simply would not let me ask for the sort of real help that I desperately needed. I couldn’t admit that I had made a mess of things and that I didn’t know how to fix it.
I’m going to tread carefully during Part 3 of our Prolegomena. Bear in mind that I have a goal in view for this study group and that the events in my life are means to that end.
Also remember that the purpose of the group is to become more knowledgable in the area of self-protection; there are things that I have in my past that are relevant to this goal. While we may not see eye to eye on these things we can respectfully disagree on somethings while vehemently agreeing on others.
OK, that’s the extent of the disclaimer. Part 3 is forthcoming and it involves me giving up teaching, becoming a student, and re-embracing my teaching.
Until next time,