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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

We're Crazy People, You Know That?

I've been fighting off some sort of bug, a nagging illness that just won't GO AWAY.

It comes and goes - sometimes I'll feel okay, then two hours later, whammo, sick as a dog yet again.  Fever, congestion, coughing, body aches, and any combo of those in bits and pieces off and on for a week now.

Of course, I had a full weekend of martial arts training planned (and paid for, mind you) during this period.

A normal person would back out and decide to rest and recover and train another day.  I'm sick enough where my brain doesn't operate properly to do my normal nine-to-five job, mind you, so yeah, it'd be wise to hole up in bed with meds and sleep it off, right?  Take the downtime now in order to get over it faster, right?

Every martial artist reading this post knows what actually happened.

Of course I didn't miss training. Not only that, it was a camp, so yeah, I went to lunch and dinner and hung out with the crew as much as I could, sneezing and coughing and sniffling as I did so.  By the end of my weekend I was dead on my feet and ready to sleep, but I was there.

I know many of you out there are thinking to yourselves, "Dick move, Chickie, you could get your training partners sick." And you're right, I grant you that. I did keep washing my hands and using hand sanitizer, and we weren't working on too much that required getting super-close most of the time.  I didn't hug anybody, and if you know me, that's so NOT like me.  But yes, it was dickish to risk infecting my training partners.

But most of you - MOST of you - if you're honest with yourselves, would have done the same thing I did.  You'd have sucked it up and trained, just like I did.

That's our culture, isn't it?  Injury? Suck it up and train.  Illness? Suck it up and train.  Chronic pain or disability?  Work around it, suck it up, and train.

It's what we do.  It's one of those things that binds us together as a community, no matter what style we actually practice. My friend Mike Mahaffey suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and he lives with incredible pain much of the time.  His solution, especially when his meds aren't getting the job done?

He rolls, that's what he does.

We know, on an intellectual level, this is a bad idea.  We need to rest. We need to recover.  When we're sick, we need to take care of ourselves and get better.   We're mostly grownups here, and our grownup selves would tell our children to do just that, right?

But we don't do it.

We train. 

It doesn't take very long for many of us to make the decision to train over being realistic and, well, SANE.  I tore a calf muscle early in my training - about three or four months in, maybe? - and I didn't miss my first-ever seminar two days later nor did I miss a single martial arts class, and I went to class five times a week back then, even though any amount of weight on that leg caused me to scream in agony for most of a month.

Each one of you has a story like this, or have heard it from somebody else. This is just NORMAL in our weird little hobby.

What happens when you get hurt IN CLASS?  Well, if you're like me - and I bet you are - you pretend it doesn't hurt that much until you lose functionality,  In my case, I take pride that I can take a shot to the hand from a newbie - it's always a newbie - that hurts like a mo-fo and the newbie doesn't even realize it happened.  It has to be swelling and non-functional for me to stop training, like when I got my fingers jammed soft weapons sparring and I had to go to the Urgent Care to make sure nothing was broken.

We all know that you can only put this "rest and recover" thing for so long, though.  You're accumulating a physical debt that will eventually have to be paid, my friend.  That means that now, I had to take a day off of everything else in my life - work, regular martial arts classes, and y'know, the normal non-martial-artsy stuff - because I just couldn't be in go-mode any more.

So WHY? Why do we do this to ourselves, my fellow crazy persons?

Some of this is the machismo of our culture.  We buy into this weird, completely unrealistic self-conception that we can take any kind of physical punishment and keep going.  It might be that women actually internalize it a little more deeply, as we don't want to be perceived as weak and not able to keep up with our male training partners.

But it's not the only reason.

Martial arts training is far more than just physical activity and learning how to do violence.  For many of us, it becomes part of our identity. It's fulfills physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs. It's a place where we feel safe, feel like one of the group.  We're accepted, and in that space, we're with our people.

Along with community, the mat is our "happy place", where we get a break from the trials and troubles of work, family, politics, religion, relationships, and daily life. I know when I'm deep in some martial art problem, that mental break is something I need to keep me going.  Even when I'm sick or hurting, I can take my attention OFF IT and put it on something I like a lot more.

We have so many good reasons to keep training in the face of illness and injury that to outsiders seems like insanity, don't we?

We're crazy people.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a nap. I have to get to Arnis class soon.

When have you trained with injury or illness when a sane person would have stayed home? Let us know in the comments!

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