Here we go again. Right after I wrote a post that was uncomfortable because it felt like patting myself on the back, I’m to do it again.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
There are a few things that I keep to myself to bolster my confidence that I’m proud of. I often don’t talk about it though because I feel taken out of context, I might come across as a blowhard.
Why Trying Harder is Sometimes the Wrong Thing To Do
Back in ’92, I was an Orange Belt in the Korean martial art of Hapkido. I had just returned back to the dojang (Korean word for ‘training hall’ equivalent to the Japanese, dojo) after taking a 3 year hiatus to finish my electrical apprenticeship.
I thought that I would have to start all over as a white belt but my master, GM Bong Soo Han, informed me that once you test for a rank, it is your forever. Soon I was back on the mat that I had missed for the last few years, moving through the drills and techniques that I remembered and loved.
After a few weeks back, and getting into the groove again, I was excited to begin sparring again. I got my wish.
After the warm-ups this one particular class, the instructor told us to put on our gear. We all went to our workout bags and gathered the various safety equipment we were required to wear; foam boots, shin, forearm, glove and head protectors. Mouthpiece and of course we already had on our “cup-checks.”
We then lined up by rank into 2 lines, senior students in front line, juniors in the back row. The process is we face each other, bow, the junior initiates the encounter and the senior only responds with techniques that the junior has been introduced to already.
For example, a black belt can’t do a jump spin back kick to a orange belt who has never seen it, let alone what to do about it.
After a set amount of time, the instructor will tell us to break. We turn around to fix our uniforms, then turn to face one another to bow, then the junior row rotates to face a new senior student.
I found myself facing a blue belt (3 belt ranks above me, roughly 6-12 months more training) I had never met before, especially since I had been gone 3 years. He was a pretty big guy, but being 5’4″ and 120 pounds, every guy is a pretty big guy to me.
Being just an orange belt and not having much experience sparring, I was basically a one-trick pony. I had this one set that worked for me pretty well because I was small and quick. So I tried it on this blue belt who I had never met before.
I rushed in to do a backfist (kind of like a jab) to his face to be quickly followed by a punch with my other hand to his ribs. The counter to this technique is really simple though, move off of the attack line, and block the backfist with a hand raised to the side of the head and counter with a strike to the now exposed ribcage on the side of the body of the backfist.
I immediately felt the sting of the punch to my ribs.
After we pause to reset after the encounter, I think to myself, ‘well maybe I just need to be quicker…”
I go about twice as fast. Unfortunately, I immediately feel the same sting to my ribs.
Being a one-trick pony, what do you think I do?
I tell myself, ‘okay go as fast as you can!’
OW! That one hurt! Felt like I got the wind kicked out of me! As I’m about to reset and try again, I hear, ‘BREAK!’
I turn around to fix my dobok (Korean for uniform, Japanese gi) and boy to the blue belt.
We continue for a few more rounds, I’m a bit subdued but I make it through the rest of class. At the end of class and our meditation, one of the instructors comes up to m, asking me how I’m doing. I tell him I’m fine and I soon make my way off of the mat which is getting ready for the next class.
I proceed to go to the small mat area and to work on techniques that I have already been shown, taking the opportunity to practice. I continue working out for about an hour, though I’m a bit sore from that punch to the ribs. I just think to myself, I need to come up with some different combinations…
Thank God for Relaxing With a Beer and Blood-Red Piss
When the next class has ended I decided that an hour of extra training was enough and changed out of my uniform and headed home.
Back in those days, I drank beer daily. I pop open a beer and settled on to the sofa to watch TV. There was this old cheesy movie with Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams chasing Rutger Hauer, who was a terrorist. About halfway through the movie I had to use the head. Standing there in the bathroom, I did what comes naturally, but when I glanced down. It did not look normal or natural at all. In the bowl the liquid was not the normal color, it wasn’t pink, it was blood red!
I got out of the bathroom, telling my roommate what just happened, he told me to call the doctor. I asked him what doctor is open at 10:00 at night? He told me to call emergency. Fortunately, as a union electrician, I had great medical coverage, I looked at my insurance card and there was a 24 emergency number. I called it and spoke with the triage nurse, I asked her if I should go to the doctor in the morning, she quietly but firmly told me no, I should come in tonight. I asked her but the office was closed, she gently reminded me that they had a 24 hour facility about 10 miles away.
[In my own defense, I was only in my mid-20’s and had never dealt with a life-threatening emergency before, so excuse my naivete.]
I told my roommate that I was going to jump on my motorcycle and head downtown to the hospital, he responded that he would rather that I let him take me. I told him don’t be silly, he was busy studying for finals. But again, thank God he did.
You see, what I didn’t know was that the punch I received (probably that third one) ruptured my spleen but I didn’t know it. As I was watching the movie, my blood pressure was slowly dropping but because I was laying down on the sofa, it hadn’t dropped enough that it affected my brain (yet!).
When my roommate took me in his car, I was now vertical, the short 20 minute drive saw me slowly going into shock from a lack of blood pressure. By the time we got to hospital, I was beginning to feel drowsy and delirious.
Waiting in the ER and Wanting to Punch the X-ray Technician
To be honest, I don’t know how long I waited to see the doctor and I don’t even remember actually seeing, let alone talking to one. The rest of the night was kind of a haze.
All except for the X-ray guy who took me to get an MRI and would get upset at me because I couldn’t lie still and hold my breathe long enough for him to take the damn picture.
Here I was laying on a frickin’ cold gurney, in a fetal position because I was writhing in pain and this a-hole is upset that I can lay still!?! If I could I would’ve given him a backfist to the face and punch to the ribs but that’s how I got into this situation in the first place.
21 Staples, a Zipper Scar and a Beautiful Blonde Nurse
I don’t know how many hours later, I guess I was kind of out of it.
The next thing I know, I’m in the ICU. [I guess it was a pretty close call.] And I have a nurse looking me in the face as I wake up. She smiles, asks me how I’m feeling and if there is anything I needed.
I joke with her that a big blond nurse would be nice. Don’t ask me why I said that, I thought I was just being cute.
Then I’m back to sleep. Having a 6″ zipper scar really takes it out of you. Pun intended. And I didn’t even get a chance to ask them to save my spleen for me…
When I next open my eyes there is this big beautiful blonde nurse standing there. She smiles at me and asks, was there something else I needed? Like most introverted, shy, socially awkward, 20-somethings, I just stared, smiled and remained mute. My loss.
I do everything I could to get out of the hospital, getting up and walking around every chance I could, using as little of the morphine clicker as I could tolerate (I was deathly afraid of getting hooked on the crap), and doing whatever else I needed to to get out of my hospital-prison bed.
7 days later. 2 days in the ICU and 5 days in the general ward, I’m finally released from my sterile but nonetheless, stifling confines of the hospital.
Getting Back on the Mat and Being Proud of Being Stupid
After my accident and when I felt ready enough, I rejoined the Hapkido studio. Some of the students were surprised to see me back. I didn’t really understand their reaction, I just thought the accident was just that, an accident.
I also told them that I had not yet accomplished what I had joined the studio for. My training was my means to gain more peace and confidence in my life, I was not there yet in life, so I felt I needed to continue training. For a few months, it would feel as some students would point at me and whisper among themselves, I didn’t get it back then but I think I do now.
As people, we will often allow our fears to control our lives. The idea of training in a martial art having the potential to put you in the hospital is quite scary, I guess. I just never saw it that way. I saw it as something that happens when you don’t approach life consciously. When you do things without thinking, people can get hurt.
Accidents happen on the jobsites every day when construction workers don’t pay attention to what they’re doing or what’s going on around them. The same thing happened to me on the mat, I tried the same thing over and over, some how expecting a different result. Stupid of me.
What about the blue belt, you may ask?
I found out that he was actually a professional pro beach volleyball player. He had years of experience in competition at a very high level and that he had a ‘mean streak.’ That night he had injured 2 other students. I don’t know if he was asked to leave or if he left on his own. Didn’t really matter to me. I bumped into him around town a couple of other times over the years, I don’t think he remembered me. One time I was with a buddy, he looks at the guy then at me, telling me I’m an idiot. The guy was like 6’2′ and 190 pounds, what the hell was I thinking trying to hit the guy.
I guess I’m just kind of stupid that way.
I’m proud of the fact that I like challenging myself and that I do not easily get derailed from my objectives.
(This post is part of the Live Your Legend Start a Blog Challenge, join the Revolution NOW!)