Lessons from the Mat: Tap Today, Train Tomorrow

As I sit and write this article, I find myself in the 3rd week of only being partially able to train. Last weekend, in week 2, I competed in a tournament. Now I know that may sound bizarre but let me explain.

In the last week of October, on what had become a Friday night date night for the boyfriend and I, we were at the gym, running drills and started to roll. You see, I had decided to sign up for my first tournament and relished any mat time I could get. We were granted access to the gym to train whenever we wanted and decided to take advantage of this great gift of jiu jitsu.

Back to that fateful, lesson filled Friday night. As I was drilling spider guard, I decided I no longer wanted to drill and went right into a roll. We moved from transition to submission and so on like any other roll and then it happened. He had me in an armbar and I laid there thinking I still had time. As I turned my head to look at the angle at which he had my elbow, I noticed that it looked abnormal and a little nasty and as I went to tap, we heard a loud pop. He let go and seemed to be propelled backwards at the sound and I just laid there thinking “Oh, no.”

So, what did I learn that night?

1) A dislocated elbow hurts…a lot

And it will put a stop to even light training. On the Monday before my tournament, I showed up to no gi and as we moved through the first underhook swim drill, I died a little with each partner switch. By the time I got to my 4th partner, I was fighting back the tears. The pain was excruciating. When my partner grabbed my elbow to arm drag, my knees almost buckled. When that drill time ended and my wrestling coach was describing the next drill, I walked off the mat and found a hiding spot to try to recompose myself. And I may have cried a little.

2) And training for a tournament becomes instantly difficult

At our gym, our competition classes are held on Wednesday and Sunday. These are the two days that are completely driven by the competitors. We each choose what we want to drill individually and spend the first hour trading off time with our partner as we run through our drills. The last hour is spent rolling. Both are difficult if the hinge that was your elbow is no longer functioning as it was originally designed. I moved through as much of those classes as I could and spent the rest of the evening and next few days nursing a horribly sore elbow. Those were the only days I showed up to class. I went from 7 days a week to 2.

3) Your doctor may call you names

Or maybe it is just my doctor. As a competitor, we all have a tendency to move through pain as if it is just another hurdle we must get through. My last professor said that if there ever were a day that we woke up and we weren’t in pain, we should worry because we may have died. And that is the mentality. Rub some dirt on it. Push through the pain. Pain is weakness leaving the body. That is true…to a degree. But there is a difference between sore and pain. And the worst is self inflicted pain that you must now explain to your doctor. No wait. Even worse is continuing to train for 3 weeks, compete, and THEN go see your doctor to find out the damage. He may have called me his worst patient. Ever.

4) Training partners are not mind readers

After my boyfriend got over the initial shock of the situation, we talked about what happened and he told me what he was thinking as I laid in that armbar a little too long. He said that he looked at my elbow and his positioning and was wondering if he had his angle wrong. Never did it occur to him that I was testing the physical limits of my elbow. He did everything he was supposed to do. He got to the right position and slowly cranked on that elbow, giving me more than enough time to tap. I just let the time run out.

5) And most importantly, my joints are my responsibility

I want to start off by saying that I have some pretty bendy joints. I probably have more time to escape an omoplata than most people thanks to being double jointed, but there is a point where my joints will tap for me if I choose to wait too long. And I learned this on that Friday night. I knew that I was getting close to the danger zone even before turning to look at my elbow, but I held off on tapping. The audible tap I gave came from my elbow and not my voice. And the guilt and horror on my boyfriend’s face was all my fault. I’ve been training long enough to know my level of responsibility when it comes to rolls. It is my responsibility to listen to the cues of my body and tap to a correctly applied submission.

Some may call me stubborn. Okay. Everyone that knows me would call me stubborn but these last 3 weeks have taught me a valuable lesson. I experienced a lot more pain during a match at my tournament than I would have had I played that roll smart. I also realize that I am lucky that I was even able to compete. As I start my 2nd week of being completely off the mat, I am having withdrawals. I’m waiting for my boyfriend to come over and tell me what they did in class so that I can live through his experience. So take it from me. Be smart. Tap today, train tomorrow.

Hurt my elbow but still won gold :)
Hurt my elbow but still won gold 🙂


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