The day I knew something was wrong with my back, I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. The bones in my lower back felt like they were crunching together when I tried to move, and I hobbled for two days, pain racing up and down my spine when I took a step.
In two weeks’ time, I had my diagnosis. A central disc protrusion, contacting the nerve root, in my lower back. It took a few minutes for the doctor to deliver the news, but it took years for me to learn how to live with it.
I’d always been stubborn. As soon as the pain subsided, I went back to throwing jabs, crosses, side and roundhouse kicks. But things were different. Instead of feeling sore like I used to after a good workout, I felt hurt, like a fist was crushing the insides of my back.
I’d practiced martial arts since I was 13, and to accept that the moves I loved were hurting me felt worse than a sidekick to the gut.
I felt lost for a time, but after a while, I decided that not all was lost. I was then learning a Japanese martial art, which emphasised keeping a straight back while moving. There was less torque involved in the techniques compared to the kicking and punching I’d learned before, instead taijutsu used the whole body to generate power.
It was something I could do with less pain, so I did. I did it for nearly 10 years, and it led me to amazing places. I made great friends, visited martial masters in Japan, learned how to roll, do joint locks and move with my back straight. It was a blast.
Throughout the years, my back pain has come back in fits and starts. Over time, I came to learn what causes it, usually by using my body badly or by not keeping myself in shape. Sometimes, it strikes unexpectedly, and I have no idea why the pain returned. Maybe there wasn’t even a reason at all beyond being what it was, but the pain drove me to find better ways to move.
I practiced yoga for years. I dabbled in Tai Chi and Wudang sword. I learned about formal positions in the gym and how certain exercises could help me practice good posture. I discovered that I could move with more power and less pain at the same time.
The journey hasn’t always been rosy. It was particularly difficult when, a few years ago, I had to stop training in Tony Blauer’s SPEAR System. It was the self-defence training I’d been looking for all my life, and I loved it.
I’d decided to take a chance and return to harder training. But after two years of practice, I couldn’t deny that the high-impact training was taking its toll on my bad back. I had to accept my limitations, and hit pause once more.
(But you know, I’m still stubborn — I’ve returned to take seminars with my SPEAR coach since then.)
If you ask me whether I would have preferred to live pain-free, without my lower back problem, I would say, “Yes,” without hesitation. Yet, looking back, I doubt I would have delved as deeply into learning how to move better, if I hadn’t had the pain to motivate me in the first place.
Some people say that every problem comes with the seed of an opportunity. Perhaps. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks every one, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” My back may be ‘broken,’ but today I am stronger for it.
Featured image “Medical X-Ray imaging ALP02 nevit” by Nevit Dilmen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.