Most taekwondo students understand the meaning of working to the “best of your ability.” If you kick at the knee, great. If you can kick at belt level, awesome, and if you can kick at head level, go for it.
Fourth-degree Black Belt, school owner and chief instructor Karyn Graff has amazed some people with her strength and flexibility. But Ms. Graff is marking a special anniversary this month: a year since a torn ACL injury skiing made her undergo reconstructive surgery on her knee. And while she might be almost back to her old form now, the last year has taught her a lot about “working to the best of your ability,” and how the definition of “best of your ability” can change.
As an instructor, Ms. Graff is very familiar with what “best of your ability” means. “As an instructor, I expect to see a certain level of effort going into each element,” she said. “Some students can kick head level, while others are kicking at waist level – what’s important is that they train as best they can, so they (and we) can see improvement in skills over time.”
Her perspective as an instructor is informed by her perspective as a student. “I hold myself to the same standards as the kids and adults we train,” she said. “When I take class at Master Caruso’s, I perform techniques as best I can, and consistently I look for ways in which I can improve my skills. I would do a disservice to our students if I didn’t train to the best of my abilities: not only would I set a poor example, but I would limit the set of skills that I can teach to other students.”
But what happens when you go from being able to perform at a very high level to, well, not? Ms. Graff recommends that instead of focusing on what you used to be able to do, focus on what you can do right at that moment, and look for what you are able to do, and focus on the improvements that go along with rehabilitation after an injury. “There is a big difference between reminding yourself of the positive things you want to do vs. moping over the things you can’t do,” she said. “So I tried not to spend time thinking about what I couldn’t be doing. Instead, I worked on maintaining a positive attitude about what I did have, and what I could do.”
To help maintain that positive outlook, Ms. Graff, with the help of her physician and physical therapist, set specific goals. Training to “the best of her ability” meant meeting those goals. “(They) gave me detailed rehab protocol with multiple stages and specific goals at each stage. Training to the “best of my ability” was about meeting those goals, and preferably meeting them a bit earlier than was required.”
The determination to return to the activities she enjoyed – martial arts and skiing among them – helped. “I went into this with a lot of determination, and I’m very fortunate that the work I did in rehab really paid off,” she said. “It’s extremely hard for me to just sit around and wait for something to heal, but handily, there was no ‘sitting around’ involved with this particular surgery. I was told to start rehab with straight leg raises the same day as surgery. Being able to do something made this much easier than just sitting there would have been.”
As an instructor, Ms. Graff has seen friends and students battle through injuries, including knees, shoulders, broken bones, and concussions. While acknowledging it’s hard when a person goes from a particularly high level of physical performance to one significantly lower, through injury, she reminds students to focus on what is possible, while being grateful for the abilities they do have.
“It’s easy to become attached to the things we have and the way our body works. But these things aren’t permanent. While I love martial arts, skiing, hiking, rock climbing, I also know that my body’s ability to do these things is not permanent,” Ms. Graff said. “I hope to avoid injuries as much as possible, but just look at the list of sports I do and you know that injuries can happen. So whether you are injured, in rehab, or currently healthy, be thankful and positive for what you do have and what you are capable of doing! Keep up with healthy eating and exercise for a better chance at longer term sports fun!”
And to those people, especially adults, who think that they don’t have the ability to start an activity in the first place, Ms. Graff would say that anybody, at any physical level, shouldn’t hesitate to try a new activity, all the while being mindful of their limits. “While a student with a pre-existing injury or condition may never do a jump spin hook kick at head level, they will be training their bodies to be better conditioned. Several of our adult students have reported that martial arts training has helped them loose weight, improve their balance and coordination, and has helped them become more flexible. And those things are beneficial for almost every adult,” she said.
“So, listen to your body. Don’t push through the pain – that just sets you up to develop chronic conditions. And realize that it’s simply OK to not have a body that does a jump spin hook kick face level.”
Article by Mary Sutton. Mary Sutton is the mother of two Oakmont Martial Arts students (Mary and Michael) a student herself, and a freelance writer. See more of her writing at www.MarySuttonAuthor.com.