Lessons from Breaking an Arm

Lessons from Breaking an Arm

I broke my right arm doing jiu-jitsu. It was in the first match of the first tournament I did after receiving my blue belt. This was just a week after being promoted. Between semi-ruining a vacation with my wife, to the inconvenience of a major injury, to a lingering scar that won’t fade,

If I could go back in a time machine I would. Yet the process of breaking my arm and then coming back to jiu-jitsu taught me some life lessons. Here are three:

I slid into half guard and won a deep under hook. This was my safe spot. I dove under and hooked my right arm through his knee pit. Once I torqued his right ankle and bridged to my left, I’d have a strong two points. My opponent sprawled out. Between sweat and spats and a long-sleeve rash guard, my right wrist got caught in his left knee pit. It wasn’t a submission attempt.  It was simply a fluke. My opponent jumped off and the ref looked down at me.  We’d all heard the pop. As the adrenaline dissipated in the ER, my wife and I knew it was a break.  The x-rays only confirmed it.  With a safe training environment, we forget that jiu-jitsu is a dangerous sport. Then you roll against someone that will snap something on you for a cheap gold metal. Breaking my arm made me realize that offense starts with strong defense.

I hated that I was weak.  I couldn’t bathe or even dress myself. I hated being broken, unable to train with my jiu-jitsu family. I felt separated and alone.  The Percocet didn’t help. I had a bad reaction to the opioids and needed to purge them from my system, even if that meant restless nights and aching pain after the surgery. My wife was there, assuring me we could salvage our vacation while helping tie my shoes.  Teammates – Matt De Leon calling me if my texts sounded too cryptic, Kenneth and Keiko inviting me over for a Japanese brunch or Hannah and Matt Shand bringing me BBQ – making me feel part of a family that takes care of each other in the darkest times. Finally, there was Sam Joseph bugging me to come back to the academy, to at least sit on the sidelines or do the fitness classes.  He knew how to keep me invested.  People who care about you will make an effort to be part of your life.

I never really contemplated quitting. I concentrated on coming back.  Before I knew it, my cast was off, even if my right arm was discernibly smaller than my left. I was lifting weights and drilling again. I was rolling with my right hand tucked into my belt. I was starting to be able to make a fist again, gripping collars or sleeves. My teammate, Marc, asked what my scar was from (he still does on occasion). Time passes anyway. Time heals all wounds. Insert your own saying about time, but it’s true. I proved to myself that I could come back and I had the right support to accomplish that goal. 

Over three years later, I’m a purple belt that still competes as I inch closer and closer to the big 4-0. I am literally scarred by my injury, but it did not scare me away from jiu-jitsu. In fact, I appreciate the times I can train or compete, on good days and bad days. I proved I can come back and have something inside me that won’t quit. For that I’m thankful for the lesson.

Tom is currently a purple belt at Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu in Atlanta, GA under Sam Joseph. In his free time he enjoys travels with his wife, Jiu-Jitsu, and better incorporating the two.

You can find out more about his adventures in Jiu-Jitsu https://www.instagram.com/whitewolfbjj/ on Instagram.