Karate Breaks: 1987 & 1988

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My next big break, sorry for the pun, was when I was an adult (about 24). I was in Martial Arts, and doing a tournament as a blue/green belt. I was doing good in sparring and in the semi-finals. Some guy was using very limited control. I kept looking at the judges, but they didn't get it. Finally, I was too close to get away, and saw a power roundhouse kick coming around - and so I stepped into it, blocked it with my left arm, and punched him in the jaw with my right. I got the point, and actually rocked him a little bit. But I also got the "woosh" feeling that meant something bad had happened.

He'd kicked so hard, that he'd kicked through the pad and my arm didn't feel right. I'd asked for a minute as I was shaking my arm. But they just said, "can you go on or not?".

I was pissed; up two points to nothing (in a "first to three" context), and I tried. I was having a tough time with only one arm, and he got a point. I got a half point, but was getting feint. So I stopped the fight, just bowed out, and walked off.

It was throbbing, and I was fuming at the bad judges. I'd judged a few tournaments, and these guys were idiots, but I didn't think the arm was that big a deal. So I went off to my forms competition.

I did my forms, and made it to the next round. Then repeated it. Then I was in the finals, and chose a different form. Judges get bored, and I wanted to show my diversity. This form had a little weird wrist flick and hand sweep in it. When I got to that part I felt this massive "bad" woosh, and just about passed out.

Hmmm. That can't be good. I'd kind of froze. I just asked the judges to start over; and they said fine. I did the form again and got to the same spot and literally started to see fog and nearly dropped. I stopped, thanked the judges, and bowed out, and drove myself to the hospital.


They X-rayed it.

I'm explaining that it was broken, and the technician is explaining that I need to straighten it so they can get a good a shot. And I explained in my "are you stupid" voice, that if I could move it like that, then I wouldn't be in there. She just said hold it here, and then she literally dropped a sand bag on it to "help me" force it in the position she wanted. She did it quick, and I hadn't seen it coming.

I'm not a violent person, and I'd never hit a woman (and only men in self-defense). I just about bitch slapped her when she did that; the back of the hand was about 3/4ths of the way to her head before I stopped it; reflexes can be funny that way.

She realized how close she was to being rattled, and stepped back, while I knocked the bag that was causing blinding pain off my arm, and let out a stream of obscenities that let her know exactly what I thought of the incestuous barn animals that was her family tree.

She backed off, and we figured out a compromise where I could stand in a certain way and she could get the shot she wanted; and she tended to give me wide berth while asking me to pose.


The doctor came in and showed me the X-rays, and was saying "it was fine, I'd crushed a nerve, but other than that, there was nothing wrong".

I pointed to a line on the X-ray, and was explaining that I'd broken my arm before, and it felt like this. Plus the "woosh" of endorphins was my body's way of telling me that something bad had just happened. They took the X-ray back, and went to the head doctor and asked about it.

Jr. Doctor came back and said, "that could be a hairline, but most likely is just were the bone had fused. If you crush a nerve, it will feel exactly like it is broken - so that's probably what I'd done. And to not worry about it, and go home, ice it, and behave like normal".

Kaiser Permanente HMO never really impressed me. This turned out to be just one of many cases as to why. Against my better judgment, I took their advice.

Snapped like a dry twig

So a week later, the damn arm still hurts occasionally, but they said to expect that, and it was getting better. I was doing a test for my next rank/belt in Karate class. I'd done everything; it was like 4 hours, and I was nearing the end of the test, and doing some forms (sort of the cool down). I was doing the same form that I was doing in the tournament, when there was a very audible, if not outright loud, snap.

I saw my arm bulge out right where you get monkey-bumps (the forearm near the elbow). Just sheer reflex, I twisted my arm back, and pulled on my wrist with my other hand. Everything popped back into place. It didn't hurt that much - though again, I'd had the "woosh" feeling that was my brains little alarm saying "something bad just happened".

I was moving the arm around and sqeezing it, and it really didn't hurt much. I was thinking, that couldn't have been a break; it just doesn't hurt. And I could move the arm around like a block, and so on. I looked around the class that had all stopped and was somewhat slack-jawed and staring at me agape while I was moving my arm; some had seen the bulge, all had heard the noise. I explained that I think I broke it, but waved the arm around, and said, "doesn't hurt much, I can finish the test". I think my reputation went up well beyond where it was for that little piece of stupidity; "he's an animal that feels no pain", "he set the bone himself and wanted to finish", stuff like that.

Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed. My instructor had me put cold water on it; we didn't have any ice. It really didn't hurt much, and I could move it; so I could finish. My instructor asked me to twist my arm (waggle the wrist) and not just wave the arm. I tried. At which point I just about went down. Blinding, searing pain that let me know that something was rubbing or flexing that shouldn't have been. I bowed out of the test, and drove myself to the Hospital, again.

I went to the same Hospital and had the same leery nurse and Jr. Doctor that I'd had the week before. This time things went better. The X-ray showed a clean break of the ulna. Well duh! Yes they were wrong; I'd broken it the week before and they'd blown it. They didn't appreciate my, "do you believe me this time" stuff. But they got it, and told me just to keep it in the cast, and leave it alone.

Let it be

While the break itself kicks in the endorphins, which block the pain, the next few weeks your little pain-suppressing friends are not around. Dull throbbing and pulsing pain that drove me nuts and kept me awake at night. I should have just taken the painkillers, but I was into "natural" thing; idiot.

It bugged me sleeping, and was hard to get comfortable. Plus you'd go to put your arm over your head and the weight and size would bash you in the head in the middle of the night and wake you up. Showering was annoying. Most things I could adapt to. But have you ever tried to make love with one arm tied behind your back or always in your way and sending searing jolts of pain through your body at the wrong move? I was young, horny and had a girlfriend, and there were more than a few times I wanted to chew my arm off just because it was getting in the way of my purpose in life at the time.

After a couple of weeks the pain was gone, after a couple more I was growing bored with the cast getting in the way of the forms and sparring of class, and other stuff, so I sort of cut the cast off. Actually, they kind of decay and your arm shrivels (atrophies), so after weeks it was able to sort of pull it off or it sort of falls off (with a little help). Heck, growing up I knew Bobby (Robby) Gordon (now the racecar driver); he grew up in my neighborhood, and was more my brothers age and friend but I knew him and had ridden motocross with him. Once he'd broken his arm, and cut his cast off to keep riding motorcycles, so I wasn't any more crazy than he was; nor much brighter it seems. I just got this little plastic wrap-around guard from the doctor next time I went in, and an ace bandage to hold it on. I was fine. I think.


So there I was, 4 month later, in class; sparring. I was sort of the class bruiser. Which meant that if someone was out of control, or came in to challenge the class or school, my Instructor would have me spar with them. Gee, thanks. Some honor. I got into martial arts because I hated fighting, and yet it seemed I had to do it fairly often.

Well, one guy was my rank, but an ex navy boxer, older, about 100 lbs on me, and about 6 inches. Literally, I'm 5' 10" and was like 160 lbs - this guy was about 6' 4" to 6' 6" and easily 250 lbs. He also occasionally had control issues. He wasn't a bad guy, he just was used to boxing and hitting harder. So I was sent in to take it to whatever level he wanted to go.

I was doing fine, as I'd done before. He was big, but I was fast. A big ham hand would come smoking around, and I'd dodge out. Then I'd follow it in, with a few lightening hits to the head and body, and a kick on the way out, before another hand would come screaming around trying to take my head off. Usually, after a few minutes, most people would get control and things would back down.

I realized I was in the wrong place as I saw this very powerful kick coming around, and I was in too close. Damn. I did exactly what I did in the tournament. I downward blocked with the left hand (against a roundhouse kick), and uppercut him to the chin with right. Again, I got the point. Again, I felt the arm break. Shit!

I could feel it was all in alignment, so I just went home, iced it, and put my brace on. I knew it was broke - but I knew that the butchers at Kaiser would only waste hours and annoy me. With my brace it was fine. Probably what had happened is that it wasn't quite fully healed, and so that's why it broke easier; so much for the wisdom of cutting the cast off sooner. But it was a good kick, and probably would have broken anyway. After a couple weeks of bitching and carping by relatives who thought I was stupid for not going to the doctors; I went in. They x-rayed it, and I was right. It had been broken, it was aligned, and it was even re-knitting just fine. The doctor said, "keep it in the brace, and keep doing what you're doing". I did.

I learned a big lesson - never, EVER, block kicks with arms. If I'd been smart, I'd have learned that the first time. For me it took two times. I was pissed for weeks at that damn splint thing getting in my way all the time; but I kept it on for 8 weeks just to be sure it was healed. Because of the months healing the first time (and only having one arm), and the second time as well, I became the master of kick blocks. I could check kicks with my feet like no one else - sort of leg on leg blocks, because I fought for quite a while with only one arm. I learned to use knee blocks, kick their kicks, dodge, evade, and as a last resort block kicks by either punching their foot/leg, or elbowing them. I actually broke a couple people's feet or toes by accident while blocking them. But I never broke my arm again.