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3 Things You Must Know When Returning To Competition After Injury

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Serious injures on the mat are common, but advice on how to prepare yourself for the long road of rehab ahead is rare, and that's why I decided to write this blog. To help and prepare anyone out there that was in the same position I was 2 years ago.

Firstly I'd like to just verify that this early of a return is appropriate by no other professional opinion than my own. I do not advise anyone return from ACL reconstruction surgery as soon as I have unless it is advised by a professional.

That being said, I limit myself mentally and physically to no other opinion than my own.

Coming back from injury can be extremely difficult, I know first hand. In march 2015 I suffered a very damaging injury to my knee. I was playing Australian Rules Football, and with 10 seconds left in the game. I was running at high speed with the ball and attempted to dodge my opponent who was running at me. As I pivoted me knee completely gave way. There was a loud snapping sound and I was left on the ground terrified at what I had just experienced. It felt as though I had cracked and popped everything I could in my knee. I had been injured before but never like this.

kit dale's x-rap acl surgery blog training bjj jiu jitsu
The next day it swelled twice the size and was painful to put pressure on. In my head I had convinced myself that it was I minor injury. So I took some strong anti-inflammatories and tried to rest it for the week. Next weekend came and I felt I wanted to play, as the swelling had come down and pain had subsided quite a bit. But some bad TGI Fridays had kept me locked in the bathroom projectile vomiting all night. But it got me out of a bad date early so it had its positives!

To cut a long story short I spent the next 9 weeks trying to return to football. But every week my coach (also my brother Adam) kept me from the field. Some days I could train well but some it would feel loose and not quite right, so he wanted me good for finals and not to re-injure it during a game that didn't mean much.

After this I told myself if I go get an MRI I will find out the damage isn't so bad and that will sort out any linguine negative thoughts floating around in my head. I was wrong! Way wrong! The doctors words were quite easy to remember. It goes like this:

Doc: "you said you have been walking around on this?"
Me: "I've been running"
Doc: "your knee is completely fucked! You need surgery"
Me: "fuck!"

kit dale's x-rap acl surgery blog training bjj jiu jitsu

I had completely ruptured my ACL, partially ruptured my LCL, MCL, PCL and had completely split my lateral meniscus.

Not having private health insurance I had to wait on the public health care system for 10 months until they told me it was going to be another 6 months before they could fit me in! Apparently knee surgery isn't as important as heart surgery. Crazy I know!

So I opted to pay myself. $10,000 later i have my new knee. Less hamstring and a hell of a lot of scars and swelling. Having my brother and cousin around who had recently recovered from ACL surgery was great. I was able to learn from all their mistakes and take the advise they never gave to themselves. My Physio was great always pushing me to the limits. So much so that I split my stitches twice during rehab! A small speed bump in the long recovery that is required after ACL surgery.

kit dale's leg injury knee acl surgery
The rehab was the worst part! If being bed ridden for four weeks icing it every half hour wasn't bad enough, than wanting to projectile vomit on my physio while he laughs, rubbing all the scar tissue off of my ITB band was far worse! I remember saying "get your hands off of you tall son of a bitch!" (He loved it even more).

He gave me lots of rehab exercises to do daily. 3 times a day to be precise. The first thing was getting the swelling down and activating all the muscle I had lost from muscle atrophy, then building on that. The newly formed ACL takes up to 18 months to completely solidify, so all you can do in between is strengthen the muscles around it, to protect the ACL and also prevent it from another injury.

kit dale leg surgery knee

Coming back from this type of surgery normally takes 12 months. I managed to start competitively training after 5 and compete after 7. A huge part of this was my attitude towards the injury, and my persistence with he rehab exercises! I rarely missed a beat doing them and if I did I always tried to do double the next day.

My attitude was simple! If it takes the average human 12 months, then I'll do it in 6. One thing you should know about me is that I'm delirious when it comes to things I want to achieve. That's the same attitude I had when it came to getting my black belt in jiu jitsu. I wanted it in 3 years, but I missed the mark got it in 4. In a world where everyone is so focused on being realistic, I say fuck that! Be superman!

kit dale's x-rap acl surgery blog training bjj jiu jitsu

So returning to competition. Yep, it's scary as fuck! All I had in my head was, is this the right thing to do? What if this happens? What if that happens? I can't do another 7 months of rehab again! (First world problems, I know!), but I set my ego aside and told myself if at any point my leg is in danger or under attack, by anyone no matter what rank. I tap. Even if it's on FB Live against a purple belt. I tap. I'm much happier to be submitted live then to go back to hospital with an injury received in a game of pyjama cuddling. I've never been injured by failing to tap, and I won't start now.

So I entered my first tournament. A grappling industries tournament here in Melbourne. I was nervous because it was the first competition I had entered in over 19 months, and although injured I put a lot of pressure on myself to put on good fights and too obviously win. My first match was on at 9am. Wtf! I don't even wake up till 9am most mornings!

kit dale training
The ref was about to call us in and a little kid maybe 8 years old walked up to me, put out his hand and said good luck! It was one of my favourite moments in BJJ that I've ever had! Suddenly all the nerves faded and I went out there and won the match, and the next match and the next five matches after that quite easily. It felt good! Not just to win but to feel alive again after not competing for so long. There's a beauty to competition that's hard to replicate elsewhere, as my good friend once said: 

"jiu jitsu is just a medium in which two people battle their own demons".

kit dale bjjAfter having so much fun competing in this comp in Melbourne, I decided to compete the following weekend in Sydney. Which had some tougher competitors. I had a similar experience winning 12 matches in one day in all my divisions. Then was invited to participate in a ADCC rule set, super fight round robin in NSW where I'd take on some very tough opponents including UFC fighter Robert Whittaker, judo and jiu jitsu black belt beast Keller Locke-Sohdi. I'm not going to lie I was a little nervous because my physio laughed and advised against it, when I said I was competing in this comp. (lucky i didn't tell him about the two comps previously) and being ADCC rules against some good judokas and wrestlers with the inclusion of heal hooks is a disaster waiting to happen. Lucky enough I was able to wrestling and even play the leg lock game myself finishing all my fights apart from one with foot locks. So it was another success. But I don't advise anyone travel interstate back and forth on the day of the fight! Waking up at 3am and arriving home at 1am is not ideal for competition!

kit dale's masterclass guard passes
So this is my advise to you!

1. First off! Any injury that keeps you off the mats isn't the worst thing in the world. What ever special pleasure you get from jiu jitsu, you can find else where. When you break down what it is you like about your chosen hobby, you can easily replace it with something similar. For example, I love the problem solving aspect of BJJ. The chess match so to speak! And I found that in Gaming. I started playing more PlayStation competitively! I also enjoy the artistic expression of jiu jitsu! Showing people your own "style" of the art and how you play it! And I found this in drawing, and painting models. And lastly I love learning new things. Weather it's a concept in jiu jitsu or a new idea. And I found that in musical instruments and singing.. I bought a keyboard and started learning that, and spent more time on the guitar and learning how to sing. My point is don't get fixated to the the medium in which you find pleasure. But understand what it is about that medium so that you can find a similar platform that gives you the same if not more!

2. Find the silver lining! Everything that happens I believe has a silver lining! For example the moment I realised my jiu jitsu career was on hold due to this injury for a year minimum! I took it as a sign to finally get into acting! I focussed all my energy on that and next thing I knew I had an agent. A role in an award nominated short film, a small roll in a feature film. A bit part in a series with Guy Pearce and a main role in a $30 million feature film that comes out next September. If I hadn't had gotten injured I most likely wouldn't have spent my time on acting and wouldn't have made this happen!

3. Do everything you possibly can do when it comes to rehab.. this goes beyond just exercising. I'm talking about diet. Are you eating good foods that will aid in recovery. Mental state. Are you feeding your mind with positive affirmations! And discipline. Are you doing all the right things! Training. Not partying and drinking or smoking. Not hanging out with negative people who bring you down! Nit partying when you should be studying your chosen field or getting much needed sleep!

All these things play a big factor! Anyways, I'm another 4 months from being back to 100%, if not better! So I'll continue to test myself more and more each week! Continue to do my rehab and most importantly continue to play with myself! I mean my PlayStation!

Hope this was of value! If not I hope I wasted your time 😉

Kind regards,
Kit Dale

kit dale jiu jitsu the art of learning

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