In the last few days I’ve managed to pass another milestone in terms of post-operative recovery: being able to flex my knee enough (and without significant pain) to sit Zazen in Burmese posture. This little achievement means a lot to me, since being able to sit in a stable position without stressing one side more or less than the other is a big help in straightening everything out: having one dodgy knee leads to all sorts of imbalances in posture, legs, the spine, &c. Day by day, progress feels frustratingly slow, but I have to remember that I was nowhere close to sitting like this a week or two ago. Again — perspective!
Over the last week or so, as my recovery from last month’s knee surgery has continued, I’ve been making use of one of my “dormant” martial arts to aid my healing and re-conditioning process: taijiquan. The slow, controlled movements are ideal for my still-weak knee: nothing too dramatic or demanding, but it’s easy to turn up the difficulty by small degrees simply by doing the movements slightly lower to the ground — and, by goodness, does that work and strengthen the legs nicely!
I studied Taijiquan for two years as an undergraduate student. At the time, I was practising Taijiquan more than Aikidō, and hadn’t even encountered Iaidō yet; things changed after the fellow university student who led the Taijiquan classes graduated and left the university. Even so, Taijiquan left its imprint upon me. Also, with increasing experience in other martial arts, I feel the martial and conditioning content of Taijiquan more and more strongly. Right now, it’s the conditioning aspect that I’m making most use of. However, it’s also ever clearer to me that Taijiquan is an excellent example of things not being what they appear to be on the surface: as soft and fluffy as it may appear to be, Taijiquan is in fact a tremendously strong and strengthening martial practice, something that I have long known but now increasingly feel.
It’s been a week since my knee surgery, and the simple summary is “so far, so good”. Today was the day for my first post-operative check-up. Thankfully, most modern stitches dissolve quite nicely in the body, so to actually (and painfully) have stitches taken out is rather rare these days; instead, all the nurse needed to do today was peel off a few wound closure strips and snip off a small free end of undissolved stitch a millimetre or two long. The nurse was also very happy with the surgeon’s work, which was great to hear: it’s very difficult to objectively judge for yourself how well an op has gone when you’re in the middle of recovery yourself — is this pain normal, or extraordinary?
Now comes the long, patient work of restoring flexion, strength and health to the knee…
On Monday, I underwent a surgical procedure (a bursectomy) to try to correct my long-standing knee problem (chronic prepatellar bursitis). As for the recovery, so far, so good. The key factor determining my long term recovery of function will be how well the wound closes (no little gaps or bubbles = very good).
Of course, as with any surgical intervention, there’s some post-operative pain. What strikes me very strongly is that when the pain hits, experiences like Zen meditation and taking ukemi are of great practical value: being able to relax, to acknowledge pain and discomfort without suffering and allowing them to become all-consuming, and above all to keep some semblance of good humour through it all — these things are really, really useful.
I’m off the mat for a while, hopefully just a couple of weeks, while I rest an injury to my right knee. I’m no stranger to knee injuries, and in fact had this particular one in my left knee 5–6 years ago; that one eventually required surgical intervention, and I’m hoping that I’ve caught this one early enough to prevent the need for such drastic measures. Even so, having to take time off to heal is not exactly fun.