For starters, let me just say that this is a very difficult (and personal) post to write. Before I get to the present state of affairs that prompted it, I need to go backwards to drudge through some of my autobiography that has played a formative role in my own jiu jitsu journey. Back in 1995 I was hit and run by a car while riding a bicycle. It left me pretty wrecked (pun intended). By the time 1996 rolled around my neck was in bad shape, so I had a single level cervical fusion--which involved a bone graft from my hip and a titanium plate and screws being "installed" in my neck. While the surgery fixed some of my ailments, it left me in chronic pain and discomfort--which have persisted to this day.
This chronic pain has been a constant hurdle I have had to deal with throughout my slow progression through the ranks. At each new school, I would have to explain the situation with my neck so that people knew that while choking me was fine, cranking on my neck was especially uncomfortable and dangerous. Most training partners have been willing to oblige (although the occasional partner may have forgotten in the heat of the roll and several opponents in tournaments didn't know about my limitation and hence tugged and torqued harder on my neck than was safe). But over the years, I pushed through the pain and kept trying to progress. It hasn't been easy or comfortable and it times it seemed I should just throw in the towel. But I persisted out of a love for the gentle art that was greater than the daily discomfort.
Indeed, I have convinced myself that the mobility workouts, the rolling, the stretching, and the other aspects of the art that helped keep my neck loose and limber were actually helping me. Maybe they were or maybe I was just fooling myself. But yesterday when I got to the neurologist, I had a day of reckoning that was twenty years in the making. Having had an MRI on Tuesday, when she walked into the room, my neurologist informed me that the results were "very bad." Not only would injections not be of any use to me--which was my hope going in--but she thought more surgery was my only viable solution. Within twenty minutes, I had a neurosurgeon in the room going over my MRI with me.
Every disc in my neck has moderate to severe damage and I have severe narrowing and impingement in several places. Worse still, because the vertebrate in my neck are so close together in several places and so arthritic, I am not even a candidate for disc replacement. More cervical fusion is my only option. Given my chronic pain, the severity of the degeneration in nearly all my discs, and the worsening dis-coordination in my hands, I am going to have to have a multi-level fusion at C5/6 and C6/7 in late November (2015). Given that I am already fused at C4/5, this is far from ideal. Worse still, there is a good chance that I will need to have C3/4 fused at a later date.
I say all this because it means that my days of live rolling are likely through. After nearly ten years of trying to inch my way slowly through the ranks--while bouncing around from FL to PA to CA to NC to PA and now to SC (and training all over the country and the world)--my journey is going to have to take a pretty radical shift if I am to stay involved in jiu jitsu. As someone who dreamed of getting a black belt one day, this has been a very hard few days. For now I am going to be relegated to teaching others rather than working on my own game (which is not usually the job of a purple belt). Who knows, I may end up having to give it up altogether--which would be a real shame as it has been a source of inspiration for me for the past ten years.
Since my future in the gentle art is unclear, I wanted to take this chance to thank all of the wonderful friends, training partners, and instructors who have shepherded me along during my own journey as I tried to make my way. While I humbly like to think I picked up techniques and principles easier than others, finding the right mindset was more challenging for me than most. So, I appreciate the patience that has been bestowed upon me by those who were closest to me during my journey.
As I give up what Scott Devine has called the "pure joy of the roll" I hope that I can learn to find as much joy in helping others improve their own rolls. I have to admit, I am doubtful on this front. But as an educator by training, I sincerely hope I can make this transition. For I am not ready for my own jiu jitsu journey to come to an end--even if it has to change its direction and orientation.