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Returning After a Shoulder Injury – Starting from “Zero”

For months, I avoided initiating any fitness and martial art challenges, or writing about them. I had a recurrent shoulder injury that didn’t seem to recover. And with the loss of my abilities, my identity as a practitioner of martial arts, calisthenics and obstacle races died.

Challenging others to be physically active, when I no longer was, felt hypocritical. Physically and mentally, I had lost my way of the ninja and the will of the modern-day warrior.

Indeed, it seems quite silly that a recurrent injury could cause this much drama. But when you’ve used training as a means to escape your personal issues, it makes a huge impact. Stopping training meant having to confront issues I avoided and dealing with intense melancholy. It also eliminated my method to manage stresses from work and life. And the bleakness of it all added up and took over.

Of course, this was all in the recent past and I’m at a better place now.

My purpose in writing this is to regain my confidence to rebuild my functional fitness and martial art abilities all over again, from zero. For this to happen, I’m:

  • reminding myself of my past achievements,
  • reminding myself what the active modern warrior lifestyle meant to me,
  • and acknowledging what I need to address to return

Hopefully, my experiences resonates with injured athletes and martial artists, and help them feel less alone in what they are facing.

Remembering where I was

Old IPPT System -Before my injury, I cross-trained in various activities, including calisthenics, running, obstacle course and movement training, and Aikido.

Calisthenics & IPPT

The measure of my overall fitness was the IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test), the standard fitness test used by the Singapore Armed Forces. I have to take this test yearly as part of being in the reservist forces, after my two-year military conscription ended in 2012.

For both the old (obsolete) and new test systems, my test scores qualify for the gold award.

Test DateSit-up in 60 secsStanding Broad Jump (cm)Pull up4 x 10m Shuttle Run2.4km runPoints/Award
28 Feb 201550243cm129.6 seconds9 mins 26 secs25 / Gold
Test DateSit-up in 60 secsPush-up in 60 secs2.4km runPoints/Award
7 Jul 2015575010 mins 03 secs 89 / Gold

Obstacle course races & runs

I was a fan of measuring my functional fitness, strength and movement abilities by joining obstacle course races and competitive runs. My other measures of functional strength included various calisthenics progressions.

These were my last two obstacle course races.

Spartan Race (Sprint) & Commando Challenge (Extreme) 2015 – After first injury

I participated in Singapore’s first Spartan Race in late 2015, after my first injury. It was the last race before my injury recurred a second time.

Also after the first injury, I completed the Commando Challenge (Extreme) while carrying a 15kg (33lbs) backpack. I walked most of the way and used MovNat traversing techniques to overcome the obstacles, thereby reducing the impact on my injury. This was the race I insisted on participating despite recovering from fever just days ago.

Movement Fundamentals

My movement techniques come from a two-day MovNat fundamentals workshop in late 2014 and early 2015. These fundamentals influenced my training efforts in obstacle traversing.

I intended to switch my focus from MovNat traverses to parkour in late 2015 and I did so for one session, before realising that the injury was getting unbearable.

Aikido & Martial Arts

Aikido forms my martial arts base. I stopped training in November due to the second injury, right after my 1st kyu grading. I used to also drop by dojos while overseas.

It was a throw from Aikido training, coupled with bad training programming that caused the first injury.

All these changed after the recurrence of the same injury and onset of over-training effects on my knees.

What my active lifestyle meant to me

Hope & freedom

Living an active lifestyle that involved functional strength, movement and martial arts was an escape from years of hopelessness. Before, I was dealing with long-term melancholy arising from a set of specific issues. I do not want to call it depression because I never saw a professional about it. Nonetheless, seeing tangible results from physical training helped me believe that I could overcome the profound emptiness and isolation.

Slowly, tiny step-by-step, progress in my physique and abilities gave me hope, confidence, purpose and a renewed sense of freedom.

Obsessive training as escapism

Since training gave me a positive outlook and I wanted to avoid thinking about certain issues, my active lifestyle eventually turned into an unhealthy obsession. Overwhelming fear of regressing back to hopelessness compelled me do more. I needed greater progress.

Blind to the effects of poor cross-training programming on my body and psyche, I reasoned that everything would be okay. I would stay happy – if I continued the madness.

Injury, depression and its psychological effects

Logen in Bangkok

But I never counted on getting an injury and having it recur a second time – tedinosis, right shoulder impingement and over-training effects on my knees – that put me out of training for a long time. I felt like a bird whose wings were clipped. My worst fears manifested before my eyes.

Six weeks – that was supposed to be how long before I could train again. Eight months – this was actually how long it took for me to recover and for the intensely sharp pain to subside when I did upper limb exercises.

After the six week estimation by the specialist, I became uncertain that I would fully recover. This was a recurrent injury and it occurred to me that I’d never be back at 100%.

It was a hellish emotional roller coaster to flit in and out of hope. One moment, your arm doesn’t hurt as much, you believe full recovery is possible. The next moment, you raise your arm and a surge of pain comes through. But the pain doesn’t compare to the death of your identity as a martial artist and obstacle course racer. It was also difficult to accept that my “amulet” against melancholy and emptiness was gone.

It was during this time I descended back into the debilitating melancholic abyss that I feared – the process accelerated by other stressors. My productivity suffered and I found it hard to remain awake with those thoughts plaguing me. It was also hell to be easily triggered into thinking about the personal issues (unrelated to the injury) I was facing.

The descent to near zero revealed a number of weaknesses in my previous active lifestyle. I need to address them in my return. Thanks to a few of friends, I was kept from falling further and eventually become less melancholic.

Returning to the functional fitness life

Barefoot walking and balance
Barefoot walking and balance

Strengthening & rehabilitation

The residual pain in my shoulder subsided weeks after getting a steroid injection for a second time. However, I have yet to hang on my right arm on a monkey bar to test for pain. The last I tried in May, it set back my recovery.

So, instead of starting my madness immediately and risking a third injury, I’m undergoing physiotherapy. My right shoulder is hunched slightly forward and I need to strengthen the scapular muscles to bring it back into position.

I want to return to the active lifestyle & I will be starting from zero

These are my core reasons to return…

I miss the freedom, confidence and hope that obstacle course racing and martial arts gave me. Training also helped me manage melancholy. Lastly, as the person behind Way Of Ninja, my words need to be backed by action, experience and will.

I need to push past my doubts on starting all over again.

What I have to address – if I want to avoid getting into the same mess again – are the following:

  • Find an alternative method to manage stress
  • Seek professional advice for certain issues I’m facing
  • Listen to my specialist and physiotherapist
  • Gradually increase the intensity of training once I’m ready to begin

And it’s precisely my obsession with the physical and neglect of the mental aspects of being a modern warrior that created a mess.

By the end of the year, I want these to happen:

  • IPPT minimum of silver award
  • Get back to Aikido training
  • Be able to swing freely and traverse monkey bars without any pain or discomfort

Initiating a challenge?

Since I’ll be starting from “zero” all over again, why not challenge beginners who are seeking to live an active lifestyle?

This time, I will be participating in the challenge on equal ground with beginners or experts who have taken a break from fitness for whatever reason.

Check back for details. We’ll do this together, step-by-step.

About Logen Lanka 184 Articles

Logen is a the founder and editor of WayOfNinja.com. Before his shoulder injury, he was actively involved in street calisthenics, Aikido and obstacle course racing. He has also served his 2-years conscription with the Singapore Armed Forces as an Armoured Infantry Trooper.

  • Joelle White

    All the best to you, brave heart. You are so strong!!! [I bow to you]

  • Slow and steady wins the race. Glad you’re back in action, sir!