Walking the Tightrope: The Reality of PKD and Jiujitsu

One week. One week until the next surgical procedure where the radiologist goes inside to kill a kidney cyst about the size of a grapefruit. Before I found out that I had polycystic kidney disease the line I had drawn was that I never wanted to live with anything sticking out of me: tubes, ports, bags. Funny how life always comes back to see whether you really meant what you said or if you were willing to keep going on despite your aversions and fears. Fortunately, the drain tube is only scheduled to remain in for a week, if all goes well, and then I can get back to some kind of normal. I wish that I could pretend that this is just another day at the office and that struggle only makes me stronger or some other vague platitude meant to inspire the read of this blog entry. I got nothing on this one: I am fearful, uncomfortable in a reasonable amount of chronic ache. Clearly, I have abandoned my jiujitsu practice. Right? I have accepted that I am now at the point of no returning to the mats, and that I would be far better off to begin practicing recommended sports like tai chi or gentle stretching. No. I do not think that I can carry on the war without maintaining battles on both theatres of war. I am in all the way.

Where I did draw the line was competition. Ironically, I made that decision more on the basis of a newfound situation of not being able to drop weight through my normal routes of cardio exercise, intermittant fasting and a keto/low carb/calorie counted diet. Something with cortisol levels, blood pressure medication and my body these days. I can do everything and remain in stasis at 175 pounds, which is putting me into the Middleweight division at 5’6″. Therein lies the danger: leverage, reach advantage and competition adrenline at purple belt spells inevitable injury from which my kidneys will not recover from. But still I remain.

What does that look like? For the past seven or so classes I have really focused on training with partners who I can trust or that I am capable of handling safely. Small or light white belts are always a great place to drill my technique so that when I have to train with bigger opponents or upper belts I have stronger technique to protect my core with and to escape danger. From my experience, the best movements for me relate to becoming a ball and exploding at the decisive moment to enable a takedown or a sweep or an escape. The game is Sumi Gaeshi, Tomoe Nage, Drop Seoi Nage, Squid Guard, Ezekiel Chokes, and a few other cool things like the Imanari Roll Entry. 85% of my time on the mat is spent in a fairly relaxed state, feeling the zone and connecting to my opponent in an effective way. The biggest challenge is that when my kindeys ache it becomes difficult to use my abdominal muscles to form the hollow with my body that is needed for much of open guard play.

When I was pressed by a colleague and then a family member about why I had not yet forsaken my “little hobby”, I felt like my true answer had nothing to do with the one I gave. I can get exercise by running or weightlifting or cycling. I can improve my mobility through yoga, and I damn well know that every time I hit the mats they hit me back for the rest of the week. The truth is that the jiujitsu community is where I find my social connections; my third place outside of family and career. At 48 years old, it is not so easy to make real connections in a large metropolis with anyone beyond a bartender at your favourite micro-brewery. Training twice a week at the gym is undoubtedly much safer for my kidneys than visiting the bar once a week. I suppose that I could fool myself into believing that I simply need to take it easy, but I know better. The easy path is not going to make anything better; it will only lead to regret and wishing that I had stayed out there longer than I did.

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