On getting my groove back (or returning to my practices)

On Thursday, I experienced my first arm-bar: a submission technique where the elbow is cranked open into hyper-extension with the power of an opponent’s hips. While sparring earlier in the week with a different partner, I had been put into the position, but they did not apply pressure, did not force me to tap out of discomfort and panic. This partner did and I am truly grateful for that experience.

With my adventurous, but not academic, summer I have to resharpen and refocus in all aspects of my life leading into second year. Physically, I am returning to the practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as barbell and gymnastic strength training. Emotionally and spiritually, my partner and I are adjusting to cohabitation and living in close intimacy. Academically, I am settling back into the daily grind of flashcards and lectures.

Getting myself back into the groove of second year is tough. The saddle is cold and I have to warm it up slowly, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I procrastinate from my practices. Intellectually, I know that it’s easier to just get it done but inertia can be a stubborn mule.

Instead of jumping back in full force to my physical practice, I am easing in slowly, knowing that my meat-suit needs time, I need my soft tissues to adjust to the stimulus. So, I’m utilizing gymnastic strength training several times a week to teach my body how to move itself again. One or two barbell sessions a week to build sturdiness and power. Two jiu-jitsu classes to learn a craft and start again at the bottom of the totem pole. I have high and quiet hopes for the competitive expression of my BJJ practice, but I will keep them close to the chest for the moment. Like a recently hatched chick, the open air and direct sunlight might overwhelm my fledging dreams.

Speaking of which, my partner and I have merged our worldly possessions into a small apartment: what was once mine is now ours and what was once hers is now ours. We had spent much of the summer together, whether in the trusty Toyota Camry or under the stars in a tent, and found living together to be a natural extension and progression of our partnership. It has been an adjustment, sometimes draining but always worthwhile: two objects in orbit brought closer together requires more refining and more tuning to keep a stable rotation about a point. I’ve found it a daily and strengthening practice with lovely results there is someone to come home to, and home is no longer lonely.

My studies have been less rewarding, although I am applying a similar focus to the practice. The lectures in second year are incredibly dense compared to MS1, and there is far less teaching during these information download sessions: it feels like they are presenting the information I need to learn, not teaching me the material.

This seems to be the nature of the beast, of a modern medical education. The sheer volume of knowledge that a med student must cram into their stressed and frazzled brains for Step One, the board examination between academic MS2 and clinical MS3, is daunting and frankly overwhelming. The antivirals and antifungals have meaningless names like cephalosporin, and the microbes we must familiarize ourselves with are equally specific and difficult to retain mnenomically.

Fortunately, there are some powerful resources available that assist in learning the material, such as SketchyMedical, which provides a cleverly drawn scene with specific associations for bacterial classification or appropriate treatments: for example, the crow relaxing in the background of a jousting tournament signifies maCROlide, an effective antibiotic for S. pneumonaie. An effective application of the mind palace technique utilized by memory champions, Hannibal Lector, and Sherlock Holmes.

So, I’m utilizing external resources to help me learn and I’m back on that Firecracker grind to help me retain the nitty-gritty facts and details that will be needed for the exams ahead. About a hundred flashcards a day takes an hour of review, but spread throughout the day Firecracker helps fill in the dull moments of a day when I would otherwise be zoning off in my own imagination.

I write this post with a sore elbow, one that aches and whines when put into full extension and one that cringes at the thought of bearing weight or, even worse, being put back into an arm-bar. This serves as a physical reminder that I will be rolling against some dangerous men and women, that the white belts I’m training with are enthusiastic and strong but ultimately uneducated in BJJ. This dull pain adds a quiet urgency to my strength training and to my desire to improve. I do not want to get caught in that position again, though I know I will. Now, I know what pain and discomfort lies ahead, rather than simply uninformed imaginations.

Back on the grind, things are simple. Move my body, sweat some, crush some flashcards, review material from class. Rinse, repeat. The first exam of second year is a bit over ten days away, and the previous MS2s were pretty wrecked by it. I hope that my grind mentality from the outset will buffer the higher expectations of C5T1.

If not, then the new 67% pass/fail mark, down from 73% during MS1, will be my saving grace. Or, it will serve as my academic arm-bar.


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