I woke up this morning, got out of bed, and hobbled to the shower. It’s been a long time since that heel hook. Most days I’m functional. Some days I’m crippled. Today there is an ache and I feel like I’m not moving how I should be. I stretched out my ankle. I taped it up for the regular day. If I go to judo tonight it will be just for structured practice (drilling, uchi komi, explicitly not randori). The ankle still fatigues after bursts of exertion, especially on the ground. The pain builds up and I have to stop. One or two rounds of standing randori is the best night I can hope for. Some phenomenal days I manage two plus some ground work.

I don’t feel like the ankle is healing. I can do the PT exercises. I can balance on one leg, but the duration doesn’t increase before the pain sets in. 26-years-old and I already feel like I’ve been forced into retirement; that I’m at the point where what I’m limited to is the old man exercises.

Judo has something for this. It’s called kata. I’m aware of an analogue in BJJ. It’s an old concept. Older than judo. In jujitsu you’d do kata for years before doing randori. It’s a predetermined set of movements. Uke moves with a predetermined attack, tori responds with a predetermined defense. You need to know at least one kata (typically Nage No Kata) for a black belt in judo. There are separate kata for throws, the ground, traditional throws, self defense scenarios, you name it.

Back when I competed in judo every tournament would start with older individuals doing a kata competition. They’re judged on how well they execute the predetermined throws from predetermined positions as well as some circumstance around it. You face certain ways to bow. You fix your jacket in a certain manner, and only at certain times. Your uke falls a certain way. It all felt very silly back then, but now I see that it may be the best way to be able to keep doing judo when I can’t even do randori properly without being in pain simply from moving. The guys who do a lot of kata know the throws very well. You have to be crisp and well-rehearsed. It’s very staged, but it doesn’t lessen what it teaches you.

Dear 19-year-old me: It’s not even a full eight years later and you’re now one of those old guys you couldn’t understand.