“Playing to my strengths,” as we say in the corporate world, may very well have cost me my ACL. Let me explain…

I work in healthcare leadership development, so we arbiters of euphemisms rarely use the word “weakness.” We dance around “opportunities for development” or “areas of growth.” I involuntarily shivered when a client said she wanted her team to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) so they could “learn about their strengths and weaknesses.” My goodness, I positively had the vapors. Technically, as I gently hold her, the MBTI looks at preferences rather than true strengths and weaknesses, but…something about the word “weakness” was just too real for me.

Turns out, working on your weaknesses can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Taekwondo has made my body quite strong in the last seven years. It’s also inadvertently caused some weaknesses or at least forced them to take center stage.

Over the years in taekwondo I developed what is probably normal asymmetry in my legs: kicks on the right leg looked better and felt more comfortable to do (maybe I favored them to begin with because I’m right-handed), which developed a very strong standing left leg. In turn, left leg kicks felt weak and unsupported, unless they were jump kicks when I used the left leg to launch into the air…which may in turn have worn down my right leg as the “landing leg” in jumps….see where I’m going with this?

Within the last five years, I have suffered two major injuries to my right leg: hip impingement syndrome coupled with very painful hamstring tendonitis (or perhaps “tendonOSIS” as my physical therapist might insist) and more recently, a tear to my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) requiring reconstruction surgery. I had a weak right hip prior to getting back into taekwondo, but I suspect the way I trained might have led to accidentally setting myself up for injury.

In taekwondo, other sports, and life in general, we tend to favor our “good side” and whatever talent comes naturally.

We feel swift, strong, confident, and reassured we’re doing the right thing. We use our strengths to get what we want, whether it’s a raise at work or a point in a sparring match. We get instant gratification and tend to return to what gave us the outcomes we wanted.

And that’s fine. Using my strengths has gotten me ahead in life in more ways than one.
But if you don’t pay attention to and spend some time on your weaknesses, you may end up paying for it.

Guess what I’ve been working on for the last two months?

Twice a week I spend a few hours in physical therapy. I take regular breaks while I work at home to move around and keep my right leg from stiffening up.Sometimes during conference calls I’ll park my laptop on the floor to listen while I very painfully work on improving my knee flexion. If I’m watching TV in the evening, I’m on the floor doing exercises. The first thing I did this morning was warm up my knee for about thirty minutes.

I’m dedicating most of my free time to working on my weakness for a better payoff when I return to taekwondo.

When I get back into taekwondo I will need to be more diligent about building up a strong right leg. Sometimes when we’re doing a drill we’ll tell the students, “Do the kick on your best side.” That’s just our natural tendency, and there’s the instant gratification of doing a kick that looks good and feels good. I’ll probably have to do twice as many on my “bad side.” That means doing crappy left leg spin kicks and all those other “poor” techniques and painful drills that are embarrassing to do but are necessary to build up the muscle power I need to protect my new ACL (and my wallet, because this is not a cheap injury).

I don’t think we need to spend all our time on our weaknesses, but we need to pay attention to them if they can cause damage in our lives. Working on our weaknesses while leveraging our strengths will help us find more long-term balance.

 

Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!

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4 thoughts on “The Case for Working on Your Weaknesses

  1. I agree, although you would be surprised how many martial artists WOULDN’T. For example, I studied Jeet Kune Do for a while. JKD is known as Bruce Lee’s martial art. This system favors putting your strong side forward. Since I am right-handed, that means my right hand is forward when I’m in my combat stance. However, something dawned on me: in a street fight, we may very well find ourselves attacked on our weak side. Therefore, shouldn’t we train just as much (if not MORE so) with our weak side forward? Well, the teacher did not agree with me. I wound up leaving that school (not over that disagreement, FYI), but I did not leave that thought behind. Glad to see someone else agrees with me!

  2. Funny you should say this! It seems like a given, but surprisingly not every martial artist agrees with it.

    CASE IN POINT: A while ago, I was training at a Jeet Kune Do school, which is the martial art Bruce Lee created. Bruce believed in putting your strong side forward in your combat stance. While I agree with his logic, I kept thinking, “What about the fact that, on the street, we can’t control what side we’re attacked from? Doesn’t that mean we should train with our WEAK side forward too?” I mentioned this question to the teacher, and he didn’t seem all that receptive to it. I wound up going to train somewhere else (nothing to do with that disagreement, FYI), but that thought stuck with me.

    I’m glad to see someone else who agrees with it!

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