BJJ Legends got the opportunity to speak with Chris Ulbricht about his experiences and strategies in facing the opponent known as INJURED.
Delay, physical strain, and anxiety; injuries are an athlete's biggest fear come to life. Injuries are hard to avoid, they are a constant demon us due to the activities we do. For Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes the risk is higher. We risk breaking limbs and constantly push beyond our limitations to achieving our goals. Injuries can certainly be a burden, but they can also be tamed while on the road to recovery.
Garden State Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Head Instructor, BJJ black belt, Chris Ulbricht, 27, has dealt with his share of injuries in his 10 year BJJ career. His recent full recovery from a seven-month injury has opened him to many lessons in patience, modification, and perseverance.
Suffering an injury can be a burden for any dedicated Martial Arts practitioner. When you think of the mere thought of having an injury, what comes to mind? Chris Ulbricht: Injuries are definitely something that's unavoidable to a certain extent if you’re a full-time athlete. If you train long enough, you're going to get injured. Like anything in life and especially anything in Jiu-Jitsu, an injury can be something that makes you worse or something that makes you better depending on how you respond to it.
You have suffered a series of injuries in your career. Instruction may be limited, training is put on hold, and competing is out of the question. How do you deal with those experiences mentally? Chris Ulbricht: My last injury affected my ability to teach because I wasn’t able to even demonstrate any techniques for my students for about five months. However, I soon discovered that I was able to teach just as well, if not better, by having two of my students demonstrate the technique while I commentated. This is still a teaching method that I use from time to time even though I am now 150% better. Also, I typically roll in almost every class I teach, so the time that I was out allowed me to observe my students much more during their sparring. This, in turn, helped me discover patterns that enabled me to design extremely relevant lesson plans to work on issues I saw during their rounds.
The recovery process is a long road to becoming well. Do you mind sharing with us your road to recovery experience? Chris Ulbricht: I got injured in May 2017, and after seeing five doctors, it was determined that I would need to have a surgery to ever be 100% again and it was performed July 5th. This was a projected 6-7 month recovery, and I was able to return early to modified rolling during the last week of December. I returned to full unrestricted training during the last week of January.
Are there any methods you use to speed up the recovery process? Chris Ulbricht: Yes! I’d say the most important thing is to always do the best you can with what you are able to do at any given time. I started watching technique videos and match footage right away. When I got cleared to ride a stationary bike, I rode the bike. When I got cleared to drill, I drilled. In my experience, people often wait until they are “100%” to start training again which I believe is very detrimental. You also need to have good communication between your doctors, physical therapists, and strength coaches to have an efficient recovery plan.
We all at times during the recovery process have a sense of eagerness to get back to training. Has there ever been a time where you have gone through the process of training with an injury and if so what procedures do you use? Chris Ulbricht: Whenever training with some type of physical ailment it’s important to determine whether you are hurt or seriously injured. If you have an injury that is NOT going to heal on its own, it’s time to see a doctor and come up with a plan before you attempt to train around the injury. If it’s something less serious that will heal on its own, it comes down to proper sports medicine (tape, athletic braces, REST) to manage the injury, communicating with training partners during live rolling, and/or modifying your training to allow the injury to heal. If you’re not sure how serious your injury is, I recommend seeing a doctor so you can make informed decisions about your training.
Coming back from the injury do you have any "mat rust" getting back into tournament shape, while also maintaining your role as the head instructor of Garden State Brazilian Jiu-jitsu? Chris Ulbricht: I definitely did have a little bit of mat rust in terms of my timing, strength, and cardio but I feel that while I was out, I made tremendous strides in my progress as an instructor, as well as with my understanding of Jiu-Jitsu. Also once I got back to training, I was able to regain my timing and increase my cardio and strength, so those temporary losses don’t matter anymore.
I have a lot of really tough training partners at Garden State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy who thankfully give me great rounds in every class. I’m also working with two excellent strength coaches- John Stoble, out of Crossfit Five Points in Atlantic Highlands and Matt Szep out of Core Fitness in Middletown NJ. I have added yoga to my weekly routine to allow myself to recover better and improve my flexibility (we have an awesome Yoga teacher named Shawna Rodgers at Garden State BJJ). At this point, all the rust is off and it's just working to sharpen the sword every day.
What are you looking forward to, any upcoming events you have your sights set on? Chris Ulbricht: I have two big things coming up this summer. I’m going to be teaching at the BJJ Globetrotters Camp in Belgium (also taking a solo trip to Iceland) and then when I get back I’ll be competing at Fight To Win in Asbury Park on August 3rd and in the Show The Art Finishers 6 155lb Pro Division on August 12th. [Follow up: F2W was canceled and at Show the Art Chris won his first match and lost the second.]
Finally wrapping up this interview, what is the biggest advice you can give to readers going through an injury? Chris Ulbricht: DON’T STOP TRAINING EVER. Once you can do some physical activity, any good instructor can come up with some modification to the technique to work around your injury or give you something else to do. If you can’t do anything, you can always come to just watch classes and spend time with your teammates. Rolling is the most fun part of Jiu-Jitsu, but it’s far from the only way to get better. If you do the best you can and scale up from there, you’ll have a faster, safer, and more complete recovery.
Holding nothing back Dana Moore opens about his story in this exclusive interview with us at BJJ Legends as it looks showcase the true meaning of overcoming adversity.
Everyone has a story assembled from their past, present, and hopeful future experiences. Being in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community one will come across various individuals from all walks of life each with their own fabled tale marked with joyous accolades as well as unfavorable trials and tribulations.
24 year old Dana Moore has recently encountered his share of misfortune that has altered his life. A BJJ blue belt under Grant Collins it seemed like yesterday where this ambitious grappling practitioner was living life happily on and off the mat. With life going so smoothly one would figure what bad could go wrong, until a catastrophic construction accident change everything leaving Moore paralyzed and wheel chair bound. Nevertheless with this dire struggle has risen an ambition for progress which Moore looks to accomplish through hard work and perseverance.
Share with the readers a little about yourself and your BJJ background? Dana Moore: My story starts a long time ago actually when I was a kid and my cousin and I rented UFC 1 and watched it for the first time and thought it was the best thing ever. We were both hooked from there on it and my interest for bjj and MMA started. It took me awhile to actually begin a traditional BJJ path. I always wanted to start BJJ but in high school and college I was a full time athlete pretty much and couldn't commit to it. So, after college I wanted to begin my BJJ journey now that I had no commitments and could put everything I had into training and competing. I found Optimus through my friend Brett Weekely's recommendation. Since he knew much more than I did about gyms in the area, he told me to go to Optimus and train under Professor Grant Collins because he's the best and comes from the best Mauricio "Tinguinha" Mariano dos Santos. I remember the first day I went in there, I had just went surfing at salt creek and figured I would stop by Optimus just to check it out. I stopped in and signed up for my first intro lesson to get things going. Once I took that first lesson I was hooked. I would go to every class offered that I could attend for the beginners. Whether it be everyday to twice a day I was there training and just soaking it all in. And when I wasn't there, I was Watching YouTube videos all day at home. So, this went on for about 3 months of nonstop training and learning I the martial art. Then Professor Grant approached me and asked me if I wanted to help out and teach classes and I obviously felt so honored and had to say yes. I never knew how rewarding teaching BJJ could be. It was amazing to see the little kid's progress and when they finally get the moves down. I couldn't help being proud of the little guys and I would get so fired up like they were one of my own. I remember one kid in particular who would try to do a gravity sweep over and over and just couldn't get the hang of until. I swear it took him over a month to get it. Then boom, one day he hits it right and his game went to a whole new level because he was hitting the whole class with that thing and you just can't help but be proud of the hard work and determination he put in to achieve something that might seem minor to other people, but to us BJJ practitioners, it's a big deal.
What would you say has been the biggest benefit you've received from being a participant in BJJ? Dana Moore: The biggest benefit from BJJ I received is all the great people I've met and become friends with. And meeting Professor Grant and all the things that he's done for me and taught me, I can't thank him enough. I've made so many great friends and gone through so many struggles with fellow teammates, you can't help but to become almost brothers when you train with and push yourself to the limit with the same people every day. We are all pushing each other to get better, and whether you have a great day on the mat or terrible day, you still learn something and appreciate having someone to train with and battle it out with.
Martial Art endeavors certainly have a way of imitating the joys and struggles we go through off the mat. Not too long ago a tragedy made its way into your life. Can you talk to us about the incident which led to your current condition? Dana Moore: it was Thursday November 21, 2013. It was a cold rainy day and I didn't know if we were going to drill that day because of the whether and when I got word that we were, I didn't mind it at all because I liked working and I got to work with my cousin, who is like a brother to me, so I never had a problem with work. It was a usual day of drilling, and I went to load the next drill pipe from a truck bed to the loader and in order to get the 300-400 pound pipe from being horizontal truck bed to vertical in the loader, which is on a different truck right next to the other one, you have to use hydraulic lifts. So I put the clamps on and it's starting to go up, in looking back and forth at both ends when all of the sudden everything goes blank for 2 seconds, the pipe falls on me. Next thing I know I'm holding myself up in between the two trucks and I see my cousin running over with a look on his face that I have never seen before, he later on told me that when he saw me there holding myself up that he literally thought I was dying right there in front of him, which would explain the look on his face. I'm sitting there holding myself up and he asks me if I'm ok and I said no I can't feel my legs and tell him to call 911 and turn everything off. I didn't know what was wrong with me but I knew it wasn't good. After he does everything he comes back over and helps lay down and props me up to where he's supporting me neck and keeping me straight. Ambulance comes I go to the hospital do all the tests, MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, and I broke my thoracic 6-7 vertebrae and suffered spinal cord damaged leaving me paralyzed for the chest down. I had surgery then transfer to their rehabilitation clinic after a few days and begin that process. People are usually in rehab for 2 months with my injury, and I was out in a month. And began my new journey outside of the hospital and outpatient rehab.
Looking back at your life before this trial and where you are now how has life changed? Dana Moore: Life has changed in many ways. I have to do many things different now. Yes, something's are significantly more challenging and can be very frustrating at times but when I look back at everything I'm happy to be alive and lucky my injury wasn't much worse. The obvious biggest physical change is that I'm unable to walk. So, getting adapted to the wheelchair and maneuvering it around is different. Mostly it's just the little things that are more apparent now, like getting dressed or being able to fit through doorways. Mentally it's hard to say where I'm at because I don't know what my life will be like in a year. I could get better or I could stay the same as now, but either way I'm going to live life to the fullest and not regret a single thing that's happened. It was a freak accident and you just have to play the hand your dealt. I can't control it so just have to move on. I know God has a plan for me, so I'm trusting in him to show me the way. But, I'm staying positive and couldn't ask for more support from my family, girlfriend, friends, and everyone else out there that I've met or know.
How are you keeping yourself motivated during this tough time? Dana Moore: I'm not going to say it's easy to stay positive, but as of right now I'm so motivated and I'm slowly getting better it's hard not to be. I'm doing intensive physical therapy at VIP NeuroRehabilitation Center in San Diego 5 days a week and couldn't be happier. They have the most state of the art equipment and such a knowledgeable staff. I am recovering and my body is getting some feeling and movement back. It's still early on in the process so it's hard not to stay positive and hopeful I can make a full recovery. I'm not guaranteed that I will make any recovery even past this point but all I can do is keep working hard and praying. Other things thy help me keep positive are the people around me. My mom and girlfriend have been here for me every day and help me out as much as they can. My mom brought me lunch and dinner every day so I didn't have to eat hospital food just to name one thing she's done. She should be the one with an article on her for how much she has done for me. She's the real hero here. My girlfriend stayed with me in the hospital every single night I was there. It's easy to work hard knowing you've got someone like that in your corner. They are always keeping me positive and help keep me up when I do have some harder days. I also just have to trust in God that he has a plan for me and I will recover as much as I'm supposed to. Just have to keep fighting and praying.
Knowing in your heart things are going to get better what are you looking forward to when you recover? Dana Moore: I look forward to each day as I recover and I'm not putting life on Hold while I go through this. I'm living each day to the fullest and still enjoying things. I think once I'm through this process the thing I would look forward to the most is living a purposeful life to the fullest and helping out others going through my situation as much as possible. I know it's not an easy road and if I can make one step in that process any easier I would want to do so. It's difficult to say when my recovery ends as well. Some people are 10 years out of injury and still getting better so recovery with spinal cord injuries is ever changing.
Finally when people look at your story, what do you want them to learn from it and also the man Dana Moore? Dana Moore: I would just want people to know that I am the same person before this injury. And no matter what comes at you in life, you just have to keep fighting. Never give up hope and faith and that nothing is impossible.
Any final thoughts or anyone you would like to thank before we wrap up this interview? Dana Moore: I would just like to thank my entire family, girlfriend, friends, my BJJ family, the countless amounts of people that have helped me along this process, and most importantly God, without him none of this would be possible. Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens."
Sprained a finger? Use a ponytail holder for extra support.
One of the guys at my academy showed me this little trick.
You've sprained your finger. You've iced, medicated and elevated. Now you want to train. Start by taping the finger to provide a compression. Don't tape too tightly. Next use a hair tie to support the injured finger. Sandwich the hurt finger to the neighbor finger using a hairband instead of tape. Its quick and when it falls off, as the tape inevitably does, just retie the hair tie.
Remember to tie the fingers two-by-two so that there isn't a finger left with out a supporting finger. For example tape the ring finger to the pinky and the index finger to the pointer. If you tape the ring finger to the index finger that leave the pinky finger vulnerable.
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza is a lifesaver. This book explains how to avoid injuries through correct body mechanics, and is a blueprint to treating injuries that do arise. After my experience I consider it essential reading for anyone, especially those involved in body-brutalizing sports like Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo.
This spring, the past 25 years of abuse from judo, jiu-jitsu, skateboarding, and sitting at a desk came to a head and my hip / upper glute / lower back went on strike. I was pointed in Kelly Starrett’s direction by Andrew from Dig Deep BJJ and after watching some of the MobilityWOD videos, decided that I needed a copy of his book. The last month of putting these exercises to work has led me to believe that over the course of a lifetime, Supple Leopard will prove to be worth its weight in physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture receipts.