It’s all fun and games, until you break your nose

Yesterday, my nose was broken for the first time. Here’s how it happened.

Cpl Whiskey was scheduled to run a martial arts course with the intention of training Marines who currently hold a Grey Belt in MCMAP up to Green Belt proficiency. At the end of this course, we were to test out with an actual Martial Arts Instructor to be awarded our new belts. I was part of this course along with about a dozen other Marines. Yesterday was the first day of training.
Cpl Whiskey had duty in the barracks, meaning he could not be there when we commenced at 0630. That being the case, Sgt Bravo was there instead. We started the day off with calisthenics – albeit in our camouflage uniform with boots and “flak” vests on (so not ideal running gear). After warming up with a half-mile jog, we did a circuit course of Sgt Bravo’s design. We had cones set up to designate certain “stations,” if you will. The cones were set up in a rectangular fashion, and I’d say the short sides were about 20 yards apart and the long sides about 40 yards apart. We started by sprinting the 40 yard length, then doing twenty push ups. We sprinted diagonally (so, slightly more than 40 yards) to another cone where we did 20 “4-count mountain climbers.” (Mountain climbers are an exercise where you get into push up position, and alternate bringing your knees up to your elbows. Starting with your left leg, when your left knee comes up near your left elbow, that is 1 count. On the next count, you kick your left leg straight and cock your right leg up, so the right knee is near your right elbow. That’s the 2nd count. On the third count, you kick your right leg and cock your left leg. On the fourth count, you kick your left leg and cock your right leg – that is one “4-count” mountain climber.) After the mountain climbers, we sprinted the 40 yards and did twenty more push ups, then sprinted the other diagonal and did another set of 20 4-count mountain climbers to complete the circuit.
We ran 4 circuits in total before getting a five minute break to catch our breath and get some water. (Note: Sgt Bravo did the circuits with us, in case anyone was wondering.) During this time, Sgt Bravo rearranged the cones into a tighter circular pattern (and added a few more cones). He explained the stations each cone represented and how we would move from station to station. We would move from the first station by low crawling (“belly on the deck” at all times), from the second station by high crawling (hands and knees), and the third station by bear crawling (hands and feet); then the cycle would repeat. Our first station exercise was 15 8-count body builders (1st count is to go from standing to crouching with your palms on the deck, 2nd count is to kick your legs behind you and be in push up position, 3rd count is to kick your legs out and have them spread wide, 4th count is to kick them back in to push up position, 5th count is to go down as when you are doing a push up, 6th count is to push back up, 7th count is to kick your legs back up so you’re nearly in the crouching position from the 1st count, and the 8th count is to stand up). The second station was to do 15 4-count dying cockroaches (sit on the ground with your legs off the deck and your knees bent in to your chest. 1st count is to shoot your legs out, 2nd count is to bring them back to a bend, 3rd is to shoot them out, and 4th is to bring them back in). The third station was 15 “Marine Corps” push ups (Marine Corps push ups are simply push ups done on a 4 count, so 15 Marine Corps push ups is pretty much just 30 push ups). The fourth station was 15 air squats. The fifth station was 15 diamond push ups. The sixth station was 15 “scissor jacks” (an exercise where you perform a lunge, but instead of stepping each time, you jump into position each time). The seventh station was 15 “dive-bomber” push ups (a sort of push up that involves a snaking motion – hard to explain). The eigth station was 15 sit ups. Then we went back to the starting station and finished off with 15 more 8-count body builders.
After we completed this (all told we spent about an hour to do everything I wrote up) we went over to the gym. From here we reviewed martial arts techniques from the lowest level of proficiency – the Tan Belt. Things like stances, angles of movement, upper and lower body strikes, chokes, throws and takedowns. We did this for about two hours until Cpl Whiskey showed up. Once he showed up we reviewed a few more techniques until we put on boxing gloves and face protection and did some light sparring (body shots only). Each Marine sparred for 4 minutes (broken up into 2 minute rounds), and for those of you who’ve never been in a fight or anything like it, 2 minutes can feel like an awful long time. I took a couple of shots to the bladder I would describe as “less than fun” to receive. After the sparring we went back to reviewing more techniques and learned two maneuvers from the Green Belt syllabus (I’d already seen these moves before from another Green Belt course I’d been on – perhaps a story for another time).
How It Happened
After learning the new techniques and taking a break, Sgt Bravo informed us we were to do some ground sparring (sometimes called “grappling”). As always, proper safety protocols were in place – Marines would stay on their knees at all times, tap-out procedures applied, strikes were prohibited, no eye gouges or small joint manipulations (IE, don’t grab another Marine’s finger and try to tweak it to get them to submit). The format was to be “bull in the ring,” meaning each Marine would take turns being in the middle of a circle and would have to face up to three opponents in 1-minute rounds apiece (so 3 minutes total of grappling). If the “bull” caused an opponent to submit, that opponent would become the new bull. If the opponent caused the bull to submit, time was paused while the fighters reset and then the match continued. I volunteered to go first.
I was outmatched in by my first two opponents – both being stronger and having better technique than me. Between the two of them I think I submitted three times. (Hey, it happens.) I had a few close calls where I nearly caused them to submit, but I wasn’t able to sink the chokes in fully and they were able to muscle their way out of them. My third opponent was outmatched by me – had I taken him on “fresh” it would have been an easy fight. As it was, I was fairly tired from the previous two bouts and had reduced capacity to muscle him around.
At one point he had me in his “guard.” What this means is, his back was on the ground and his legs were wrapped around my waist. Doing this allows you to control your opponent, since you can use your legs to bring him in close and you can also push him away if you want. There are techniques available from the guard that end in armbars or chokes as well. There are techniques to escape the guard, too. I used one such technique, which ends with me tossing my opponent using his leg so that he had his stomach on the ground and back exposed to me – a very “dangerous” situation for him. I was going to “move in for the kill” when, in a panic, my opponent twisted his body very quickly and accidentally struck me square in the nose with his elbow. Such a rapid twist of the body generates a lot of power and my nose was instantly shattered.
At the moment of impact, however, I just thought I’d taken “a good one.” I was about to resume fighting when I noticed everything had stopped – my opponent wasn’t struggling against me, there wasn’t any conversation going on from the spectators. I touched my hand to my nose and looked at my hand, which was covered in blood. “Oh,” I thought. “That explains it.” I didn’t really feel any pain but I excused myself to go to the restroom to take care of my nose and stop the bleeding. Cpl Whiskey was right behind me and asked me if I thought my nose was broken. “No,” I replied. I’d never had a broken nose before but I’d imagined breaking it would be a lot more painful than what was going on right then.
I was losing a lot of blood. That, combined with the physical exertion of the day (4 hours, all said and done) and zero food intake for the day was quickly sapping me of energy. Cpl Whiskey told me to look in the mirror, as my nose was “definitely” broken (I didn’t believe him). When I checked, my nose was like a diagonal line across my face instead of a vertical one. “Oh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.” He asked if I had ever had a broken nose or popped one back into place before. “No,” I replied. And then I took my hand and tried to pop it back into place. At the time, I noticed that my nose felt like it was in pieces, but the import of this observation escaped me until much later, when I thought back over the whole incident. I was more focused on trying to stop the bleeding.
After the bleeding calmed down (but did not stop completely), Cpl Whiskey took me to the medical clinic where eventually a commissioned officer saw me. He explained that my options were to try to reset the nose myself, have him attempt to, or go up to the hospital and have them see what they could do. I was more interested in immediate aid, since the longer it took to have the nose worked on, the more “set” it would be and likely the more painful it would be to try to reset it (or so I figured). So, the doctor stood behind me while I sat in a chair, and put my nose in a sort of vise grip between his palms. There was a lot of cracking and popping and squeemish grunts from the onlookers (Cpl Whiskey couldn’t watch). We stood up to go inspect the results in a mirror, as he told me it wasn’t quite straight. I investigated and agreed – it was now in a sort of “>” shape, almost like a lightning bolt. As he spoke to me, I began to white out – too much blood loss, not enough replenishment. I told him I needed to sit down.
He had me take a break for a few minutes and then he came in again and told me he could try again if I’d like. He said he hadn’t gone full force, so I told him to do so. This time the adjustment was painful, and my nose began bleeding profusely like when it was first injured. I inspect in the mirror again and it’s slightly better but still crooked. Satisfied that we had done all we could, I figured that was the end of my visit to the clinic and the best I could hope for regarding my nose. I mentally adapted to having the extra “character” in my face.
The doc ordered me up some opiate-derivative painkillers and also had my vitals taken and ordered x-rays to be done. He mandated I take 14 days of light duty – no more physical training for two weeks, basically – and also scheduled me for an appointment at the Naval Hospital north of my Camp on Wednesday (tomorrow). He explained that either they would drug me out of my mind, rebreak my nose and try to reset it again, or look into surgery.
Seems like an awful waste of taxpayer dollars for what basically amounts to cosmetic surgery, but oh well. Perhaps they’re worried that leaving my nose as is will lead to long term breathing or sinus complications. I hope so. I’d hate to be receiving cosmetic surgery.
For those wondering, I did not get the rest of the day “off” from work. Not that I was able to accomplish much, drained of energy and drugged up on near-opiates as I was. I didn’t even get to rest when I got home – we had “field day” which amounts to “clean your room to white-glove inspection standard” so I didn’t get to go to sleep until about 10 PM (my adventurous day began around 6 AM). Today, I decided to forego the pain killers and deal with the headache and sensitivity so I could actually accomplish things at work.
Anecdotally, the MCMAP course was cancelled. This was less due to the fact that I was injured and more due to the fact that Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo had never received approval to run such a course, as neither were Martial Arts Instructor (MAIs). MAIs are required for any sort of “combat simulation” activity, such as boxing, ground fighting, pugil stick bouts and so on. Non-MAIs with advanced belt levels (brown and beyond, like Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo) can and are encouraged to lead “sustainment” training, which is basically review of the various techniques in MCMAP.
Furthermore, I was tickled during an e-mail conversation when someone tried to excuse possible slip-ups due to having too much coffee. I tried to excuse excessive abrasiveness due to receiving a gale-force elbow that shattered my nose and required three resets that still couldn’t straighten it out. Sometimes I enjoy being contrary and rude.

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