Sleep, The Quiet Training Tool

Sleep can sometimes be elusive. We’ve all been there, right? You hit that certain hour of the evening, do your nightly routine and curl up comfortably on your bed of choice (mine happens to be a memory foam mattress I bought a few years ago at Jysk! It’s absolute heaven!). As you close your eyes, slow your breathing and attempt to slip into the land of nod, nothing happens. You lie there with your eyes open, staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep. Brutal. But here’s the bad news: whether you can achieve it or not, sleep is necessary!

According to Dr. Eric J. Olson from the Mayo Clinic, the average adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. There are varying factors to how much sleep one requires, including the quality of sleep you get, sleep deprivation and change of sleep patterns due to things like aging and pregnancy. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898)

If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you’ll need to get the following night will likely be increased. However, it is important to acknowledge that most health professionals agree that sleep is not a cumulative function. This means that you can’t get three hours of sleep the first night, followed by thirteen hours of sleep the second night, and expect to have the same results. So it is important (shift work notwithstanding) to set aside that required 7 to 9 hours every night. I’m sure we’ve all met that person who claims to be able to function after only a few hours of sleep, but their performance will be invariably affected even if they don’t realize it. WebMD has a good article that outlines some of the dangers and effects of sleep deprivation and “sleep debt”, which can be read at https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-requirements#1

Regular naps can be beneficial, if your lifestyle and schedule permit them (I’ve covered this in a previous blog) but they shouldn’t “replace” nor can be counted as, part of your night’s sleep. Neither should meditation! Despite how restful a proper meditation session can feel, it doesn’t replace the rejuvenative properties of a full night’s sleep.

Now, we get to the part about how sleep plays an important role in fitness and martial arts. Sleep and exercise go hand in hand. I’m sure that those of you who have ever had a wicked burn of a workout will acknowledge that once the day’s end hits, we crash like a pile of bricks for the night. This is because the physical exertion causes the body to need rest. Makes sense, right? The reality is that you actually tear and destroy muscle tissue during your workouts. (Trust me, ask you doctor next time you speak with them!) Your body’s muscle tissue and essential systems regenerate during your sleep cycle, which is why some professional and hardcore athletes require closer to ten hours of sleep every night. This regeneration causes your muscle tissue to heal and repair itself to be stronger than before. This is why a proper sleep regiment can allow you to be more energized and stronger in the long haul.

Bear in mind that napping, coffee and energy drinks don’t serve as adequate substitutes for proper sleep and will only help to alleviate the grogginess in the SHORT term. becoming dependant on these things can have negative effects in the LONG term. This coming from the guy who starts every morning with an energy drink… I can totally quit if I want to! Who am I kidding; my blood is 90% caffeine.

In all seriousness, the last aspect of sleep I’ll cover is Diabetes. As any of my Diabetic readers can attest to, EVERYTHING affects blood sugar levels. Our eating habits, fitness habits, work habits and sleep habits all play a role on how blood sugar levels are controlled and maintained. So as you can imagine, lack of sleep can certainly contribute to uncontrolled blood sugars.

So no matter what your lifestyle, fitness routines or work habits are, remember to set aside time for a good 8 hours of sleep! Your body will thank you.

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Someday, you’ll run out of “Laters”…

Life is a fleeting thing. In the grand scheme of things, we are all only here for a very short time. That may sound a little morbid, but let’s be realistic; life is a story in which we know the beginning and we know the end. How we fill the chapters in between is what ultimately writes the story of our lives and defines us as people.

“I’ll get to that later…”

It’s a sentiment that most people use, and all too often. I’ve been guilty of it myself, on several occasions. From a very young age, I had significant ideas about how I wanted to build my life. Time and circumstance made it so that certain things began to pop up and would “get in the way” of those ideas (I don’t necessarily mean that these things got in the way, But I can’t think of a better term for it!). During the early years of my childhood, I decided I wanted to be a police officer. Lots of little kids do, I suppose. But that instinct never left me.

However, as I grew older and began to learn about science, I often dreamt of pursuing a career in research. I could have been happy as a biologist, physicist or medical researcher… But the cost of university back then was far too expensive and my family did not have the means to help. Because of this, my life plans changed. As always, I am a firm advocate that all things happen for a reason and this falls under that category. If my life had not taken the path that it has, I wouldn’t be where I am at this very moment. And if I do say so myself, despite some neurotic habits, who I am at this very moment is pretty neat (some may disagree, but that’s their problem).

In recent years, I’ve begun to examine my life and contemplate what ideas and plans I would like to put into action.

I’ve long wanted to continue my education and perhaps obtain my bachelor’s degree. A number of things have taken place that have “gotten in the way” and delayed this from happening, so I’ll get to that later

For decades, I’ve dreamt of saving up money and purchasing my own coffee shop. I have grand plans for such an endeavour. The location would include a traditional coffee shop with plenty of seating and a warm, comfortable environment but would also have a large open, floor area where karate classes could be held. Whenever karate classes were not in session, the floor space would be occupied by Zumba, Yoga or other fitness classes. I’ve gotten as far as drawing plans on what logo I would use and what the business would be called. But, a number of things have taken place that have “gotten in the way” and have delayed this from happening, so I’ll get to that later…

Back in 2007, I began training and planning for the further development of my black belt and my next degree. My martial arts training has always played a very integral part in my life and this was important to me. In fact, I started planning and training for that exact thing this year (almost twelve years later). And although I’m working on it at the moment, a number of things took place back then that have “gotten in the way” and have delayed this from happening, so I’ll get to that later… (Which I’m doing now, but still…)

See where I’m going with this? Starting to get the picture? In life, we often plan and want to do certain things but we allow the flow of life to get in our way. I have an old saying that I’ve been using my entire adult life: Life does not care about your plan… A true sentiment, and an accurate one. Life continues to flow despite your plans or your disappointments. The point is to ensure that you never let go of what’s important to you and continue to strive for your goals. Many things in everyday life will make some of these goals difficult. But very little in this life will ever make these things impossible.

For example, despite odds and opposition, I obtained a college certificate in 2016. It was mostly correspondence and outside factors often made it difficult, but I made it through. Don’t get me wrong, a college certificate is far from comparable to a bachelor’s degree. But it’s a start! It took twelve years to start working on it, but I’m developing my next black belt degree.

That’s why it is important to keep working at your goals and ambitions and find a way around the obstacles. Never lose focus on what you want to do. Don’t wait forever. After all, someday you’ll run out of “Laters”…

From The Mouths Of Babes…

I was out running around with my son this morning, and we drove towards the south end of the city. When he stepped out of the family vehicle at our first stop, he got all excited and pointed to the sky “Look, daddy! An Airplane!” I looked up and calmly corrected him, “No, buddy! That’s a helicopter!” He replied with a simple oh, but the excitement on his face was something to see.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the big deal was. After all, it’s just a f%&king helicopter, right? But children are particular that way. The smallest things fascinate them and make them happy. My son is almost like a cat. He usually ends up playing with the wrappings and paper instructions he gets during holidays long before he plays with the actual toy.

It got me to wonder if we, as adults, lose something particular as we get older. As a Buddhist, I strive to enjoy the simple things in life. I pride myself on being able to sit still and simply enjoy being, as life in and of itself is something to be enjoyed. But as we mature into adulthood, and the many complications that come with life begin to encompass our daily routine, we forget the simplicities that bring us joy. Little things like quietly reading a book, or sitting in the sun and breathing in the fresh air.

My son Nathan usually has the ability to run around our back yard with nothing to entertain him but snowballs, our family dog and passing squirrels. As I type this, my wife is humouring my son by kicking a small rubber ball back and forth in the basement. It’s a mindless repetition that makes him laugh and entertains him to no end. I can guarantee that any adult would typically be the ones to say “alright, that’s enough” before any kid would. But the simplicity is enough to make him happy.

Meditation and the martial arts follow this very same principle. There is a lot of repetition, often to our frustration. And there is a simplicity to the mindfulness involved. I think there is a lot to learn from how children view the world. Perhaps if we remembered how to see the world a bit more as they do, we would be freed up from some of the worries that plague adulthood… Just some food for thought.

My son Nathan and I

Stretches and Warm-Ups… Yay or Nay?

How useful is stretching prior to a workout? How long should you stretch for? How long should your warm-up be? What is the difference between the two? These questions have been hotly debated between myself and my martial arts colleagues for quite a number of years.

Back in the day, when we would have school gym classes, we would be encouraged, and even required to stretch prior to taking the class or playing sports. But does it serve a purpose in the martial arts? The argument is that if you were to suddenly face off against a dangerous foe in the street, you wouldn’t have time to warm up or stretch. So why would you train that way? You won’t have that benefit if you actually need to fight. There are two sides to the coin, and some believe you should stretch; some believe you shouldn’t.

According to an online article posted by Men’s Journal, experts agree that a combination of static stretching with dynamic movement would be the best route and guarantees some benefit to your workouts. Prolonged static stretching has shown to actual decrease athletic performance in most people.

The article goes on to explain that you should only spend approximately one minute stretching any major muscle group in order to avoid decreasing one’s performance.

And what about an actual warm up routine? Are the same factors present there? For most athletes, the belief is that you should include a short period of cardio before any major workout. Of course, my personal belief is that this can include some dynamic stretching as well. But the consensus seems to be that warm ups shouldn’t take more than ten to fifteen minutes, at maximum.

For a period of twenty years while I was able to practice consistently at my home dojo, (Dalhousie, New Brunswick by the way) students were expected to stretch prior to the start of class. This was required so that the class could roll right into the warm up, which would NEVER go beyond the fifteen minute mark. My Sensei would make it clear that students should show up to class at least fifteen minutes prior to start in order to stretch properly. It was generally understood that if you didn’t take advantage of this fifteen minutes, or showed up late, you were responsible for stretching properly or deal with the potential injuries. This is something that is also covered in an article posted by Livestrong.com

It’s important to warm up the muscles and get that heart rate up during any workout. Stretching and warming up are integral parts of a good workout, but let’s be clear: it IS possible to stretch or warm up to much! Stretching one muscle group for more than a minute or so will cause it to have reduced elasticity decrease muscle performance. A decent, cardio-based warm up that exceeds ten to fifteen minutes will lead to a build-up of lactic acid on the muscle tissue and will prevent a good work out. Some martial arts schools will have a warm-up that encompasses almost half of their scheduled class time, which hinders the proper growth and progression of its students.

So here’s the bottom line: get to class early, stretch well, then enjoy a brief warm up so that you can get down to business. Focus on technique and precision, listen closely and never stop practicing.

Bearing in mind that I’m not a doctor, kinesiologist or professional (other than my thirty years of intensive martial arts training!), you can review some of the facts I’ve quoted at Men’s Journal (https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/should-you-stretch-before-working-out-20160205/) or LiveStrong.com (https://www.livestrong.com/article/511702-how-long-should-a-warm-up-last/)

As I enter my fourth decade of life, I’ve come to learnt hat it is all the more important to stretch properly and be nicely warmed up before getting down and dirty, especially in the martial arts! As usual, I’m compelled to remind everyone to consult their family health practitioner before starting ANY major fitness regiment. Stay healthy!

Martial Arts, One Language, Many Dialects…

The martial arts are a very special creature. Often cloaked in mysticism, people have always been interested in watching the martial arts being used on screen and in person. Even as a young boy, I remember driving almost an hour away from my home town to watch a local karate school put on a demonstration at a local auditorium. I got to see people breaking boards and bricks, kick through wooden baseball bats and perform feats that bordered on the acrobatic. Although not the primary reason behind why I began to study, it was a pivotal moment in my youth that showed me that karate would play an important role in my life.

The focus of today’s article is a popular sport, which has been around much longer than most people think: Mixed Martial Arts. Now, given that I am a die-hard lifetime student of traditional martial arts, I often have difficulty dealing with aspects of MMA. By its very definition, a martial art CAN NOT be mixed! An old master that my Sensei used to train with, had a saying: “One love, one religion and only one style…” This builds on the premise that it is unlikely (not necessarily impossible) to learn more than one style of martial arts and that a true student must adhere to only one style.

Mixed Martial Arts as we know it today dates back to the early 1980’s with such shows as Battle of the Superfighters and Tough Guy Contest. But the concept of MMA actually dates back much further. There are traces of MMA that can be found in ancient Greece, China and France. But the increased popularity of mixed martial arts would certainly not have happened without the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States in the early 1990’s. Originally created as a tournament-based method of showcasing what style was best suited for actual street combat, it featured no rules and pitted several fighting styles against one another. Some of the most interesting fights I’ve ever witnessed took place during the very first UFC. You could see examples of a sumo wrestler against a French Savage fighter; a boxer against a Tae Kwon Do black belt, etc… However, it soon became a streamlined fighting organization with an increased set of rules, standardized apparel and fighting methods.

I’ll never forget watching that first UFC on VHS (yes, it was THAT long ago) and seeing Royce Gracie win the tournament. Of course, he also won the second and he happened to be the brother to one of the UFC’s co-founders, Rorion Gracie. Don’t get me wrong; the Gracies have a long standing history in the martial arts and are an exceptionally skilled family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. But it didn’t take long for profit and popularity to turn MMA into something no longer resembling its original form.

These days, the UFC is a pay-per-view event that is much anticipated by many. I believe the latest event was UFC 235, with the first UFC having been in 1993 so do the math. There have been reality shows involving UFC, much like American Idol or something similar, except they develop MMA fighters. There are fight nights every couple of weeks and is now believed to secure several hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year. If you watch a current UFC fight card, this is what you’ll see: people in shorts with padded finger strike gloves, beating each other until one is knocked out or submits. No more traditional martial arts attire or specific styles. Mixed martial arts has fallen a long way from where it originally came from. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good MMA fight card as much as the next person. In fact, during her reign as Woman’s Bantamweight Champion, I was a total Ronda Roussey fan! I believe my frustration stems from the fact that people still refer to this stuff as a martial art. MMA seems more akin to boxing with a kick (see what i did there?) than martial arts.

To those who practice MMA, let me say this: I admire what you do! Your fights are rigorous, obviously exhausting and you guys are in the sort of shape I don’t believe I have EVER been in. The faith-based side of me that is open to all schools of thought and beliefs totally accepts the challenge and development that goes into training an athlete to participate in this sport. But that is specifically what MMA is: a sport. Martial arts is not.

I invite open discussion, so feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you wish to discuss this topic further. No matter what your practice, stay true and keep fighting the good fight.

To Beard or Not To Beard, That Is The Questions… (that nobody asked)

Beards are a hot topic these days. Some find them cool, some find them pretentious… No matter your preference, beards have been around for a LONG time!

According to an article entitled “A Short History of Beard Styles” as posted on History Cooperative (https://historycooperative.org/a-short-history-of-beard-styles/), early humans used beards for warmth and sometimes intimidation. These days, they are often used to show masculinity, royalty, fashion and status.

Now, beards aren’t necessarily ALL good. There’s a widely-argued debate about how much bacteria beards contain and how unsanitary they may be. There was a study performed where a number of beards were swabbed then analyzed by a microbiologist. The results found were said to be as dirty as the average toilet, although they neglected to include clean-shaven men in this study.

A follow-up study was posted in 2014 where 408 men with AND without beards were analyzed and the results were pretty identical. Ironically enough, the results showed that some species of bacteria were actually more likely to appear on a clean-shaven face. The actual WebMD article can be read at https://www.webmd.com/men/news/20160125/is-your-beard-packed-with-germs#1

Throughout my life, I’ve never had the opportunity to grow enough facial hair for it to genuinely be considered a beard. By the time I graduated from high school, most of my jobs required a clean-shaven visage. Recently I have found myself in a position where I no longer needed to shave for work, so I thought I would see what all the fuss is about.

Three weeks worth of beard and hair growth

Now, I generally keep my head shaved, so I allowed some growth to complement the beard. After three weeks, do you know what I discovered? Beards are itchy as hell! Every few minutes or so, I feel the compulsion to scratch the living’ hell out of my face. Therefore, today I gave in and decided to shave everything off! But not before snapping shots of various different styles throughout the shaving process.

Rockin’ the goatee!
Soul patch, yo!
The finished product!

So there you have it! Although a break from shaving is always welcome, sporting a full face of hair is definitely not my thing. plus, I’m not really a fan of how much grey hair I seem to have in my beard.

Before and After

So what do you think? Which look is better on me? I’m not sure why the left side of my face looks swollen, but barring that, leave me a comment about which side you think is best.

Diabetic Macular Edema, Pt. 2

As promised, I’m providing a bit of a step-by-step of the eye appointment I had today. Right from the outset I’m going to warn everyone that I took some photographs of my eyes. I only offer this warning because some people have difficulties handling “eye stuff”.

I arrived in Saskatoon and checked into my hotel that I’d be staying at for the night. I dropped off my bags and got set up in my room before booking the hotel’s guest shuttle to bring me to the hotel. The shuttle drove me and I arrived at Saskatoon City Hospital almost an hour prior to the appointment. I checked in at the admitting counter before starting the process.

The first step was a standard eye exam. I generally always score 20/20 on this, depending on how well-balanced my blood sugar is. On this occasion, I scored perfectly. The nurse then puts drops into both eyes that cause my pupils to dilate. Once this is done, I make my way to waiting room “B” where scans and photographs of my retina will be taken.

My “vampire eyes”, about fifteen minutes after they’ve been dilated.

I waited for quite some time before getting in for my scans. Unfortunately, getting to the hospital early does nothing for you, as the computer check-in places you in the queue based on your appointment time and not when you showed up. This sucks, especially when you happen to be early and people who have arrived after you end up getting ahead.

Once I get in to the “photographer”, he takes a detailed scan of the back of both eyes, as well as a photograph of each eye. This part of the process is simple and painless, despite having my eyes dilated like a vampire on coke, and every pinch of light causes a headache. Then, I made my way to waiting room “C”, which is ultimately where I will get the actual injections.

The medieval torture chair where I will be given my eye injections!

After another wait in the third waiting room, I was brought into an examination room as pictured above. I was strapped into the chair (Totally kidding! She didn’t strap me in!) and more drops were added to my eyes by the nurse. These drops freeze all sensation in the eyes (supposedly) but allow full movement.

The ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) then enters into the room and we look at the scans of my eyes together and compare them to the last appointment’s scans. During this discussion, we consider and decide whether the current injection regiment is still ideal or if it should be increased (my current regiment requires injections every eight weeks). I’ve been going at eight week intervals for almost a year now, with a couple of exceptions where I’ve allowed it to go to nine or ten weeks. This has resulted in worsened vision in the form of blurring, which is why we never push the appointments past the eight week mark.

The surgeon then places a clamp on one of the eyes (think Clockwork Orange) and puts a few drops of Bridine solution onto the white part of the eye. Bridine solution is a topical antiseptic generally used before surgeries. The white part if the eye is where the needle will penetrate the surface of the eye. I then pick a spot on the ceiling and hold fast, as the surgeon pushes the needle through and injects the medication.

Walking out the hospital in pain. Since I could barely see a thing, I’m surprised the photo turned out as well as it did!

As I’m staring at the ceiling and the medication enters the vitreous body, I can see swirls in my vision. It’d be a little bit freaky if one were not focused on the stinging pain ripping through that side of the face!

The needle gets pulled away and the excess is swabbed up by the surgeon. Then, I stagger into the scheduler’s office where she hands me a piece of paper indicating the date and time of my next appointment. She asks me if the appointment is fine, but I take the paper without reading it (because I can’t) and make my way down to the hospital lobby.

Normally, I get the hotel’s shuttle to pick me up and bring me back. On this occasion, the shuttle was tied up bringing guests to the airport so I had to hoof it! It’s about a fifteen minute walk through Rotary Park to reach the hotel. The walk itself would be refreshing and nice, considering it’s 4 degrees today. But since it’s a clear sky with a very bright, Prairie sun, it was torturous.

Right eye. The bright red line starts at the injection site.
The left eye. Notice the bright, red point is more prominent in this one.

Once I got back to my hotel room, I closed all the curtains and turned off the lights before crashing hard. It’s a catch-22! Having my eyes closed keeps the light from hurting me while the dilation wears off, but the rubbing of the eyelids on the eyeballs causes pain as well. Luckily, once I fall asleep I don’t notice this as much.

I’ll be taking it easy for the rest of the evening as my eyes recover then try and get a solid night’s sleep. Once I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll make the trek back to Regina. I’ll have some latent headaches for the next day or two, but it’s a small price to pay to maintain my vision.

So there you have it! I warned you it might be gross. Something I didn’t mention in the previous post is that DME can be caused by bad blood sugar control over a long period of time. Being a Type 1 during my youth was chaotic. My blood sugars ran rampant and I’ve been comatose on more than one occasion. So, it’s very important to maintain your levels and get regular check ups, regardless of how big a pain it is. Because as much as I hate it when someone uses this line on me, it could always be worse!