Don’t Change Your Routine

I remember training for my black belt in karate, and doing my very best to prepare for it in a Rocky-style format. I used to get up at five in the morning and run five miles, followed by an hour of intensive shadow boxing and forms. Without getting into the specifics of the test, I knew that I would be facing the challenge of my life, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure I would be successful.

The last class before the weekend of the test, I attended class and tried to blend into the background, which wasn’t easy considering I stood at the front as one of the senior students. I didn’t speak to anyone about the upcoming test I would be subjected to, over the weekend, as was the custom in our dojo. Test dates were kept private until the student walked into the next class with a new belt colour around their waist.

After that last class, Sensei and I took an hour together and discussed the test and what would be involved. We went over some of the material that I knew I had some mild difficulty with, and I made a point of explaining that I planned on having a light meal and getting to bed early, in order to get some extra rest. Sensei smacked me in the back of the head and spoke three very important words: Don’t. Change. Anything.

Essentially, Sensei explained that despite being faced with a very important and very physical test the following day, I should have the supper I’d usually have. I should follow it up by having the evening I would usually have and go to bed no earlier than I usually would. The idea was that altering my usual routine would cause a disruption in my rest as opposed to helping it, and potentially increase my test anxiety.

Change and variety are good. Of this, I have no doubt and there is no question. But when it comes to facing something out of the ordinary, it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t alter our routines. We need to trust our gut and follow our usual routine. trying to do anything out of the ordinary will only stress and tax your body further and increase one’s anxiety. Stick to what you know. It’ll serve you better in the long run. ☯

Where Did The Time Go?

Where did the time go? It’s a question I ask myself frequently, throughout the year. But even more so on this day. Even though some people will claim it’s impossible, I have clear memories from as far back as when I was two years old. And I’ve seen a lot on my life. I’ve also done a lot in my life. I’ve taken stock of myself and the things I’ve accomplished more often than I can count.

1979. Wow, I’m old…

I’ve always faced obstacles the only way I know how: head on. And I’ve always succeeded. When I was told I wouldn’t survive into my teens due to insulin resistance and Diabetes complications, I started training and taking my own health in hand. I’m several decades beyond what they said my life expectancy would be. They told me I shouldn’t get into the martial arts as the training regiment would be too brutal and intense for something with a compromised immune system and I would suffer frequent low blood sugars. Since then, I’ve obtained multiple black belts and have gone on to teach others.

Yes, the A&W bear. No, there’s no need to mention the pink monkey!

I’ve also achieved the career of my dreams, promoted far earlier than most of my peers and continue to learn and grow with every new day. I’ve learned to live my life without regrets, which is an important lesson I hope to pass on to my two young sons. Another aspect of my life that I believed would never happen is fatherhood. I was told long ago that the prospect of children would never happen. Apparently, 1 out of 3 male Diabetics are incapable of conceiving children. Just one more way I defeated the odds.

I’ve never been a big fan of this day. Both for personal and worldly reasons, but it keeps coming around regardless. It’s almost become more of a day for those who love me than for myself. But regardless, it doesn’t keep me from reflecting on life and the choices that brought me here. No matter what the obstacles, I’ll keep fighting. I owe myself that much. I also owe my family that much. After all, I need my sons to have the same tenacity and stubbornness as I’ve developed. ☯

I Don’t Know, And That’s Okay…

As people, we have a propensity to think we know everything. Especially in any specific area, where we think we happen to be experts. Sometimes it’s a point of pride, sometimes it’s vanity. But uttering the words “I don’t know” usually evades us. Or we avoid them. Whatever. But there’s nothing wrong with lacking some knowledge. Vulnerability and not knowing is okay.

After graduation, I moved on to college and chose to study computer programming. I spent my entire life around computers as it was my father’s addiction, so it felt like a reasonable step to pursue it further. One thing that didn’t help was that I was convinced to attend a french college. Even if I’m fully bilingual and can speak French, it didn’t change the fact that computer terms that were three inches long in English were found to be ten inches long in French. I’m exaggerating, of course. But it doesn’t change the fact that taking the course in French, despite it being a primary language for me, caused untold difficulties. My college years were some of the most difficult I’ve ever faced, for this reason.

I learned the hard way that computer programming wasn’t for me. I may have enjoyed playing the games and watching my father code, but trying to delve into the complicated world of computer programming proved to be the wrong direction for me. It didn’t help that I had a karate belt test pending during my first year of college, and my priorities were fixed on karate as opposed to college. I did, however, learn to play a network game of Duke Nukem 3D in college. But I digress…

I had a slew of college professors; some good, some bad. Some of my professors walked in, delivered their lesson plan and walked out without making any real connection with the class. Some professors considered every student to be a “buddy” and focused on being a friend more than teaching the curriculum, which was almost worse. Picture a college professor showing up at lounge nights to have drinks with students. Not great, right? But out of the shadows emerged a professor who was the happy medium; part teacher, part friend, all learning.

Because I was having so many difficulties, I asked a lot of questions. I mean, a LOT of questions… If you’ve never experienced being around a French guy who won’t shut up, consider yourself lucky. Picture that boring staff meeting where you’re hoping everyone will keep their trap shut so that the meeting will end sooner, just to have that ONE guy constantly bring up another point. That was pretty much me, in college. But I couldn’t help myself. I hate failing. And I hate quitting.

Most of my professors would either make something up (that I would learn was false later) so as to not look as though they didn’t know their own material. Some would ignore the question and tell me that my answer was in the learning material. But this one professor would make it a point to admit it when he didn’t know something. He had no problem saying, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look it up and I’ll get back to you in tomorrow’s class.”

That’s class. That’s professionalism. Admitting one’s lack of an answer shows a specific vulnerability and humanity beyond what most people are capable of. He was one of my most trusted professors, and my only regret is that I don’t remember his name. Hey, come on! Give me a break! We’re talking almost twenty-five years ago! I’m getting a bit on the older side, I’m expected to forget a few things…

Realistically, I remember this professor BECAUSE of the humanity behind the teacher. Even if you’re teaching something, it doesn’t mean you’re expected to know EVERYTHING. I started studying karate in 1989 and am still learning new things, even now. And if the day ever came where there was nothing new to learn, I’d be greatly surprised. Honestly, I don’t believe it’s possible. But the point is, I learned from that professor, and have found myself often telling my students, “Give me time to try it out” or “Let me look into it.”

And being able to do that is important, because it engenders trust. Your students will trust you and believe what you tell them way more if they understand that you’ll be honest and admit when you don’t know. I’ve applied this concept in almost every area of my life. If I don’t know, I say so. Not only does it engender trust in others, it prevents making me look like a damn fool because I tried to make something up. Important food for thought. ☯

First Day, First Grade

Well, here we go! Diving in head first, my little booger has stepped into the first day of first grade. I was surprised at how motivated he was. He was excited at the prospect of making new friends, getting a new teacher and going back out into the world. I’ll admit that I was a little anxious about the entire thing, given the current state of the world. But as they say, we can’t protect them forever and education can’t be denied.

Conditions this year will be significantly different than what Nathan’s used to. He’s required to wear a mask at all times while on the bus (as shown in the photo above) and his grade has implemented a staggered start, meaning he has class yesterday and tomorrow but will start a full week of classes next week. I don’t know what the actual classroom situation will be, but I can imagine that steps will have been taken.

Unlike last year, where I couldn’t walk away without giving him a hug, Nathan excitedly climbed into the bus and found his assigned seat. Now, he’s in 1st Grade. Where the hell has the time gone? My skinny little booger is once again out in the world. Here’s hoping the world can handle him! ☯

Strike The Proper Board

Quarantine and self-isolation have had a positive effect on the Canadian population, as many people have chosen to take some of the downtime to start new hobbies, clean out their homes or begin renovation projects that they may otherwise have never considered. It’s definitely a positive thing, and has kept lumber yards, home improvement places and retail locations in the black during this whole mess.

Although I’ve been dealing with small projects like growing a lawn in my back yard and selling my car, I haven’t really tackled anything that’s taken serious effort. But since the basement of my house is damaged and the whole thing will need renovating, I’ve found myself without a workout space. Oh sure, I’ve been able to continue doing things like cycling and I even did my Marine workout in the garage, last week. But I’m losing the striking pad I had mounted on the current basement wall. I needed a solution.

Some of the materials I started with

Since I didn’t consider it safe or in anyone’s best interest for me to attempt basement renovations on my own (I’m great with a sledgehammer, that’s the limit of my renovation capabilities), I decided to construct my own makiwara board for the back yard. I’ve mentioned this training tool in previous posts, but a makiwara is a padded board typically used to condition the knuckles and strengthen your punches. It’s thought to be Okinawan in origin and is mostly used in traditional styes of karate.

Polyester cord to wrap around the makiwara as a striking surface

Most properly-constructed makiwaras can run anywhere from one to several hundred dollars in cost, especially if you factor in the shipping and handling to have it brought to you from whatever distributor you purchased it from. But if the Okinawans can build theirs from scratch, I figured “so can I.” I had several 7-foot lengths of wooden board that was left over from our house’s previous owner. I started by trimming two of these boards to an appropriate and matching length.

The free lumber was definitely a solid start and is potentially the most expensive aspect of the project. I brought my son Nathan to Home Depot, where we purchased a half dozen 6-inch iron bolts with matching nuts and washers. I also purchased a 100-foot length of polyester cord, which would be wrapped at the top of the makiwara as the striking surface. Polyester is a water-resistant material, so it would be best-suited for an outdoor training tool.

Nathan hard at work, screwing the bolts into place

Nathan and I duct-taped the two boards together so that they were flush, them I drilled 3/4-inch holes at five-inch intervals through both boards. I hammered the iron bolts through the holes and Nathan screwed the washers and nuts into place. Once all six bolts were firmly in place, we were able to remove the duct tape and move on to the striking surface.

The wrapping of the makiwara

I left the top strip of duct tape and used a staple hammer to fasten the end of cord to the board, followed by twenty minutes of fastidious wrapping and tightening of one hundred feet of cord. With the exception of Nathan complaining he wasn’t allowed to do this part (and climbing over and under the project while I worked), it went reasonably well and I used the same staple hammer to fasten the other end once the cord was all wrapped.

The completed striking surface

The makiwara was now complete. The next step would require digging a two or three foot hole in the ground, placing the post and filling the remainder with some firm, affixing soil. That was over a week ago. The entire project took a little over an hour and Nathan and I were already tired. So we decided we’d put off the installation until we were able to get some rest and start digging when we were fresh.

Our long-weekend was cut short due to unforeseen circumstances. So on Sunday, Nathan and I took two shovels and a metal bucket and started digging. I didn’t take any photos of that part of the project, since Nathan and I were up to our elbows in dirt. The soil in Regina is a clay composite, which is what’s caused the damage to my basement. It sucks (royally) but it DOES have a benefit for this particular project. Nathan and I reached about twenty-eight inches, which was adequate for the makiwara.

We lowered the post into the hole and packed the remaining space around the pole with the dug up soil. We packed it down after every few shovelfuls, and the clay soil held the post firmly in place. I followed it up with a short length of board to firm up the bracing, placed at an angle at the back. The end result came out quite well, and Nathan and I are quite proud of the job we did.

The finished product!

All said and done, a training tool that would have cost several hundreds of dollars wound up costing less than fifty dollars! Now I just have to find the motivation to get outside to use it. My neighbours have all seen the post and seem to understand the concept behind it, since I explained what it was for. But it may be interesting to see their reactions once I start striking it. There you have it! My do-it-yourself project. ☯

Labour, Not Labor!

Today is Labour Day in Canada, which is a renowned holiday that celebrates the achievements of, well… labourers. Specifically, workers and employees in general, which means that if you’re in Canada and you’re reading this, you should have the day off today. But I ain’t you boss and I know that some of you still have to clock in through all this mess, so good on you.

In Canada, Labour Day traces it origins from the late 1880’s, and since you all have a day off and would likely prefer to be doing something else, I’m going to step WAY out of character and actually make a strong attempt to keep this post short. Especially since the origins of the holiday are very dry, involving unions and strikes and demonstrations… all kinds of shit that I honestly dislike.

Labour Day marks the last long weekend of the summer and is celebrated by a number of traditions, including picnics, parades and football-related events. Considering kids go back to school the day after Labour Day, most families take advantage to enjoy one final long weekend with their children before chucking back into the wilds of society. And this is exactly what we chose to do, this weekend.

I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend and being safe. As we step into the autumn season, remember that it all comes around again. So no need to cry over lost summer! ☯

Goodbye, Sweet Car…🎶

Well, After multiple attempts, dozens of viewing and feeling as though I’m sitting through a security interview with every interested party, I finally sold my car. That’s right, my fable “bachelor mobile,” my 6-speed manual transmission 2-door sports coupe has flew, well… the coupe!

I made contact with an interested buyer who wanted to purchase the car for his teenage son. He lived about four hours away from the city I’m in, but we compromised and met in the middle. It gave me the opportunity to take the car on the open road one last time, all the way up to Saskatoon. We negotiated our way through a test drive and discussed price, followed by switching the vehicle registration.

It was a bitter-sweet morning, as selling the vehicle reduced my total debt by a reasonable amount. But at the same time, that car was as close to a mid-life crisis as I could afford. It was a fun, whiny little vehicle to drive around in, and I’ll miss the “race car feel” it provided.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering a small area of Saskatoon until my wife made her way to the city and picked me up. I felt like a hobo sleeping on a park bench. Overtime I stopped somewhere, i was shuffled along for “not being a paying customer” or not wearing a face mask. Some precautions are ideal, but it would be nice if major commercial areas could get on the same page and show some consistency.

Selling the “unnecessary” second vehicle is the first step in the many that will get my train of life back on its track. Karma can only tip towards a negative direction for so long until some good fortune starts to trickle back into my path. This goes to show that despite all the frustration and difficulties, a little patience can go a long way. ☯

The Magic Mistakes

Fear of failure is a very real thing. Most people have it, whether they realize it or not. If you think carefully on your past, you’ll likely find one and/or many instances when you were afraid you wouldn’t succeed at something. Maybe it was a potential job opportunity or an important exam at school. Whatever. At some point, you would have been worried about the prospect of making a critical mistake or failing at something.

This phenomenon is very prominent in martial arts circles, especially given the strict discipline and structured requirements that come with traditional martial arts. I even remember myself, three decades ago, standing at the back of the class trying to move through my techniques without error and trying to avoid Sensei’s gaze. It didn’t matter if I was screwing it up, I was just afraid of doing it wrong. This effect wore off as the years melted away and I increased in skill.

People are afraid of making mistakes. For some folks, it’s about pride. Some people are too proud to admit that they can make a mistake. Others are afraid they may cause disappointment in others, parents, instructors or otherwise. Some are afraid of the windfall that comes from failure and facing the potential consequences. For myself, I was mostly afraid of people seeing me do it improperly.

Whether you’re a newcomer to martial arts or even if you’re experienced, or maybe you have some other endeavours that you’re tempted to try out, I’ll let you in on a little secret: mistakes are an important part of the lesson. The only way you’ll learn is by making mistakes and having them corrected. We all start from the same place; the beginning. And like anything else in life, you need to make the mistakes in order to learn the skills.

It’s like learning to ride a bike. You may fall off a couple of times, you may even get skinned knees. But the important thing is to climb back on and keep peddling. The same can be said of any skill, martial arts or otherwise you may be trying to learn. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of being corrected or asking for help. It’s the only way you’ll learn. And grow. ☯

Honesty Is The Best Policy

Human beings learn to be dishonest at a young age. It isn’t something that happens automatically. Normally, one needs to be exposed to certain conditions and factors in order for it to become a common practice. For example, children may begin to lie and be dishonest when they feel that it will keep them out of trouble. As we get older, our motivation for dishonesty includes a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to sparing someone’s feelings, avoiding negative consequences or gaining personal advantage.

But if we stick to the younger age group, the majority of the time kids will lie to get out of trouble or because it will get them what they want. Something akin to drawing on the walls then saying they didn’t do it, even if you catch them with the marker in their hands. My son Nathan does this a lot, for a number of different things. He usually isn’t trying to be intentionally deceitful; he’s just trying to keep out of trouble. This has caused a bit of a phenomenon where I occasionally have difficulty believing things he tells me.

Nathan is a big fan of ginger ale. He likes it almost as much as he likes those little bottles of water flavouring. But I usually try to limit his consumption of soda, since it isn’t the best thing for a five-year old to drink. In fact, on some of the rare occasions when he gets an upset stomach or falls ill, I offer him a small glass of ginger ale as a means of settling his stomach. He’s caught on to this trend and will often feign an upset stomach in order to have me give him a glass. Sneaky brat…

About a week ago, we were midway through our morning when Nathan approached his mother and told her that his stomach was bothering him and he had thrown up. I can’t remember what I was busy with, but when I came back, my wife updated me on Nathan’s complaint and he confirmed it when he came around the corner. He followed it up by saying he needed ginger ale. Nice try, mini-me! Not on my watch!

I explained to him that the ginger ale was to be for when he was “actually” sick and not because he had a craving for it. He tried selling the fact that he had apparently thrown up and flushed it. Oh, really? That’s a handy coincidence. I shooed him away, as I assumed that this was another one of his attempts at getting something he wanted through dishonesty. He didn’t really argue or contest it and went off on his merry way.

Towards the end of the day, I had spent some time on the backyard and was ready for a hot shower and for my evening to wind down. Nathan was upstairs and had even mentioned a few hours prior that his stomach felt better and he wasn’t sick anymore. I was somewhat impressed by his commitment to the bit. He’s usually pretty good at letting things go when they don’t work in his favour.

I went to the downstairs bathroom and saw something that reminded me of an 80’s horror movie… Dried, crusted vomit with just a hint of red (from his stupid water flavouring) was all over the bathroom door, the toilet seat, the floor, my shower mat and most of the corner of carpet just outside the bathroom door. To add insult to injury, there was about a half dozen washcloths in the laundry hamper after he’d attempted to wipe it up himself. Fuck my life…

I spent the next hour and a half cleaning upchuck off multiple surfaces, made all the worse by the fact that it had dried on. If I had just taken Nathan at his word and checked on his story, it probably would have cleaned up easier. I would have still been pissed at the mess, but at least it would have been easier. It reminded me of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The only difference is that in Nathan’s case, one never knows if he’s just trying to get his way or if something genuinely happened. Needless to say, I’ll happily accept him crying wolf and check on his story from now on. ☯

I Gotta HAND It To You…🥋

The martial arts style I’ve trained in the most is karate. This is the one I’ve studied all my life, and its lessons have carried me far in life. Even to this day, I train consistently and have often joined my local karate schools so that I can enjoy the training dynamic that one can only find by working out within a dojo. But Karate Do (or Karate, as it’s known in the western world) translates as “way of the empty hand” because the art primarily uses empty-hand techniques. This means that a significant amount of conditioning needs to go into the hands.

When people work out, they tend to focus on the major muscle groups that show the best results, like biceps, triceps, chest and shoulders. There’s been a running joke for decades about how people tend to skip leg days, and with good reason. People like to focus on what shows, which is why many professional weightlifters look like they have chicken legs. All of this is a pretty broad generalization, but the truth of the matter is that one of the most overlooked aspects of working out happens to be grip strength.

Grip strength is exceptionally important in all martial arts, regardless of style. You can have ripped arms and legs but if you have no strength in your grip, your fighting skills will be greatly lacking. Think about it; if you study Judo or other grappling styles, you need your grip to, well… grapple! Having the grip strength to grab on to your opponent’s gi, clothing, flesh, whatever, in order to flip and/or throw them is critical. In normal striking arts, grip strength is critical for the proper execution of pressure points and grabbing/holding your opponent in order to execute techniques. Grip strength is even important for weapons styles, since it’s kind of important to have enough grip strength to hold your baton, staff or sword.

There are plenty of ways to increase your grip strength, including grip strengtheners you can buy at your local retail or fitness location, to rubber expander rings that you can squeeze and stretch. I used to keep one of the former at my desk at work and flex whichever hand was free as I’d work. Even those so-called “stress balls” can be handy, although the amount of resistance they provide is pretty limited.

Okinawan Gripping Jar, known as Nigiri Game

You can also use a more traditional training tool called Okinawan Gripping Jars. This involves clay jars that have a thick lip at the opening. The jar could be filled with water or sand and gripped at the lip and carried in order to strengthen the hands. Beginners would usually start by carrying them while empty and work their way up from there. If you happen NOT to live in Okinawa and have no skill with a potter’s wheel or a kiln, you can make your own “do it yourself” gripping jars by taking large, glass mason jars and filling them with stones or water. Once the lid is properly secured, the jar is narrow enough to grip at the top.

Hand strength in general is an important aspect of martial arts, and there are many ways to increase that strength. Knuckle push-ups are one of my favourite, as they toughen up the knuckles and strengthen the wrists. Installing a makiwara board in your backyard is also ideal, since it allows you to work on wrist strength and finger strength by working your knife hands, finger thrusts and punches.

Speaking of finger strength, did you know that your fingers are part of your hands? And you should strengthen THOSE as well? No? Well, step right on over for some education. There is supplemental strength training for the hands in the martial arts, known as jari bako. This involves filling a bowl or a bucket with sand, gravel or small stones. The exercise involves thrusting one’s fingers into the bowl or bucket, which results in the strengthening of the fingers and fingertips.

The receptacle would occasionally be filled with hot water as well, especially if you were a naughty student who acted out in class and required some additional motivation to behave. Not that I’m speaking from experience, of course. But the science behind this technique is that the trauma caused to the musculature causes an increase in finger strength, much like any other physical exercise.

As usual, extra care and starting slowly is required when working the hands and fingers as they contain small bones that can be easily injured. This is one of those times when I tend to disagree with the Okinawan masters of old, in that it isn’t necessary to traumatize and disfigure your knuckles or hands in order to increase your striking and grip strength.

My two foreknuckles on both hands are slightly increased in size but aren’t disfigured. That should be the extent of the damage. Anything more is unnecessary and may cause long term problems without necessarily increasing strength. If in doubt, seek instruction from someone experienced teacher or instructor who’s been there and done that! ☯