Let’s Get Dirty

Sex. Alright, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about, well… sex. For the most part, people avoid talking about sex, for a variety of reasons. Either from embarrassment, shyness or awkwardness, it’s usually a taboo subject for most folks. But it’s one of those things that’s part of the human condition. And if you have Type-1 Diabetes, it can be an even more awkward thorn in your side.

Honestly, today’s post isn’t necessarily about the difficulties Type-1 Diabetes causes during sexual encounters. I covered that off in-depth during a previous post I wrote, Cue The Barry White Music… So I won’t get too deep into those complications. However, I’ll provide that those difficulties include high or low blood sugars, neurological and blood vessel damage can lead to sexual organ difficulties in women and erectile difficulties in men.

No, I’m here to discuss the old myth that “sex before a big game” is a bad idea. There’s a standing tradition in the sporting world, and even martial arts, that having sex during training or before a big event will increase one’s chance of defeat. Well, I hate to break it to all those old school coaches, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Women Weaken Legs!”

– Mickey Goldmill, Rocky (1976)

There was a really good article posted by National Geographic, that explains the majority of the benefits behind the practice as opposed to the perpetuated myth. But I couldn’t read it through without entering my email and joining a list, which I wasn’t willing to do. Sex lowers blood pressure, increases one’s immune system, improves sleep patterns and is even considered a natural form of pain-relief. There’s also a measurable release of testosterone, which can actually help one win a big fight as opposed to losing it.

One of my favourite athletes, Ronda Rousey, is quotes as saying that having sex “raises your testosterone so I try to have as much sex as possible before I fight, actually.” For Rousey, an increased level of sex before a big match is not only part of her routine but an important part in helping to ensure a victory. Although she’s referring mostly to increasing testosterone in female fighters, she also doesn’t hold much faith in male fighters’ belief that sex drains your testosterone. In fact, she feels that long-term abstinence will result in producing less testosterone, overall.

You can read the entire article on Business Insider, which also includes a link to the National Geographic article, if you’re game to add your email to a mailing list. But the reality is that the perpetuated myth that sex before the big game is bad just isn’t accurate. Or true. Good news for some. Not so much for others. Research shows that indulging in a “solo act” won’t release the same levels of oxytocin or provide all the same benefits as having an active partner. But I digress…

As a martial artists, I feel it important to point out that abstaining from sex for any length of time for the purpose of “improving” your training is absurd and unnecessary. As a Type-1 Diabetic I feel it’s important to advise that if you believe that having sex is forthcoming, which may be presumptuous (a point I made in my linked post above) you’ll want to ensure your blood sugar levels are controlled, you have fluids and fast-acting glucose at your disposal in case you need it and be mindful of where your equipment is located if you’re a pump user. ☯

The Cold Reality Of Winter

Winter is coming! I’m not really a Game Of Thrones fan, but I love that line. Granted, I’ve never actually seen it as I don’t have cable. I am, however, a pretty big fan of the Rocky movies, which probably dates me more than I care to admit. But the one that comes to mind is the fourth instalment, where the antagonist kills one of Rocky’s best friends during an boxing match and Rocky travels to Russia to train for a revenge fight.

In this movie is likely one of the best winter training montages I’d ever seen at the time and even since then. With Vince Dicola’s “Training Montage” playing in the background, you can see Rocky using unorthodox training methods to build and develop himself in preparation for his fight against Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren). I included a YouTube video of the scene I’m referring to. Now would be a good time to point out that I have no ownership in the video nor am I responsible for it; it’s just a linked video I found on YouTube.

The scene actually demonstrates a clear difference between intensive training using machinery and a comfortable environment versus using the elements and whatever one has at their disposal. And now that I’m writing about it, I need to find a copy of this damn movie so I can watch it again! But in all seriousness, it got me to thinking about the effects of training in a cold weather environment.

First of all, let me just say that I’m a bit of a fussy bastard when it comes to temperature. I don’t like it when the temperature is very cold and I don’t like it when the temperature is very warm. So I’m basically screwed, all year long, living in Saskatchewan. But realistically speaking, I’ve found myself training in just about every climate and temperature I have available to me, and a couple that I don’t.

What I mean by the latter, is that when I travelled to Japan in 2001, we trained almost every day in 40 degree weather. It felt tropical to us, but it was autumn to the Okinawans. I was drinking litres upon litres of water and rarely went to the washroom. My body was literally using the hydration as fast as I could provide it. But the flip side to this, and the purpose behind this post, is that I’ve also gone running in snow storms. Not recently, mind you. I’m old as disco, now.

Back when I was training for my black belt, I would get off work at 1 in the morning, head home, change into workout gear and grab my walkman (think iPod, but much bigger) and circumvent my hometown of Dalhousie. This made for about 10 kilometres of running in wintery conditions, which is not a lot by my cycling standards. But I guarantee that it felt like forever while I was doing it. It probably doesn’t help that Dalhousie stands on the side of a reasonably steep hill that slopes down into the Restigouche Bay, so there was a fair bit of uphill running.

Let’s start on a positive note, because I am frequently way more negative than I should be, and let’s discuss the benefits of training in extreme cold weather. According to a post written by Dr. Adam Tenforde for the Harvard University website, working out in colder weather can help improve your endurance as “your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”

The article goes on to explain how working out in the winter can give you some exposure to sunlight, which people tend to get much less of during the winter, as well as helping to transform certain areas of white fat, like the stomach and thighs, into a calorie-burning fat. This can be helpful if you’re like me and are struggling to tone down some of the “Micheline effect” I seem to have developed in my midsection.

Another benefit is that if you have a preferred trail that you run on, you’ll likely have it to yourself as most people have an unfortunate aversion to working out in the cold and likely won’t be sharing your enthusiasm. Now, if only I could guarantee the trail around Wascana Lake would be vacant and ice-free, I’d bike around that bad boy all winter! But I digress…

Since all the world is balance, we wouldn’t have the positive if not for the negative. So let’s cover off some bad aspects. If you have an underlying or chronic medical condition, cold weather training may not be for you. Listen to me, I sound like one of those commercials for a new prescription drug. “Talk to your doctor, if you think that running outdoors and freezing like a dumb ass may be right for you…” But seriously, things like heart conditions, asthma and many others can be adversely affected by pushing yourself when it’s cold outside.

Next, one needs to consider all the typical wintery hazards such as frostbite, which can affect any patch of exposed skin, hypothermia and even dehydration. Yes, that’s right! You can dehydrate in the cold; it’s not just an extreme heat thing. People also forget to consider sunblock when running on sunny days in the winter, despite the fact that UV rays are UV rays, regardless of the temperature. But maintaining your core temperature is important in order to prevent getting sick, as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should dress in layers. Their article says to start with a synthetic layer that wicks moisture away from your body, followed by a layer of fleece or wool for insulation, topped with a breathable, waterproof outer layer. They also mention that you may have to experiment and try a few different combinations to find what’s right for you.

I use a base layer of Under Armour, specifically their “cold gear” apparel, which moves moisture away from the body but also helps to keep my body’s heat contained. I follow this up with a cotton shirt, since I don’t have fleece or wool. Even if cotton has a propensity to stay wet, it also provides a layer that will absorb moisture that makes its way through. then I have a waterproof Columbia jacket I throw on top of that. Couple it all up with a comfortable pair of waterproof boots and some windproof pants over thermals and you’ve got yourself a winter running outfit.

The last aspect I’ll cover off is the Diabetic one. Obviously, all of the problems I’ve described can affect someone with Type-1 Diabetes in some given way, shape or form. One of the bigger problems is that the cold will sometimes block or numb some of the recognizable signs of hypoglycemia, which can potentially be dangerous if you’re running far from home. Here’s where technology pays its due, as you should be carrying a cell phone and/or letting your family know where you’re going, if training outside.

The winter season shouldn’t be an excuse to stop working out. I’ll admit, I much prefer curling up on the couch with my wife, munching on nachos and binge-watching Kitchen Nightmares. But Diabetes doesn’t take a day off and neither should your health and fitness! Dress well, monitor your blood sugars and stay hydrated. Whether we like it or not, the colder season will be in full swing, shortly. ☯

Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Dojo?

Most people have been adversely affected by COVID-19 over the past six to eight months. Either their finances or their jobs have been affected, people unable to pay their mortgages or rental fees, not to mention the poor souls who have contracted the virus and those who have unfortunately succumbed to it. Some areas of Canada have been doing fine, with the virus practically non-existent. Other areas haven’t been so lucky (like Ontario and Quebec).

But some of the smaller things can have a big impact on a person’s day-to-day life as well. For myself, one of the biggest losses I’ve suffered throughout the pandemic is the closing of the karate school I frequent. Although fortunate and grateful that my job, finances and home have not been affected and that no one in my family has contracted COVID-19, Tuesdays and Thursdays bring about a reminder that not only do I no longer have a dojo to train in, but the world is a long way from returning to normal.

Riding on the coat tails of yesterday’s post, the colder weather has had a profound effect on my level of motivation. Every joint in my body has started to ache every morning, thanks to 32 years of intensive training that’s caused wear and tear on almost everything. My feet are cold due to lack of circulation, thanks to Type-1 Diabetes. My sleep has always been horrible, but it’s all the worse now, with the fact that the sun doesn’t rise for almost an hour AFTER my alarm goes off.

All in all, the cold weather and pandemic have had a profound effect on my level of fitness and motivation. It’s already starting to be too cold for extended bicycle rides, even if I could sneak in a short one here and there in the afternoons. And with the renovation of our basement starting in a couple of weeks, we’ve started to move most of our belongings from the basement to the garage, thereby taking away my little “at home dojo” that I recently wrote about. I’ve also started to indulge in morning naps when my 1-year old takes his (my 5-year old is gone to school), which is a terrible habit to get into as my body has come to expect it. It’s gonna suck when I go back to regular work!

Can I train at home? Absolutely. DO I train at home? Most certainly. But there’s a lot to be said for training in the dojo environment. Not only to you get to feed off everyone’s else energy and motivation, thereby increasing your own, there’s a camaraderie that one gets to enjoy that can’t be found elsewhere. Unlike working out in a gym or by yourself, social interaction within the dojo is basically a requirement. Although not impossible, it’s quite difficult to train for an entire class without interacting with at least a few of your classmates.

The selfish side of me is disgruntled at the fact my dojo has remained closed throughout all of this. Considering the dojo runs on the school schedule and schools have let in, and the few students we have ensures a better chance at social distancing and lower percentage of contracting the virus than most classroom settings currently have, in some ways it makes little sense. The sensible side of me understands that a karate school is a far cry from being a “necessary service,” and that it would be an unnecessary risk to allow classes to resume.

There are some sources that have expressed that the world may factually never completely return to normal and that social distancing practices will become the new standard. If this is so, perhaps the dojo will never reopen. That would truly be heart-breaking, as it could mean the severe decline of modern martial arts and the possibilities that some arts may be lost. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I need to find my own motivation and continue to forge ahead, feeling that small twinge of loss every week when Tuesdays and Thursdays roll around. ☯

Cold Thoughts

If there’s one thing that’s usually consistent, it’s the changing of the seasons. Maybe not consistent in the fact that it always starts happening on the exact same date every year, but one could bet good money that autumn will follow summer and winter will follow autumn. So on and so forth. Although most people I know aren’t exactly huge fans of the cold, the seasons bring about the same process where most people complain about the heat in the summer and complain about the cold in the winter.

Personally, I’m a fan of autumn. Not only is the weather cooler so that I’m not sweating bullets when I’m outside, I’m not forced to shovel the copious amounts of snow that drift into my vehicle due to Saskatchewan winds. The autumn also brings a lot of beauty with the changing of the leaves and it almost feels like there’s a change in the atmosphere. Because there is. Even though we’re not in the swing of winter yet and there’s no snow on the ground (at least here in Saskatchewan), the weather has already started to drop and this has some measurable effects on the body and one’s mood.

First thing’s first: let’s dispel the old rumour that the cold weather causes a person’s blood to thicken. Not only is that total bullshit, your blood actually has a better chance of thickening in the hot weather, due to the dehydrating of fluids in the blood. But the colder weather does seem to bring a yearning for curling up and binge-watching a show with various pumpkin spice-flavoured snacks, compulsive napping and most importantly, lack of motivation.

That last one is rather important, especially if you have Type-1 Diabetes. Motivation is a key element in maintaining one’s eating habits, sleeping habits and fitness habits; all of which are affected by colder weather. One of the main conditions that help to make things worse is the fact that the days get shorter and darkness hangs around for longer. This causes change in our moods, appetite and sleep cycles, which brings us to the next problem: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Yes, cold weather can bring on an actual disorder and it can play hell on your system. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can cause lower levels in energy, lack of motivation or mood, difficulties concentrating and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. There are a lot more symptoms, and I’d invite you to click the Mayo Clinic’s link to see them all.

The problem with SAD, especially during the colder seasons (the article does show that there’s a summer version as well) is that it can lead to nasty things like overeating, weight gain, lack of energy and flat out, good old fashioned laziness. As previously mentioned, all of these things are absolutely horrible for people in general, but even more so if you have Diabetes.

Although most health professionals will tell you that you can eat whatever you want so long as you take the appropriate level of insulin for it, that doesn’t protect you form the weight gain you may experience from doing so. If your sleep is affected, your blood sugar levels will be affected. If you have a lack of energy and motivation, the lack of exercise will also adversely affect your blood sugar levels and your overall health.

It can get tough to focus on routine and the status quo, when cold weather kicks in and all a person wants to do is curl up under a warm blanket and binge-watch Star Trek reruns for hours on end. No? Just me? Alrighty, then… But it’s important to maintain proper diet, sleep and exercise, Diabetic or not, in order to maintain one’s health and well-being. Especially since the winter season has the highest percentage of depression of the rest of the year. With the colder weather approaching, self-care and keeping a routine is most important. ☯

Can You Fight With No Hands?

When the average person hears the word “karate,” they picture kicking and punching. This stands to reason, since mainstream cinema has provided that portrayal for decades. But martial arts is so much more than just kicking and punching. There’s an entire way of life behind it; and knowing its proper application is just one piece of the puzzle.

“Before I Learned The Art, A Punch Was Just A Punch, And A Kick, Just A Kick. After I Learned The Art, A Punch Was No Longer A Punch, A Kick, No Longer A Kick. Now That I Understand The Art, A Punch Is Just A Punch, A Kick Is Just A Kick.”

– Bruce Lee

I’ve been doing Okinawan karate for over 32 years, and I’ve learned a great deal. I’m still learning. Despite that fact, my abilities within the art have limitations. Like anything else in life, there are aspects I’m quite good at and some that I’m NOT so good at. One of those aspects happens to be kicking. Kicking is a bit of a strange creature, in my opinion. Although stronger than punching and in some ways more effective, there are inherent risks involved.

My style of karate has taught me never to attempt a kick above the waistline. That may seem pretty restrictive, but why would you risk trying to put your foot that high when you have two very effective arms that can do the damage without compromising yourself. A real fight isn’t like what you see in the movies; opponents don’t spend forty minutes exchanging devastating blows to each other’s bodies and heads with only one winner declared once the penultimate strike is delivered.

In fact, any serious impact to the head will cause dizziness, nausea and disorientation. The recipient will likely be on their ass for a day or more before they’d be ready to do anything more than wipe their own backsides. That’s the difference between what you see in the movies and real life. The human body has backups and defences that prevent sustained battle when you get kicked in the head. But I digress…

A proper fight, even in the street, requires a combination of balance mixed with techniques and attacks that won’t compromise you. Your legs should be squared in such a way to maintain proper balance while allowing fluidity of movement. This is something that can really only be achieved after serious hours of intense training and development. You have multiple striking weapons on your body that allow you to effectively deliver attacks without compromising your balance and stance, including your fists, elbow, knees and forehead (a headbutt is a fantastic thing, but that’s for another post).

People see a lot of fancy, high-flying kicks in colourful styles like Tae Kwon Do. But these kicks are reasonably useless, unless you’re fighting someone who’s willing to sit there and take it. Let’s look at the illustration above. This is a free stock image of a kickboxing match. To the average spectator, this likely looks reasonably impressive. A nice high kick, poised to strike his opponent’s head.

Want to know what I see? I see an exposed groin. I see a lack of proper balance on the red guy’s part, due to the supporting foot being on its fuckin’ tippy-toes. And I see the guy in blue, ready to bob his head down and deliver a nice, devastating blow to the red guys’ groin. Obviously, this is a professional fight and a groin strike wouldn’t be permitted. But I deal with the real world, not organized fights with referees. The blue guy can take his sweet time striking anywhere on the red guy. Or better still, he can simply grab the leg and push back. This will throw the red guy completely to the floor. And as anyone who has watched an MMA match can attest, falling to the ground and having someone else come on top of you is usually the end of the match.

In Okinawan karate, we focus mainly on front kick to the abdomen, roundhouse and blade kick to the legs and knees. We let our hands do the work, if it involves the upper body. There’s just too much risk of injury, in any actual fight. And although I don’t advocate fighting, if you must fight, you must win. Anything else is simply not acceptable. ☯

It’s Okay To Skip A Step…

I hate cardio. This probably comes as a surprise, coming from someone who believes that if you aren’t dripping in sweat when you’re done, it wasn’t a workout. And the truth of it is, I do enjoy cycling. But that’s mostly because it allows me to get outside, reconnect with nature (to a degree) and keeps the cardio aspect buried in the background. The best of both worlds. But to say that I’m heading out for a run or doing cardio for the sake of doing cardio would be a stretch.

Cardiovascular endurance training is important for one’s health. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, cardio exercises help to strengthen your heart and muscles, burn calories, help control your appetite, increases sleep, promotes joint movement and helps to manage Diabetes. Cardio can be a long-term or long-distance thing, like long-distance cycling or swimming 30 laps in a pool, or something incorporated into a weight or resistance workout, such as jumping rope.

Jumping rope is an easy, convenient way of including some light cardio into your workout routine. I’ve kept a jump rope in my gym bag for the past ten years, and I make use of it whenever I get the chance. Jumping rope can burn a wicked amount of calories; several hundred calories in a 15-minute period, in fact. It can help improve overall balance and coordination, not to mention that the heart benefits are the same as with traditional cardio. And although it can be taxing on the knees and leg joints, doing it properly is considered a lower-impact than something like running.

I like to incorporate it by using it with circuit or interval training with karate techniques. For example, I’ll do a minute of front kicks, followed by a minute of high-speed jump rope. Then a minute of the next kick and a minute of high-speed jump rope. So on and so forth. Sometimes I’ll simply use it as a warm-up or a cool down. A good quality jump rope is portable, convenient and low-cost. You can stuff it into any gym back or backpack and all you need is about a 25-foot square of space.

As much as I dislike cardio, it is a necessary aspect to proper health and fitness. And there’s no denying that it also helps with the blood sugar control and sleep quality required for someone with Type-1 Diabetes. If the last time you used a jump rope was during a spirited game of double dutch during your school years, you’ll want to start slow and ensure you do it on a stable surface. Avoid grass or carpet as it can snag the rope or catch against your footwear. ☯

Chishi! Gesundheit!

The martial arts can incorporate some pretty eclectic training techniques that can often appear strange or unusual to those who don’t use them. Often, certain techniques or training tools may remind us of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, teaching Daniel karate by having him perform yard chores. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying to do karate against an opponent simply because you’ve been waxing your car or painting your fence all summer, there are some atypical things that traditional, Okinawan karate styles employ. Enter: the Chishi.

And no, despite my comedic title, it’s not the sound of someone sneezing. The Chishi is an Okinawan training tool used in Hojo Undo, which basically means “supplementary exercises.” It covers strength, stamina, muscle tone and posture by using a specific set of prescribed exercises and some rather arcane looking training tools. In fact, the makiwara, which I’ve written about in a few previous posts, is used in Hojo Undo for conditioning of the wrists and knuckles.

Example of a pair of Chishi

The basic construction of the Chichi consists of a lump of concrete attached to a wooden pole. That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? There’s little more to it, especially if you’re making your own at home. You’ll need to get a few screws or solid nails through the end of the pole that sits in the concrete, to make for a stable setting. These weight clubs are used in Okinawan karate as a means of strengthening the fingers, wrists, hands and arms, as well as the shoulders. If you’d be looking to make your own at home, there are several really good DIY videos on YouTube that show you how.

If you’re like me and you’re a little on the cheap side, you may not want to buy a bag of cement simply to make a couple of these. After all, you can easily train in karate without them, since most modern dojos don’t use them. But if you’re looking to change up your training routine and get back to karate’s roots, a chishi can definitely be the way to go. You can easily recycle old materials (wooden pole, screw or nails) and go easy on the concrete.

The best I’ve found is a 10-pound bucket of “Quikrete” for about 20 dollars, which is a small bucket of quick-drying cement. And since you probably shouldn’t start with anything more than 5 pounds per chishi (since it’s a weighted lever effect, it will feel like more than 5 pounds when using it), this small pail can provide you with exactly what you need to start out. Or you can be a stubborn practitioner and do what I do… Use a fuckin’ sledgehammer!

The ending portion of a chishi exercise

In the photo above, you see me using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a makeshift chishi. The handle of a traditional chishi would usually be shorter than the handle of a sledgehammer, so some adjustment usually needs to be made. But here, you can see me doing an exercise where I’m in a seated horse-stance position, and I’m thrusting the hammer out and bringing it back in towards my chest in repeated succession. The balance of the weight at the very top, combined with the movement of the arms, feels a bit strange at first.

In this next photo, I’m doing an exercise meant to strengthen the forearms and wrists. You can tell I’m getting fatigued at this point, since my horse-stance is starting to rise and the positioning of my right forearm and wrist isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But I can tell you that after repeated reps on each side, 8 pounds starts to feel like 80!

In this last photo, I demonstrate how a sledgehammer can also be used for some more traditional weight lifting exercises, with an added twist. The photo above is the starting position to a dozen squat thrusts, using the sledgehammer as a bar. I drop into a deep squat, followed by pushing the bar out in front of me as though I were doing a chest press, bring the hammer back to my chest and rise to my feet. Not only do I get the benefit of squats, performing a thrust with all the weight on one side and nothing on the other adds a certain amount of muscle confusion, which is great for working the core and some of the stabilizing muscles we often neglect.

This isn’t something that’s all too easy to purchase. For the most part, most practitioners make their own or use a substitute, like I do. Plus I get to feel a little like Chris Hemsworth, holding that hammer. But the best I’ve managed to find online are some shitty-looking units on Amazon or from the UK that range anywhere between $20 to 30$ (before shipping and all that good stuff). I’m certain there’s more out there, I just haven’t dug too deeply. Since that small, 10-pound pail of Quikrete I mentioned earlier costs about $20, you may consider it easier to simply order one online. To each their own.

There are all sorts of stabilizing and weightlifting exercises that you can do with a chishi. It allows you to incorporate whatever’s needed during your workout with a traditional feel, while remaining true to the roots of your art, presuming your art is Okinawan karate! But even if it isn’t, any practitioner can benefit from the exercise one can do with a chishi. Since you’re dealing with a heavy, concrete weight levered at the end of a stick, you just want to be mindful that you don’t bash your head in or drop it on any of your limbs. And as usual, consult your medical practitioner or at least an experienced Sensei before starting any new training regimen. ☯

Clothes Don’t Make The Karateka

I’m wearing a worn, black pair of gi pants and a Star Wars t-shirt. Far from formal dojo apparel. The sweat has rendered the grey t-shirt black and droplets coming off my forehead splash on the unfinished concrete floor. I just finished a set of shadow boxing and I’ve been using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a workout implement for the past fifteen minutes as my son watches in fascination from the corner. My muscles and joints are all screaming for me to stop, and my knuckles are throbbing from the use of my newly-installed makiwara post outside, but I’m only half way through my workout as the next hour will bring a minimum of three of each of my katas…

Clean, emptied out garage makes for a decent training area

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using my garage as a makeshift dojo. The floor is bare, unfinished concrete and is pock-marked everywhere that something heavy or frequent traffic has damaged it. I fastened a padded punching square to the south wall and have a jumprope, an 8-pound sledgehammer and a small table to hold my water, phone and small training implements as may be required for any given session. I have a small incense burner to provide an ambiance to the environment, but with little to no ventilation inside the garage short of opening the large overhead door, I keep incense burning at a minimum.

When people hear about the martial arts, they have some pretty stereotypical images of a dojo in their heads. For the most part, people imagine a polished, hardwood floor, tatami mats in the corner, punching bags and kanji banners across every wall. Or at least, over whatever walls don’t contain photographs of the style’s masters or some the weaponry associated with the style. It’s clean and pretty and usually oozes a “karate movie” feel. But in fact, most traditional dojos (unless they’re the head of the school) never look like that.

The small table in my “dojo” holding everything I need and nothing that I don’t

When I travelled to Japan and Okinawa in 2001, one of the things that surprised me was the venue in which we spent most of our time training. Unlike the expected image of a karate school, or dojo as it is properly referred to as, we trained in a variety of different locations, including but not limited to the beach, on rocks, in school gyms, in garages and in back yards. One school we trained at the most was owned by my Sensei’s instructor and was located above his house. It contained some of the fancy elements, such as a hardwood floor and his training certifications, but little else.

There was nothing fancy. The entire ambiance was created by the efforts and energy put forward by the student body. And what energy there was! We didn’t have a single morning or evening where we weren’t drenched in sweat and felling pain along some or most of our body parts. But we learned a lot. I recently sent photos of my garage to one of my friends back home in New Brunswick and identified it as my “dojo.” His response was to laugh at the appearance. The sad part is, he’s trained in my style of karate, as well.

After only two weeks of use, my makiwara (just outside the garage door) has already shifted and has had to be adjusted. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

The point is, you don’t need a fancy or expensive location. You don’t need tons of equipment or have your training area look like something out of a bad 50’s samurai movie. In fact, if you study traditional karate, you can perform the majority of your (solitary) exercises within a 1-square metre space. That’s it! You can perform your katas, bunkai and kumites as well as a huge score of exercises too numerous to list out, including every push-up variation, squats, lunges and shadow boxing.

You reach certain limitations once you incorporate a partner or students, but let’s be honest: at that point, you may be using a local school gymnasium or go outdoors to a soccer field or something of the like. Some of the most traditional karate schools in Okinawa are tucked away behind a single, unmarked door in a back alley. Karate is a free-floating art, which can literally be practiced anywhere. ☯

A Shout Out To My Style

I just finished writing a post some days ago about different styles of karate and how I often regret that my own style, Uechi-Ryu, doesn’t get more attention when the original Okinawan styles are listed. In fact, if you look at most “family trees” of karate, Uechi-Ryu is rarely included, despite being Goju-Ryu’s sister-style and comparable to Shotokan and a few others.

That’s when I came across this YouTube video posted by Jesse Enkamp. Enkamp is a reasonably well-known practitioner of karate who has studied in Okinawa and in Sweden under the tutelage of his parents, who are karate instructors. As quoted from his website, Enkamp is “a best-selling author, entrepreneur, traveller, athlete, educator, carrot cake connoisseur and founder of Seishin International,” which is a fantastic line of martial arts apparel featuring karate gis.

He also has a YouTube Channel that I recently subscribed to, and he has some really great perspectives on karate and martial arts in general. We different on some of the perspectives, but as the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” It’s unclear as to what style Enkamp actually Studies. This is because he claims he studies karate and not so much any specific style. I can’t say I entirely agree with his way of thinking, but he has pretty good reasoning behind this concept.

Regardless, he recently posted a YouTube video entitled, “The Best KARATE Style For Self-Defense,” where he talks about a traditional style of Okinawan karate that winds up being Uechi-Ryu. I had a pretty good idea that this was where he was headed (since the kanji symbols for Uechi-Ryu were in the title), but it was nice to have someone outside my system actually show some love for one of the best circular systems of Okinawan karate ever founded.

Enkamp’s YouTube entry on Uechi-Ryu

I don’t usually share or link YouTube videos as I consider someone’s video submissions to be theirs and theirs alone. But like I said, this one hit close to home and got me excited that someone was ACTUALLY talking about Uechi-ryu. This just goes to show a style is never really dead, so long as there are people willing to talk about it.

And Jesse, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll like and follow my blog as I follow your YouTube channel. We karate practitioners need to stick together. ☯

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. ☯