Blood, Sweat And Heat 🚲

Wednesday night, I did something stupid… If you know me, you may be thinking that this is nothing out of the ordinary and that I do stupid things all the time. If that’s what you’re thinking, shaddup! But you may be right. But the reason behind why this thing I did was so stupid isn’t because it was an inherently stupid act, but because the heat and humidity almost killed me in the process (not literally, but it felt like it!)

On Wednesday, my wife and I were prepping supper and I told her that I wanted to duck out to cycle a quick 10 kilometres before receiving a potential buyer for my car (yes, I’m selling my bachelor-mobile and I’m crying a bit. Something for a future post…) I told her that I needed to blow the cobwebs off as I haven’t done anything but forms and walking for the past two weeks.

This was mostly due to the flooding in our basement eliminating access to my karate area and punching pad and extreme heat making conditions unfavourable for long-distance cycling. I figured that a quick, 10-kilometre ride would only take me a little over thirty minutes anyway, so why not drop the hammer a bit. I think you know that I had to up the ante a bit. After all, this is me…

I told my wife that I intended to cycle my 10 kilometres in twenty minutes as opposed to my usual thirty. In reality, it takes me 3 minutes and 10 seconds for every kilometre when i’m cycling for distance, which means I reach 10 kilometres in about 32 to 33 minutes. I would have to shave 12 to 13 minutes off that time in order to achieve my boast (I mean my goal).

I put in my earbuds and hammered out of my parking lot like a bat out of hell… And promptly realized that the result of not doing any serious cardio in two weeks then pushing it in 32-degree weather was a stupid idea for a Type-1 Diabetic man of my age… And then I realized that this thought pissed me off and I should be ashamed of myself and pushed myself ridiculously.

And lo, I hammered through 10 kilometres of sweaty hell, my lungs on fire and my mind focused on trying to achieve that distance in 20 minutes. Every time the landscape sloped upwards, I felt as though my legs caught fire and spit the flames into my lungs. With every inspirational song on my phone, I pushed and peddled harder, despite the discomfort.

I managed to make my way home after hitting 10.38 kilometres in 27 minutes and 37 seconds. This meant an average of 2 minutes and 39 seconds per kilometre. A measurable reduction from 3 minutes and 10 seconds. However, I paid for it. I woke up the next morning with my legs killing me. I need to hammer out more of these explosive short rides. They have some benefit, despite the fact that I’m training for distance, not speed. But maybe I shouldn’t do it in high heat… ☯

Concentration Goes A Long Way

It stands to reason that over the decades, I’ve been asked about karate and the martial arts on a number of occasions. Many people have made a point of saying that they could never do what I do, as they don’t feel as though they have the physical abilities or the patience to do so. I usually try to explain that there is no specific physical pattern one must have to study the way, and I’ve trained with people who have had debilitating conditions and they’ve still gone on to become skilled martial artists.

Despite this fact, most people are of the opinion that the martial arts is a level of fitness that they could never achieve. The truth is, my body was essentially giving out on me when I started karate. But I stuck with it and thirty-one years later, I have a better constitution than most non-Diabetics of my age group who haven’t studied martial arts. But the biggest question during these conversations is usually what does it take? It often goes a little something like this:

“So you do karate, huh? I could never do that…”

“Why Not?”

“I don’t really think I’ve got what it takes to train in karate…”

“And what, exactly, do you think it takes?”

“I don’t know, I assume you need to be physically fit?”

“Nope.”

“Do you need to be strong?”

“Nope.”

“Well, if you don’t need those things, then what does it take to study karate?”

“Commitment and concentration. With those two things, which anyone can have, you can be successful in the martial arts.”

Now, this is a generalized conversation, of course. But it’s usually the gist of it. I’ve had some colleagues and students watch me when I use a punching bag or practice my forms and I’ve even had some ask me how I put so much power into my strikes. In recent years, this would be where I would insert a Mark Ruffalo joke about how “that’s my secret, I’m always angry.” But I usually like to use the analogy of a bullet versus a fist.

A bullet is a minuscule thing. It usually weighs in at about 40 grams or more depending on the size and caliber, and doesn’t really seem all that intimidating when it’s sitting on a table. If I were to pick up that bullet and flick it at you, it would bounce harmlessly off your chest and fall to the floor. For the most part, a bullet in and of itself is pretty harmless.

But take that same bullet, wrap a bunch of gunpowder behind it and ignite that powder and that same 40 grams of lead will be propelled at about 1,400 feet per second. At that speed, the bullet will penetrate flesh, bone and even some solid structures. The “minuscule” object that was harmlessly flicked at your chest in the previous paragraph is now capable of serious bodily harm. Doesn’t seem so harmless now, does it?

The same can be said of any technique you train with in the martial arts. When you train constantly and consistently, focusing on your form, technique and speed, the size of your bicep really doesn’t matter in terms of what physical power you exert. It all comes down to physics and Newton’s Second Law (F = ma). That formula basically means that an object’s Force (F) is equal to its mass (m) multiplied by its acceleration (a). It doesn’t take a math whiz to acknowledge that the greater the acceleration, even if the mass doesn’t change, the greater the overall Force.

This is why I usually tell people that their current physical state is never a reason NOT to try the martial arts. I know that when you see martial arts’ movies with actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme, you tend to assume that the musculature is a necessary aspect, but it really isn’t. In fact, if you check out any footage of Shaolin monks, they’re generally of average musculature. So the harder and faster you throw the punch, the better and more effective it will become. Same with your kicks and any other striking technique.

I’ve seen people with terminal cancer, heart issues, colostomy bags and even artificial limbs train in the martial arts and even go on to achieve a black belt. One good example of this would be Shoham Das, a young boy I wrote about some time ago in a post entitled Half A Heart, All Of The Will who literally had a piece of his heart missing but trained consistently and has gained black belt level.

The bottom line is that anyone can train and achieve the level they want. All it takes is the commitment and concentration required to keep going, even when it gets tough. This is what martial artists are referring to when they say “mind and body.” If you think you don’t have what it takes to do martial arts but you’ve always wanted to, you should give it a try. You might just surprise yourself. ☯

Slow And Steady Wins The Occasional Race

You know, they say that good things take time and that patience is a virtue. Yeah,… I’ve heard that on occasion. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually more of a proponent of hammering through at top speed. Going cycling for 60 kilometres? Nothing slower than 3 minutes per kilometre is acceptable. Practicing karate forms? Maximum strength and maximum speed! If I ain’t sweating, I ain’t happy!

But on occasion, going slowly can be a good thing. Whether you’re weightlifting, doing martial arts or learning a new fitness routine, there are a number of benefits that can be enjoyed if you just take your time and go slowly. According to an article I just read by Fitness Republic, lifting weights slowly can help you to prevent injury, help to maintain your form and people with minimal muscle mass or medical conditions can do it much easier than if they’d be expected to go at normal speed.

One of the key points is that it can also help you to build larger muscle mass. The thought behind this is “[…] lifting slowly forces your muscles to hold the weight longer. […] If you go faster, momentum will do a lot of the work for you, and your muscles will be active for a shorter amount of time.” In fact, the article goes on to explain that lifting slowly will also target your skeletal muscles, which are essential for everyday movement.

I’ve read a few articles where this is the focal point, and most of them agree that slow movements can be beneficial. I became curious about this after my latest MetaShred workout entitled Thermogenic Tempo Training. The workout had you do a set of six different exercises. During the first cycle, you’d lift slowly, hold and release. Then repeat. On the next cycle, you’d lift, hold and lower slowly over several seconds. The third set had me lifting and lowering slowly.

You wouldn’t think that doing exercise slowly would be challenging, but it was gruelling! I had sweat dripping off my forehead in no time. Now, I’ve begun incorporating this process with some of the more basic exercises I perform: squats, push-ups, etc… You ever try to do more than ten push-ups where it takes you several seconds to reach the floor and come back up? It’s painful as hell, and I’ve grown accustomed to doing dozens of push-ups at regular speed but I sure as hell can’t get past ten going slowly. At least not yet.

Without even realizing it, I’ve been training with slow movements all my life. From my very first day in the dojo, I’ve practiced forms and techniques slowly until I grew accustomed to them and could begin to perform them faster. And even to this day, I’ll perform katas slowly and methodically in order to ensure proper form and technique.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing a fast-paced workout. But not every workout needs to be a spine crushing cross-fit style lightning round. Sometimes, as with many things in life, it’s better to slow it down and take your time. It doesn’t mean you aren’t still putting a maximum effort into it; it simply means you’re doing it a slightly slower pace. ☯

If You Don’t Like It, Then Split!

It should go without saying that if you train in the martial arts, you’re going to get hurt. It isn’t a knitting class, so you should expect that at some point in your martial arts career, you’ll take a hit. Even for people who have been training for decades, mistakes and accidents can happen. I’m reminded of last year, when one of the fellow black belts in my club cracked me in the nose with an elbow. It stunned me and my nose started bleeding, but I was lucky enough that he didn’t fracture or break it.

Whether by accident during drills or because you zigged when you should have zagged, getting hit is the LEAST of the injuries you could suffer while doing most traditional martial arts, such as karate. I’ve had pulled and torn muscles, damaged ligaments, bruising, hairline fractures and a score of other injuries too numerous for me to name or even remember after thirty-two years of Okinawan karate. But these injuries were sustained due to the necessary aspects of karate that I had to learn, and were mostly accidental.

This is where we discuss what is, in my opinion, one of the most WORTHLESS movements taught in the martial arts: the splits. Surprisingly, there are a number of styles that teach and train with middle splits. Just to be clear, a middle split is the one illustrated above, where you open the legs and hips and lower yourself down to the floor and come to rest on your inner thighs. Although this type of split is generally used in things like gymnastics, it’s also considered a staple in certain martial arts styles that use high kicks, such as Tae Kwon Do.

Don’t get me wrong, Tae Kwon Do is an excellent system (for those it suits) and is absolutely challenging. But I’m a realist and I believe in always examining how effective any technique would be in a real-world application. It’s always fun to learn fancy and flashy techniques that look god in the dojo, but why learn self-defence if the technique you’re practicing can’t be used to, well… defend yourself?

This is where the splits start to give me problems. There is, honestly speaking, no practical application for a full split in the martial arts. Right about now, I can almost hear the chairs of every martial artist reading this, creaking in protest as they hold up their hands and say, “Now, hold on just one damn minute…” But bear with me for a moment as I explain my logic behind this assertion.

We’ve all seen the splits done, either on television or in movies. Some action heroes have even contributed to the wow factor behind doing the splits (I’m looking at you, Van Damme!) and it’s almost exclusively for practitioners who perform high-flying or fancy spinning kicks. And even though we can all agree that receiving someone’s heel to your face after they’ve spun it around once or twice would be an effective deterrent against your continued consciousness, these high kicks come with a batch of problems of their own.

A traditional martial artist will tell you that the smart money is on keeping your kicks no higher than the waist or lower abdomen. the reason for this is pretty simple. If you kick any higher than that, you’re shifting your centre of gravity and putting all of your weight on one foot. For anyone who’s ever been in a fight, I don’t need to explain why this is a bad idea. It opens up a plethora of vulnerable spots EVERYWHERE on your body and leaves you open to getting your ass kicked. High and spinning kicks may be great for breaking boards in the dojo, but they serves very little purpose in actual self-defence.

Next, there’s the issue behind how this split is accomplished. You’re asking something of your body that it wasn’t designed to do. Our bodies aren’t designed to split open at the hips the way is required for a middle split. I mean, you have just about all the different tissues involved in that one movement: muscle, tendons, ligaments… You name it. Not to mention the hip joints and surrounding bones. And most students want to progress as fast as possible and often find themselves taxing their body before it’s ready.

Although some medical sources advise that doing the splits is generally okay, any medical source I’ve read has indicated that the most important aspect is to ensure that you work at it slowly and progressively, accepting that it may take weeks and even months to accomplish a middle split. If you ever do at all. I can split to about half way down to the floor and that’s it. But then, I enjoy and appreciate my groin and don’t want to cause it any damage.

If you’re new to the martial arts and the curriculum requires a full split prior to promoting to a certain belt, be sure to take your time. Stretch properly and work at it slowly. If you’re training for the actual purpose of defending yourself, maybe accept that this style isn’t the one for you and look elsewhere. There are already likely to be numerous injuries in your future without causing the intentional ones. No need to hurt yourself intentionally. ☯

“Stick” To Traditional Weapons…

There is an unlimited number of martial arts styles from dozens of countries and backgrounds, all across the world. Some are surprisingly similar, despite having never intersected or crossed paths. I guess there’s only so many ways to throw a punch or kick. And throughout the centuries, some weapons decided to come along for the ride.

Having personally spent more than three quarters of my life studying an Okinawan style of karate, I’ve been exposed to a number of “traditional” Okinawan weapons including nunchaku, sai, kama and tonfa. I’ll just let you Google any of those terms that you may not recognize. And given that I’ve studied Kendo in reasonable depth means that I’ve developed some skill with the sword. But none holds a deeper place in my heart than one of the most basic weapons one could think of: the staff.

Let’s get real for a moment and agree that it doesn’t get any more basic than this. A stick is essentially the simplest and most basic weapon a person can grasp, and I’m sure that if we could have been there to see it, we’d also understand that humans have swung sticks around as weapons since the dawn of humanity. Given the styles I’ve studied and the culture from which it came, my version of the stick is referred to as a bo.

A typical bo staff usually measures about 6 feet in length, but can vary and reach almost 9 feet. The length of the weapon usually depends on one’s height and reach. A smaller, shorter version of the bo is a referred to as a jo, and is usually about 4 feet in length. This weapon is normally intended for children and martial artists of shorter stature. The bo will usually be made of a flexible wood, allowing for fluidity of movement and is tapered (thinner at the ends and thicker at the centre), which allows for proper balance during its use.

There are more variations of bo than I could possibly list, but they can be made of various different types of wood and shapes, including a rounded or hexagonal body, or even a square body. The shape makes no difference in the use of the staff and is mainly a preference. The staff has been included in some traditional martial arts styles such as Kobudo, which is an Okinawan style of weapons-based martial arts, or Bojutsu, which is effectively the Japanese martial art of training with the staff.

In simple terms, the staff is one of my favourite martial arts weapons because you can access one almost any place you happen to find yourself in a compromised situation. Mop or broom sticks, maybe garden tools… any wooden length of even a few feet can provide the benefits of bo training. Even if you don’t have access to Kobudo or Bojutsu in your area, many styles of karate will also incorporate the staff and can be an excellent addition to your combat repertoire. ☯

Workouts Of A Shredded Variety

I’m a big fan of including variety in my fitness routines. Besides martial arts, I like to include cycling, running, swimming and various forms of cross-training. In order to maintain one’s health and fitness, it’s of the utmost importance that one works on various aspects of physicality. I’m usually not one for specifically endorsing one product or another, especially since I consider my blog to be a forum for passing on information that can be interpreted freely by the reader, without direct influence.

Despite that fact, I’d like to share a 21-day DVD workout plan that I’ve used on several occasions. I’m referring to the 21-day MetaShred. Created by BJ Gaddour, it includes 9 workouts over 21 days and boasts unique workouts that never repeat themselves over the course of those 21 days. I first got it after seeing it featured in Men’s Health magazine and decided to order it. I’m usually not one for “fad” workouts, but I’ve done the full 21 days on a number of occasions and I have to admit that it never disappoints.

It’s been a few years since I ordered it, and I can’t seem to find a link to ordering it here in Canada. But I know that you can find the program on E-Bay, Amazon and various other online shopping forums. It includes a box with 3 DVD’s (3 workouts per DVD), a reusable water bottle that I use for cycling and a dry-erase 21-day calendar to track your progress and what workouts you’ve been doing.

As you can see from above, I recently decided to get back into MetaShred. I’m not one for sitting still, so I’ve been including my cycling between the actual workout days. Each workout is only 30 minutes, making it extremely manageable. My wife has joined me on some of these workouts often. It’s a nice way to work up a sweat when you need a change from your usual routine.

There are a lot of popular DVD workouts available on the market. I’ve tried some different things like Insanity, P90X and Body Beast. MetaShred just happened to be the one that suited me and works best with what I’m trying to accomplish. One of my friends has (or had) P90X and I’ve done a couple of those workouts with him, but I found the movements awkward and uncomfortable. My best suggestion would be to find friends, associates or co-workers who have some of these workouts and see if you can either join them or borrow the kit so you can try it for yourself.

They say variety is the spice of life. I’ve heard that on a number of occasions and I’ve often found it to be true. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try different things. on the road to fitness, there are very few wrong turns. ☯

Fill Up Your “Punch” Bowl With Proper Technique 🥊

I love a good action movie as much as the next person, and I’ve watched WAY more than my fair share over the past decades of my life. But having studied traditional martial arts and the human body during those same decades has often left me disappointed in how fights and/or punches are depicted in these movies. Often, you’ll see one of two extremes: someone who gets knocked out and gets back up moments later, no worse for the wear or two combatants who pummel each other’s faces and neither goes down until the penultimate moment where one is finally knocked out.

When I’m watching the movie, I’m totally in the moment and I could care less if the protagonist suddenly sprouts a third fist in order to win the fight and get the happy ending that the audience is hoping for. In the aftermath, I usually get analytical and start describing why “that couldn’t have happened that way” as my wife rolls her eyes at my running commentary of proper technique.

First of all, if you’re new to my blog I should start by pointing out that I’m not a medical professional. This means that you can take my description and information regarding the human body at face value, although I’ve studied and applied it over three decades of martial arts training. So, although I don’t have a thick piece of paper on my wall from some post-secondary institution, my accumulated knowledge still has some weight and value.

X-ray view of the human hand

Alright, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Punching is one of the most basic and rudimentary fight techniques. I’m sure that prehistoric humans closed their fists to hit each other before language was even developed. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I may be old but I’m not THAT old. Give me a break, here…

But there is significant difficulty behind how a punch is supposed to happen and what the result may be. In considering my opening paragraph, what happens when someone is actually knocked out? The short of it, is that your brain moves around inside the skull and impacts with the sides. Once that impact occurs, the brain experiences trauma and brain cells start to die. Then, a combination of blood flow and neurotransmitter issues cause unconsciousness.

Now that the science of being knocked out is out of the way, quit yawning and take a sip of your coffee and listen to the important part. If you get knocked out as the result of a punch to the head, you SHOULD seek medical attention. Depending on how hard the punch is, there can be all sorts of permanent damage including but not limited to a concussion (which are not necessarily permanent but they are dangerous). But being knocked out will usually take several minutes to regain consciousness and once you do, its followed by confusion, lack of stability and balance. So what you see in the movies where someone gets knocked out then gets back up a few seconds later, full of indignation and ready to carry on is quite inaccurate.

Proper alignment of a punch

Now that the target has been discussed, let’s cover the tool. Punching is a risky proposition. The human hand contains over two dozen bones, 8 of which make up the wrist. There are five metacarpals that constitute the palm with the remaining bones making up your fingers. The wrist and metacarpals are actually pretty delicate bones and require a little something extra in order to prevent fracturing and breaking if you’re to punch someone/something.

This is why proper bone alignment during a strike is so important, because it prevents such injuries. Martial artists will practice punching drills for hours where the proper alignment of the punch is engrained into our muscle memory so that when the moment comes to strike, the punch lines up without thought. This is why boxers and MMA fighters wrap their hands and wrists during training, because they focus on power as opposed to alignment and technique.

To be honest, unless you’re punching to the body or an area of soft tissue, a punch is a terrible technique to use on the head. Considering the fact that the head is wrapped in hard bone and is designed to protect the brain, coupled with the fact that your hand is chock full of tiny bones, throwing a punch to someone’s skull or even the jawline will likely cause injury to your hand. This is the part where you need to hope and pray that your first punch puts your opponent down.

The average punch, even from someone without training is strong enough to knock the average person out. Yes, I repetitively use the word “average” because every punch is different and everyone’s body is different. Something bear in mind. And I totally endorse the fact that the classic “action” scene where the two combatants exchange head strike after head strike without one of them going down can’t really happen. But should your strike not be strong enough, turns out to be a glancing blow or you just happen to be fighting someone with a thicker skull, you need to ensure your offensive tools remain intact long enough to survive the encounter.

All things being equal, if you NEED to strike the head I would recommend using an elbow strike. Yes, yes, an elbow strike means getting in closer to your opponent. But it also means less chance of injuring your hand and staying in the fight. An elbow strike doesn’t require bone alignment and your elbow is hard and stronger than you could possibly make your fist. If you plan on hammering a human skull, that would definitely be the better option. ☯

Gear Up For The Ride 🚲

I was recently asked what I bring with me on my bike rides, especially since I have Diabetes and my distances are starting to get longer and farther. I’m no professional athlete and I’m obviously not crossing the entire country (or the Province) but I certainly have some details to consider. Especially if I want to keep from, you know… dehydrating or passing out from low blood sugar.

So with that in mind, here’s a list of the items I carry with me, either on my person or on the bike itself, when I head out on my peddling adventures;

My two-wheeled cadillac
  1. A Bike: D-uh, right? But obviously you need to get yourself a bike that suits your needs. This bad boy is the Diadora Orbita 18-speed. It retails at about $300 (give or take a few bucks) and is a mountain bike. I point out that last detail because there are a few different types of bicycles including road bikes, comfort bikes and hybrids. The important thing is to ensure that the frame and wheel size are appropriate for your height and that you know what you’ll primarily be using the bike for. If you purchase your bike from a decent retail location, they’ll have specific sales people who deal with bicycles and should be able to help you with that. Depending on what you’re using it for, it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. I would even recommend looking into getting a decent second-hand bicycle. But if you do, be sure to test it out before purchasing it;

2. A Water Bottle: It stands to reason that you need to stay hydrated during your travels. When getting your bike, you want to make certain that if it doesn’t already have a water bottle holder that it at least has the mountings for you to install your own. This is what I did. As you can see from above, there’s a second space to install a second water bottle holder across from the first one (the silver bolt in the lower right corner).

3. Second Water Bottle Holder: Although not a second bottle holder, I use this Nike Bottle Belt that’s actually intended for runners. But it works quite well while cycling as well. Between the two, it allows me to carry about a litre of water. I usually carry one bottle of water and one bottle of sugar-free electrolytes in order to ensure I stay hydrated and don’t succumb to hyponatremia while cycling. Eventually, I plan on getting a second bottle holder on the frame AND use the one pictured above.

4. Rear Accessory Pouch: There are a number of different frame-mounted bags and pouches you can get for your bike. The one pictured above is a small Diadora pouch I purchased at a local retailer that mounts under the seat. I use it to hold house keys, my first aid kit and anything that I would need to stop in order to use, such as nasal spray or painkillers. And speaking of First Aid kits…

5. First Aid Kit: Most people don’t consider this aspect, but if you’re out and about on a bike and are planning on travelling for a significant amount of distance, you need to consider the possibility that you may become injured. I purchased the kit as seen above from the “travel section” at a local retailer. At only $4, it contains a pair of vinyl examination gloves and basic bandages as well as some towelettes. This kit fits nicely in rear pouch of my bike and at such a low cost, it’s easy to replace if you end up using any of it. It’s a pretty basic kit, but honestly if you have an injury that you can’t cover with a bandage or band-aid, you should probably be calling for help;

6. Main Storage Pouch: Alright, here we go. This pouch contains the essentials. I usually bring a small travel bottle of sunblock, gum, lip balm, my wallet and a small Tupperware container of jellybeans. The lip balm is important in order to keep winds and elements from drying and cracking your lips. Your wallet is an important aspect in the event you require medical attention or you happen to be approached by law enforcement (depending on where you’re cycling). The jellybeans are the best form of fast-acting glucose that works well for me. After about ten jellybeans, even some of my worst lows correct themselves quickly. This is also the place where I’ll jam a few dried meat sticks, some cereal bars and even some ibuprofen in the event I need it. The front panel is clear vinyl, allowing me to store my cell phone and see its display as I ride. This is handy as it allows me to use my GPS tracking app and monitor my mileage and what music I’m listening to.

Outside of what you may store on your bicycle, you want to make certain that you’re dressed in comfortable fitness gear. I wear a thin Under Armour long-sleeved jacket, which protects me from wind and other elements and also provides me with pockets for a few small items. I use fingerless gloves so that my hands are also protected from the elements but my fingertips are bare, allowing me to access the touch-screen on my phone.

You also want to make certain to wear an approved helmet and properly-fitted footwear. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes if you’re wearing sneakers that fit and are well broken in. Sunglasses are also a must, if not for UV protection, to protect your eyes from the wind and debris as you ride. As I continue to increase my distances, I plan on adding a rear bike rack with saddle bags. In the event that I start travelling for hundreds of kilometres, I’ll start including a single-person tent and a bedroll as well as changes of clothing and additional food and supplies.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, of course. But the important thing to remember is that planning ahead is the important aspect. You want to make sure that you carry the essential items that you’ll require for the length and duration of your trip. Glucose, hydration and means of communication in the event of an emergency are always a must. ☯

To Learn Or Not To Learn

Let’s say you haven’t studied karate. Could you perform one of my forms? Right now? Without any instruction or teaching, could you protect yourself or others with a martial arts technique? If you answered no, that would be the typical (and wise) answer. The reality is that learning the martial arts is difficult enough on its own; let alone without the guidance of a proper instructor or Sensei.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a teacher. I know a number of fighters and martial artists that have committed themselves to learning through books, videos and simply by watching others. Although this CAN be accomplished, it’s an extremely difficult road to walk and most are unable to maintain their momentum. It’s a bit comparable to the guitar. When I was in high school, everyone was obsessed with grunge bands, and playing the acoustic guitar.

Tons of people went out and bought guitars with the intention of learning. Some bought primers to learn basic chords, some watched others playing… A few were even motivated enough to learn how to transition through four basic chords in order to play a simple rendition of “Time Of Your Life” by GreenDay (an awesome song, you should YouTube it, if you’ve never heard it). But within a year, most of those people would set down their guitars and forget about them by graduation and likely never pick them up again.

The same can be said of martial arts. It’s all well and good to read as many books on martial arts, philosophy and Bushido’s Code as possible; I encourage it, in fact. But if you want to learn any fighting art, you need at least some rudimentary instruction. You need someone to correct you, someone to guide you and someone to teach you the things you don’t know. Otherwise, how can you ever have a hope in hell of getting better?

I think it’s safe to say that modern society is a mixed bag of people who prefer their independence and people who expect to have everything handed to them. But as the old saying goes (and I forget who said it), “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” If you are looking to learn, seek out a teacher. Find someone who has been where you are and has studied what you’re looking to learn. Not everyone is able to be a student; very few are able to go it alone. ☯

To Master One, Study The Other…

It stands to reason that in order to truly master something, you need to be committed to it. It’s very, very difficult to say, master a karate style if you’re training and/or studying in five different styles. Eventually, the differences in methods and techniques will catch up and confuse you, leaving you unable to properly master any one style.

As Master Robert Trias once said, “One Religion, One Love, One Style…” But your style should never stand alone. There are many things that you can do to help your journey along during your training. Many popular mainstream martial artists that you see on television or on film indulge in a number of other activities that the common person wouldn’t associate with martial arts.

Gymnastics or dance are some of the most popular ones, since they can provide a significant amount of benefit. It’s almost symbiotic, where dance provides benefit to the martial arts and vice versa. I started studying dance back in 2007, while living in Ottawa (that’s right, I can cut a mean rug). I absolutely LOVED it, and the instructor frequently asked me over and over if I was certain that I had never studied dance before.

I finally admitted to studying karate, which she immediately confirmed was likely why I was so good at dance, since it would help with balance, proper stepping and remembering sequences. And there are plenty of options as it relates to the martial arts, including music, poetry, gardening and floristry. But what I’m referring to, is specifically the examination and understanding of other types of martial arts.

Miyamoto Musashi wrote, “To learn the fist, study commerce. To only study the sword will make you narrow-minded and will keep you from growing outward.” It should make sense, right? When was the last time that you didn’t learn at least something from observing the actions of others? The same can be said of martial arts styles. By observing and learning a little something about say, Judo or Tae Kwon Do, I can learn a great deal about the shortcomings of my own style, the techniques I need to develop/perfect and what my style may be lacking as opposed to others.

Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore. As I’ve often said before, if you’re part of a martial arts club that discourages the observation and study of other styles, your respective instructor may not have your best interests at heart. Although you should ensure your dedication to a specific style, learning about others can provide benefits and correction that you may not get otherwise. Another perspective is never a bad thing. ☯