Oh, There’s An App For That…

I know that I’m usually the first to rag on people’s addiction to technology and their smart devices. That being said, I also acknowledge that my health wouldn’t be what it is today, if not for advancements in the technology that make things like my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor possible. So, I’m also the first one to swallow my words when technology works in my favour. Maybe that sounds like a double standard, but what are you gonna do? It’s my blog! Moving on… Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis is also aware that I’m a big fan of fitness, exercise and maintaining one’s health. And these are all things that can work great in tandem with said technology.

It seems not a week goes by without hearing someone say “Oh, there’s an app for that…” And that’s usually pretty accurate. From finance to planing and organizing, dieting to social media, smart devices have pretty much opened the spigot on the market for programmers to put out an app for just about everything under the sun. This includes health & fitness. Now, I’m usually one to endorse working out and maintaining one’s health ‘au natural,” if you will. This means that I have no issues working up a solid sweat by using a small square of floor space and using nothing but my own body weight in order to work up a solid sweat.

All this being said, I’ve also gotten into the routine of enjoying a number of different apps on my phone, which I use to track fitness and health habits in my daily life. Most of you know this already, as I use one particular app to prominently track my walking, running and cycling workouts. And since I’ve always used an iPhone, these apps will be ones that are available through iTunes and the App Store. I can’t speak to what equivalents may be available for Android users. But without further ado, here are my top five apps that I use to help improve my health & fitness habits:

  • LibreLink: Of course, I have to include something directly related to Diabetes, here. This is a free app that works in conjunction with the FreeStyle Libre, which as my Endocrinologist puts it is the “poor man’s CGM.” The FreeStyle Libre works by being injected into the tricep and held in place by an adhesive and can be read by specialized software. If you’re old school and don’t have access to a smart phone, you can purchase the Librelink Reader for roughly $50 (depending on the pharmacy you shop at) but you can definitely save the cost by using the app. Simply hold the phone up to the Freestyle Libre and it will read your sensor glucose, same as a CGM would. The app is fantastic as it allows you to input your age, weight and a bunch of other stats and will show you trends, graphs and even has an A1C calculator based on the readings held in its memory;
  • Noisli: If you have a whole bunch of brain-burning acronyms attached to your name like I do, sleep can be a fleeting thing. And even more fleeting when Diabetes issues keep you up as well. It can be difficult to find something to help you sleep that doesn’t involve medication or gets drunk. That’s where Noisli comes in. This is a free “white noise” app that allows you to use and customize a wide variety of sounds to help you drift off to la-la land. Sounds include rain, thunder, wind, rustling trees, leaves, trickling and dripping water (those ones would make me need a diaper overnight), crackling fire and even some more eclectic sounds like the background of a coffee shop and a train clacking on railroad tracks. The aspect I enjoy most is having access to white, pink and brown noise, which are all varieties of a static-like sound that are designed to help calm your mind and help you drift off. I actually did a full post on white noise, which you can read here. My favourite aspect of this app is that you can combine any combination of those sounds and even save them as specific profiles so that they’re available the next time you open the app, without having to combine them all together every time;
  • My Water Balance: If you guys aren’t tired of hearing me say how important it is to stay hydrated, you haven’t been paying attention! This app is a fun little program that allows you to set goals and track your daily intake of fluids. You can input your weight and hydration goals and the tracker will keep a tally of how much you’ve drank throughout the day. You can download the free version, which tracks the basics like water, coffee, tea and a few others. I’ve paid the small amount to download the full version, which has a batch of additional options and lets you track just about every type of beverage including, ahem… wine and beer! The app suggests how much you should be drinking based on your age and weight, but you can also set your own goal. The only downside is you have to manually enter the amount of fluids you drink, which can be problematic if you’re using a glass at home and don’t know how much it holds;
  • Seconds Pro: This app is actually called “Seconds,” but I forked over the added money to get the Pro version. This app features an interval timer that you can program yourself. in other words, you can develop your own circuit timers using your own, chosen exercises. Not only does it let you customize your workout, it also connects to your device’s music library, meaning you can link your favourite workout playlist and have it play in conjunction to the circuit you’re doing. Now, paying for the Pro version does have it’s share of increased features and functions, including different TYPES of circuits and certain tracking features. I purchased a Lightning to HDMI cable and I used to run this app directly to the large, flat screen available at one of my postings. It was incredibly handy to help keep my workouts on point. But the last benefit I’ll mention, is that the app’s voice over means you don’t require a screen. The app will tell you when a timer count is ending, what exercise you’re on and when the workout is done. Think Siri, but for fitness; and
  • Runkeeper App: This one was saved for last because it’s my overlord of fitness… I use it to track everything else. This app has features that allow you to enter your age, weight, height, fitness goals and what units of measurement you want to use for everything (metric or imperial, etc…) Then, you can use the GPS function to track your distance, speed, mileage and calories burned for trackable activities such as walking, running and cycling. It also allows you to manually log other activities, such as swimming, elliptical and even yoga and meditation (yes, meditating burns calories. Read about it here). The basic app is free and you can join fitness competitions, add “friends” through your contacts or Facebook (provided they’re also using the app). I use it to log ALL my activities including weight workouts and karate sessions. There’s a paid or “Pro” version you can sign up for, but it comes in pretty costly at $13.99/month, which may be cheaper than a public gym membership but more than a person is willing to pay on an app. I’ve been using the basic version since 2017, and it’s suited my purposes quite well. In fact, if you’ve read any of my posts on my cycling goals, the images that I feature are usually screenshots from this app.

There you have it, folks! My top five apps that I use for health and fitness. This is the part where I point out that I am in no way being compensated for speaking about these apps, nor do I endorse them specifically above any others that you may have tried/like. In fact, I’ve tried a score of others. Some have been as simple as a library of different exercises. Some have been so over-the-top complicated that I removed them from my device within the first week. The important thing is to find some helpful apps that work for you and your lifestyle.

I don’t endorse technology all that often, so mark this day on your calendars! Actually, besides the technology used for my pump and Diabetic supplies, I usually don’t endorse technology at all, haha. But since society as a whole is normally tethered to their smart devices, it only makes sense to use them to benefit our health & fitness. I find that all of these apps are somewhat subjective to the user. I think the five I’ve listed are fantastic and even if I’ve removed some of them on occasion, I always seem to come back to them. There’s plenty of good, free apps out there so don’t be afraid to install a few and try them. Worse that happens is you don’t like them and remove them. ☯

Time To KID Around, Part 1 (The Martial Arts Aspect)

Children can be a wonderful addition to the household and they certainly add a touch of colourful chaos to the overall home dynamic, which is well-demonstrated by my son Nathan’s usual behavioural issues. Today is the first of a 3-part post on children as they relate to the three big pieces of my life: martial arts, Buddhism and Diabetes. As a general rule, I’ve never been a fan of trying to force or coerce children into the martial arts, usually preferring to train kids that actually WANT to be there. But when it comes to those first few, formative years when kids don’t really understand the difference, the best one can usually hope for is to show them little pieces, bit by bit, and hope that they’ll have an active interest. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

When Nathan was a toddler and started scooting around under his own steam, he started imitating the karate movements he’d see me practicing, and started to wrestle and smack me when we’d play on the floor. As some time elapsed, we started to broach the subject of self-control and trying to differentiate the difference between play fighting and harming someone. Not an easy task, when it involves a small child. But critically important towards making the child understand that this self- control is important towards ensuring they don’t grow up to be a bully.

Nathan and I in 2017

One of the more fun aspects has been sparring. Nathan loves to roughhouse and will often try to jump me as soon as I come down to his height, even when we may be doing something completely unrelated to martial arts. It’s a nasty habit I’ve been trying to break in him, but lately he’s been enjoying putting on the gloves and practicing some techniques with me. The photo above shows some playing around that we had started doing a few years ago.

But in recent weeks, I’ve been focusing more on his ability to block and strike, keeping his head up and his eyes open and not allowing himself to simply flop down to the floor when a strike comes towards him. He’s been doing pretty well, and one can’t blame him for squinting his eyes or lowering his head when someone with five times your mass is coming at you with a large, gloved fist. But teaching him balance, footwork and the ability to keep his eyes open so that he can see what his opponent is doing (me) has been going well.

Father and son, hitting the mats

Some people question the idea of having a small kid spar, but control is of the ultimate importance when teaching a young kid something like sparring. Control on the kid’s behalf and control on the teacher’s behalf, as well. It stands to reason that I can’t belt him with solid shots the way I’d do with any of my adult counterparts in the dojo, but he’s still learning a lot of individual skills that will not only apply to karate but any sport or physical hobby he may choose to pursue as he gets older.

Sparring with Nathan is excellent training for me, as well. His random, chaotic movements keep me on my toes and ensure a certain level of development as I work to try and block effectively when I have absolutely no clue where he might swing next. It’s been a great combination of fun, sweat and learning, albeit without him necessarily realizing that he’s being taught something. Maybe he’ll eventually snap out of it and realize, “Hey, this is great! Show me more, dad…” Until then, I ensure that there’s no pressure or coercion towards karate on my part so that he isn’t soured by the idea. ☯

Never Back Down, Except When You Do…

Most people like to act tough, especially those who are trained to fight. There’s a “never back down” mentality that kicks in when someone aggressive is challenged, but real fights never quite turn out the way we see it in the movies. For example, one of my favourite movies that just came out recently (recently, being a loosely-used term) is Creed II. The movie has the kind of inspirational tone one would expect from a Rocky spinoff; the protagonist is defeated by a larger, stronger opponent and is laid up in a hospital with severe injuries. Once he recovers, he goes on this wicked training montage to train and build himself back up before defeating the antagonist in an awesome rematch.

It’s very 80’s, which means I absolutely love it. Despite the unrealistic nature of it. Most people who suffer such injuries will usually call it quits and step away from fighting such opponents. Even in the most traditional of styles, we see a sort of expectation that you’ll hammer forward, even when the odds are against you. I’ve never been one who much felt this way, which makes sense when you recognize that I live my life trying to eliminate suffering and propagate peace. But even Sensei used to say, “If you’re going to fight, make sure you win…” I believe he was mostly referring to competing, which our school never did (officially). But it certainly applies to how we train.

I’ve always been a firm believer in drills. Correction and repetition are important in order to establish muscle memory and make it more likely that your body will react properly in a “real fight” scenario. But you’ll notice that the majority of dojos practice these drills by stepping forward, stepping into the opponent or meeting an attack head on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also important to perform drills where the practitioner is stepping BACK. Most schools or dojos don’t recognize this, but it can be extremely important if you find yourself in a real fight.

Stepping back while performing drills holds many benefits. The first one is that it can be helpful in better positioning yourself to block an incoming attack. Sometimes a strike may be close enough to be effective against you without leaving you any room to block properly. Another benefit is that you may need to back away in order to set YOURSELF up for a particular attack. Although one needs to recognize that a real fight scenario likely won’t leave you with enough time to “plan out” an attack, a preferred technique that you’ve worked extensively may need some setting up.

The last point is that there is no shame in stepping away from a fight. If you can avoid the fight altogether, that’s always the best option. But if it means protecting yourself or someone else, avoidance isn’t always an option. This is where backing up or “tactically repositioning” becomes important. Maybe you need that little bit of space to examine and reevaluate the situation in order to make a proper decision. When you get right down to it, backing away isn’t cowardly but quite smart, in terms of finding a way to win your confrontation.

Never back down? Well, I’m not saying you should always quit or give up. You should never give up. But backing down is not the same as giving up. I’ll always be more than happy letting some ‘roided douchebag think he’s the tougher one, if it means I walk away uninjured and safe. As long as I can do without it being at the expense of someone else’s safety and/or wellbeing. The lesson here is that in very much the same way as a karateka should be ambidextrous in his or her techniques, said techniques should also be practice stepping in or stepping back. ☯

Because It Can’t All Be About The Meat…

In the past year, I’ve tried a wide assortment of meat alternatives and veggie based alternatives that I never would have considered, even just a few years ago. I still favour my Mushroom Swiss Burger from FatBurger and I can’t see myself ever swaying from it. But I would be lying if I said that vegetables aren’t loaded with a wide variety of health and nutritional benefits that make adding them to your meal a good idea. I usually favour a cruciferous option, like broccoli or brussel sprouts. But I seem to be the only one in the household who likes them. I know brussel sprouts are pretty universally hated, but sprinkle a bit of cheese on some broccoli? Fuggedaboutit…

As I have a firm belief in the balance of things, I like to point out how there’s inherently a good and a bad side to all things. We already know that vegetables can provide vitamins, minerals and nutrients that some other foods may not. And there’s certainly the benefit of feeling full for longer that comes with having plenty of green on your plate, steering one away from over eating and helping with the reduction of your total daily caloric intake. But what about veggie-based meat alternatives?

A balance can be important if you’re trying to control say, oh I don’t know… your carbohydrate intake so that you can maintain better blood sugars… From a fitness standpoint, vegetables are important for a variety of reasons besides what they provide your body for building and healing muscles tissue and there are also some vegetables that will help you to sleep and digest better. If you’re looking to replace some of the meat in your diet with an alternative, it would be helpful if you gained all these benefits in the process, right?

If we get to the meat and potatoes of it (see what i did there?), some of the meat alternatives mentioned in the opening paragraph may not be all they’re cracked up to be. And this is where the BAD side of things comes in. I’ve written about this before but as I’ve tried different things, I think it’s pretty important to recognize the potential pitfalls of trying to replace everything in your diet with a vegetarian alternative. Here’s a short list of things to bear in mind when purchase veggie-based meat alternatives at the supermarket:

  1. They’re Loaded With Preservatives: This is the first and probably the top one. Anything you eat that’s been mass-produced and sold at the supermarket will go through some sort of processing that will involve preservatives in some given way, shape or form. Without getting into the specifics surrounding potential pesticides used for crops, you can be certain that real vegetables and real cuts of meat won’t have all these preservatives, making them the better option. There are a number of negative effects to the over-consumption of preservatives, including some forms of cancer. No, I’m not trying to say that eating these meat-alternatives will give you cancer! Simply that excess preservatives have been long found to be bad for the body. Moving on…;
  2. They’re Also Packed With Salt: I’ve often written about the importance of checking the nutritional label when eating something packaged. People rarely consider the amount of sodium they may be eating when consuming something “healthy,” and portion sizes are often not proportionate with how much a person would actually eat. I learned this lesson the hard when, in an effort to reduce the amount of carbs I consume in a day, I was starting my morning with a mug of chicken broth. Sounds like a warm, reasonable way to start the day. But the portion size is usually about half a cup of vegetable broth, which accounts for roughly 25% of your daily sodium intake. Once I’ve guzzled down a full mug, I’ve already packed on well more than half of my daily intake of sodium and it’s first thing in the morning. And speaking of carbs…;
  3. They’re Full Of Carbs: I was pretty excited about six months ago when I found a package of buffalo “chicken” bites that were made with cauliflower. They tasted even better, which made me believe I had found a healthy alternative to eating platefuls of buffalo bites made of chicken, which happens to be my next food addiction after burgers. Then I realized that despite being made from vegetables, the bites had almost double the amount of carbohydrates than traditional chicken bites. It probably didn’t help that they were battered. Not so great for a Type-1 Diabetic who’s trying to control blood sugars and the amount of carbs he’s taking in!
  4. They Can Cost A LOT: Processing and packaging food that’s been prepared in any particular given way gets costly, and that cost is usually reflected in the item’s price point. It’s made all the worse when you have to make something look like something else. Have you seen the chicken nuggets made from vegetables? I swear, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, based on appearance. The point is, a small box of cauliflower buffalo bites will usually cost about as much as a traditional box of buffalo chicken bites, making them ridiculously costly.

So the big question is, are these veggie-based alternatives better for you? From an overall and Diabetic standpoint, the answer is a resounding NO. You’ll end up taking in as many carbohydrates, if not more than your traditional versions and you’ll pay more for it, to boot. Watching your sodium intake is quite important when you have Diabetes, as proper kidney health is always a concern at the best of times. The only way to balance the scales (except for the cost aspect) would be to eat significantly less of the alternatives, which could potentially leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.

On the flip side, if you’re okay with eating small amounts at a time and you’re looking for a veggie-based alternative snack, they can be okay. So long as you bolus correctly for them and take the sodium into account. The long and short of it (let’s be honest, I always go for the long…) is that you’re better off having yourself a plate of carrot or celery sticks with a touch of ranch dip, a hot bowl of broccoli with cheese sprinkled on top or even a bowl of boiled Brussel sprouts with a touch of melted butter and pepper. Any of those will be far healthier, satisfy you and make you feel full for longer, whether you have it as a snack or part of your meal, and you’ll get all the included benefits without any of the preservatives. ☯

Spatial Awareness

The world is a dangerous place, and it’s made all the more dangerous by people who ignore their surroundings and have no sense of spatial awareness. This can apply to a martial arts context as well as in everyday life. In the video below, I share my thoughts on that very thing. ☯

Let’s Take A Break… Fast!

People tend to have bad habits in their daily routine. And very few people are the exception. Hell, I have many bad habits that I often TRY to avoid but I would lying if I said that my efforts are often half-hearted. But a VERY bad habit that people have is skipping breakfast. Now, I’ve written posts about the importance of breakfast before and whether or not it genuinely is the “most important meal of the day.” On the home front, the jury is still out but there certainly are important benefits to ensuring that you consume that first meal of the day upon waking up.

The whole point behind the breakfast meal is to do just that: break your fast. And as most of you already know, a “fast” is a period of time where you don’t eat. When you hear of someone “fasting,” it’s usually associated with a LONG period of time often for medical or dietary reasons. But the reality is that we fast every night, from the moment we go to bed until we wake up in the morning. Unless you compulsively snack at night. Which is another bad habit. Which I also occasionally have. My point is that breakfast is intended to be the first meal of your day that breaks your overnight fast, hence the term “breakfast.”

You may be thinking, “Why is this cheeky mother-f%&ker giving us the definition of breakfast?” Well, simply to impress upon you the importance of starting your day with a proper meal. The take-home lesson is that you should have your breakfast within an hour or two of waking up as it will be the first batch of vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body receives after a period of fasting. You should also think of it as refilling the fuel tank for your engine after it’s emptied itself out.

According to a good article on WebMD, “Skipping the morning meal can throw off your body’s rhythm of fasting and eating. […] If your body doesn’t get that fuel from food, you may fell zapped of energy — and you’ll be more likely to overeat later in the day.” The article goes on to say that your breakfast doesn’t need to be huge, but should include a variety of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and fibre.

However, an article posted by HealthLine.com seems to have an opposing view in that they claim that there is no evidence that breakfast eaters are healthier, that eating breakfast boosts your metabolism for the day and that in fact, skipping breakfast can have some benefits for folks who do intermittent fasting. It’s unusual for me to find a topic where those two sources oppose each other, but it’s kind of refreshing. The article caps off by explaining that breakfast is optional, won’t boost your metabolism and doesn’t automatically lead to weight gain and obesity. Basically, if you don’t find yourself hungry when you wake up in the morning, there’s no need to eat.

I’ll be the first one to agree that every person is different. Actually, I’ve written about that very thing on more occasions than I can recall. So although it may be true that skipping your first meal of the day is a matter of choice, it may not be the smart one for everyone. And this is where the Diabetic aspect of this post comes in. If you have Type-1 Diabetes, skipping a meal can be problematic. Especially if your insulin’s basal rates and your specific condition requires you to eat, first thing in the morning. You may wake up extremely high or low blood sugar.

Although I’m a big believer that a person with Diabetes can do anything that a non-Diabetic can, intermittent fasting is possible but problematic and skipping meals will skew your blood sugar control. And despite what any source material may say, I believe it’s critically important for all people to start their day with a good hit of nutritional fuel to start your day. It may not stroke your metabolism and may not affect your weight, but it helps to guarantee you won’t have that “early-morning slump” because of an empty stomach.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the jury is still out on whether or not breakfast is the MOST important meal of the day. But it’s safe to say that it is IMPORTANT. Most people unfortunately tend to skip breakfast because they’re rushing off to work or taking care of their children before taking care of themselves. Personally, I usually enjoy a toasted english muffin with a slice of cheese. Some carbs and protein, doesn’t fill me to bursting and gets me on my way. It can be just as simple as that. And speaking of which, look at that! It’s breakfast time… ☯

A Little Something To Inspire…

I usually write my posts ad nauseam, and often require a number of edits to eliminate them being twice as long as they are once they’re posted. Once in a while, I like to post something that simply to look at, without all the necessary background, citations and references. So, here’s what I found last week while randomly surfing the web…

I forget exactly where I found this little gem, but I’ve seen it floating around in a few places. What I love about this photo is the absolute look of intensity and determination on the kid’s face, despite the fact he’s tethered to what appears to be an oxygen tank. I’m ignoring the fact that he appears to be one belt shy of black, despite his young age. Let’s not go there.

But it goes a long way towards showing how much determination can pay off in the long run, and the fact that motivation has to come from within. This little guy reminds me of myself when I was younger. All guts and determined to live and grow stronger, despite the pitfalls and medical challenges that life threw at me. As long as you keep fighting, may lose some battles but eventually you’ll win the war. ☯

I’ve Worn Out My Crotch…

So if I haven’t grossed you out or scared you off with the title and you’re still reading at the moment, today’s post will be about karate uniforms. The “crotch” comment mostly references the wear and tear that the stitching on the crotch of one’s pants potentially go through during karate training. Mostly. But we won’t get into the “not mostly.” That can be for another day. But I digress… Moving on!

Karate is most often associated with the wearing of a white, cotton uniform or gi. But what most people are usually unaware of, is that karateka or students originally didn’t wear any sort of uniform while studying karate at all. In fact, you can still find a number of old black and white photos of Okinawan practitioners, training on the beach in nothing but a pair of shorts. In a lot of ways, this was preferable as it allowed teachers to see if proper muscle tension was being used by the students.

An example of a typical, white karate gi

The introduction of the recognizable, white karate gi as we wear it today came about as a result of it being introduced by Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo, who developed the gi, which was later adapted by Okinawan Karate. Nowadays, you can see all kinds of ridiculous bullshit, depending on where you are and what dojos are available. I’ve seen karate gi of all colours, including blue, red, pink, camouflage and even multi-coloured. Since some of those colours have snuck their way into some dojos’ ranking systems, I think the whole thing is rather stupid and moves away from tradition. But that’s mostly because I’m a traditionalist.

Others may feel that it’s an evolution and one that’s unavoidable. After all, karate started with no ranking system at all. You had a teacher and you had students. No matter what your opinion or thoughts on the subject may be, the reality is that joining a modern karate dojo will usually involve the purchasing and wearing of a karate gi at some point, which brings me to the content of today’s post. Over the past 30-plus years, I’ve burned my way through about a dozen different gis, for many different reasons. I’m going to share some of that here, so that if you’re looking to buy a martial arts uniform for the first time, you’ll have an unbiased opinion of multiple brands. This is where I should clarify that I neither endorse nor discourage any specific brand of sports apparel, nor have I accepted any compensation for any positive comments provided herein. Buckle up!

First, let’s start with the basic, bare bones options. As seen in the photo above, I use a black, cotton karate gi that’s manufactured by Century Martial Arts. I use this one because the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate where I currently train, use black gis as opposed to white. Not a big deal and I’ve often worn my white gi on laundry days when I didn’t have my black one available. This cotton gi is single-layered and single stitched, making it ideal for beginners and junior belts, since there may not be as intensive a level of grappling and grabbing involved. It’s also comfortable and easy to wash, making easier to maintain even though it may not last as long as the subsequent brands below.

There are a few of these really good North American companies that manufacture some reasonably low cost karate gis. I love Century Martial Arts! They have an American and a Canadian website and have a ton of martial arts training equipment. But I need to calm down; we’re talking about uniforms. In New Brunswick, Sensei used to obtain his basic karate gis from a company called GeneSport, which is based out of Quebec. They had that same single layer and single stitch hem, making them an excellent, low-cost option for beginners. I went through three of them during my time climbing the junior ranks. But once I stepped up to brown belt and things got rougher, I needed something that could keep up.

Next, we have the Tokaido. As you can see from the tag above, this is a 100% cotton karate gi that has double and sometimes triple-stitched hems for durability and strength. This company boasts being the oldest manufacturer of karate uniforms. I went through two of these during my years climbing through brown and black belt. They’re of a much thicker cotton and are an excellent quality. I can highly recommend this brand to someone making a long-term commitment to karate. I still have one today!

That being said, buyers should be aware that you’re paying quite a bit for that quality. As a comparison, my last GeneSport gi was roughly $40 (in 1996) and my Century gi was approximately $60 (2016). My last Tokaido cost me $230, but I still HAVE it! And it’s still functional, despite some holes here and there. So deciding on which brand to settle may have a great deal to do with one’s budget, especially if you join a McDojo that’ll charge you an arm and a leg for absolutely everything. But before I go on a rant, let’s move on to the last one…

The last brand I’ll touch on in this post, is Shureido. This company holds a special place in my heart, as it is a small, privately owned manufacturer of karate gi and martial arts weapons and equipment located in Naha, Okinawa. I visited this location in 2001 when I traveled to Japan, and I had the pleasure of getting myself a karate gi with Uechi Ryu’s banner embossed directly on the gi jacket. My black belt is also from Shureido and is stitched with my name and karate style. It’s pretty sharp.

Although they have a US distributor and an official Facebook page, there doesn’t seem to be an actual website available. This puts them in a bit of a different category than other manufacturers. I’ve recently reached out to the US distributors as well as sending a message to the Facebook page, without any response thus far. But since they cover all Okinawan and Japanese territories as they relate to karate and kobudo, I would imagine that they’re pretty busy. Cotton material and double or triple-stitched, these gis are top-of-the-line and are prominently used in the tournament environment. At least they were, when I was there in ’01.

These are the top-tier of price range, with a gi costing anywhere ranging from $250 to several hundred dollars, depending on size and accessories. Since I got a specialized gi and specialized belt, my package cost me well over $350. So it may not be ideal in terms of budget. Another issue is that my increase in size over the past five or six years has made it to snug to train in, which is problem. But I’ve had that gi for twenty years, at this point. It’s seen me through my black belt test and all the fun, in-class violence that ensued.

What level and quality of gi you decide to purchase depends on your perspective. An advanced student who buys one of the lower-priced, single-stitch gis may find themselves replacing it within a year or two as it’ll get torn to shit while sparring and grappling. That’s the issue I used to face. So if you burn through three or four of those gis, you’re already halfway to the cost of a basic Tokaido gi, which will be tougher and last longer overall. So you need to find a way to balance the scales.

You may also find yourself limited by the requirements of your dojo and what THEY require. Most traditional and functional dojos don’t care what their students wear, so long as they train hard and put in some effort. That is, until the time comes for a significant climb in rank. Most dojos don’t want to issue a green, brown or black belt to someone in their sweats and a Blink-182 t-shirt. But if you reach those ranks, the safe bet is you’ve invested in a gi already. The important thing is to have your gi loose enough to be comfortable and allow movement, while being snug enough to prevent snagging and grabbing on your opponent’s end. ☯

Musical Meditation

One of the beautiful things that I’ve discovered about meditation over the decades, is that there are so many ways to do it. In fact, I would challenge you to go Google “Types of meditation” and I can promise you, you’ll get some lists. Some of the best and more prominent examples I can think of include yoga, which is stretching movements that prepare the body for extended periods of sitting for meditation, and Tai Chi, which although a martial art, holds many aspects of moving meditation and almost puts you in a meditative state if you’re practiced enough to go through your movements on muscle memory alone.

But if you look into it, even on its surface, you’ve got moving meditation, sitting meditation, mindfulness meditation, focused meditation… It can become a bit convoluted, especially if you’re a beginner and are looking to TRY meditation and aren’t certain which type would be right for you. In Zen Buddhism, we practice a form of meditation referred to as “Zazen,” which is loosely translated as “seated meditation. Since some different branches of Buddhism describe and define Zazen differently, I won’t muddy the waters by going into deep detail. But there are some really great pages that provide insight on the specifics.

As for myself, meditation can be difficult even if I’ve been doing it for decades, thanks to a lovely batch of medically-defined acronyms that make the inside of my mind feel like it’s hurtling through space on hyperdrive on a constant basis. This is why, through the practice of meditation, I usually try to empty my mind and think of nothing. Depending on your philosophical background, thinking of nothing is still thinking of something so it opens up a whole can of worms. But the practice of “no mindness” is described by the term mushin.

Mushin is translated simply as “no mind” and since thinking about not thinking or “nonthinking” is a part of Zazen, they go very well, hand-in-hand. Confused yet? Got a headache? Need to go do a quick shot of whiskey to get through all my confusing etymology? Go ahead. I’ll wait… Mushin is a term used a lot in karate as well, as the development and practice of our forms, or kata, require us to know them well enough to allow the body to do them on instinct while thinking of nothing. So I’ve been familiar with the term for some time.

But when your mind is as busy as mine, you sometimes need an extra bit of something to help you focus. And this is where music comes in. Although traditional dojos won’t usually play music during training, I’ve found that music can be an excellent addition to your training regiment and adds a certain little something. IN fact, you can read my thoughts on that very topic here. I’m surprised I found that old post, since I wrote it in February of LAST year and after almost 800 posts in just over two years, I’m starting to forget what I’ve written about and what I haven’t. But I digress…

My point is, a little touch of music can go a long way towards making your meditation efforts easier and more effective. For myself, I enjoy having some classical music playing in the background. The complexity of sound and varying tones and volumes occupy my conscious mind, making it possible for my subconscious to stretch its legs and feel around a bit, unhindered. By focusing on one singular aspect of external stimuli, it allows thoughts and ideas to float on by without my getting involved with them, which is a big part of Zazen.

I also have several hundred “spa” type instrumental songs or “meditative music” on my devices, and those are extremely helpful as well. If you meditate frequently but have never tried music, I highly recommend it. Listening to music on its own has been proven to reduce stress, depression and elevate your mood. There are even studies that have shown it helps with heart-health as it improves blood flow. I have no source on that last one, but it’s pretty cool if it’s true. So add music to meditation, and I’d say that’s a pretty calming combination.

Meditation is one of those things I could write about or talk about at length. But in the interest of keeping my posts readable without having y’all fall asleep at the keyboard or on your devices, I’ll call it quits here. But should any of you have questions or curiosities about meditation, I’m always up for a good discussion. Feel free to reach out. Otherwise, settle into a nice seiza, put on some soft music and let your mind think of not thinking… ☯

The Comforts Of Home

Working from home may seem like a dream come true, but it can carry it’s own set of problems and difficulties that our animal brains simply don’t recognize when faced with the prospect of staying in our jammies while working. More and more as time progresses, the possibility of working from home is becoming more of a reality, as most companies and corporations work towards trying to maintain social distancing among their employees and to prevent unnecessary in-person contact.

Until recent years, working from home was a possibility reserved for private business owners, multi-level marketing or “direct” marketing salespeople or for people under special circumstances, such as a physical handicap or a family situation that didn’t allow for work outside the house. But since it’s 2021, and almost every conceivable administrative job hinders mostly on the digital frontier, more people have been staying at home to work since employers have not only been allowing it, it’s been encouraged.

Despite this reality and like everything else in life, working from home includes some good, some bad and some ugly. I’ve read a number of different articles, most of whom have provided the same basic recommendations for working from home. And since I’m too lazy to link almost a dozen different articles into this one post, let’s just go ahead and call the following list “my opinion,” shall we? But based on this reading and some of my own experience, here is my top ten things to remember when working from home:

  1. Have A Morning Routine: This is a big one, and the most consistent one I’ve found in all my reading. Make a pot of coffee and much down a bagel while checking Facebook? Sure. Have a hot shower and make the bed? Absolutely. Just make sure that you have a dedicated routine that starts your day. Doing this programs your brain to understand that the day is starting and will help to shake of the vestiges of at-home fatigue;
  2. Maintain A Fixed Schedule: This is another big one, as many people feel that working from home without supervision makes it easier to spend the morning binge-watching a show and getting to work in the afternoon instead. But doing this will not only affect your productivity and make it harder for you to have any “get up and go” once you DO start work, eventually your boss will likely notice the lack in productivity and you may suddenly find yourself being “that employee” who isn’t keeping up;
  3. Have A Dedicated Workspace: Yeah, okay… I’ll stop saying it because they’ll ALL be big ones. This is SUPER important because the area you decide to work will be the area you associate with work. My wife was working from home at our kitchen table for the longest time while our infant son grew through his first year and she needed to be on hand as he was nursing. But it was chaotic because the table was always loaded with work materials during meal times. Plus, with two destructive children in the house, there’s always the possibility she’d have some of those materials damaged. Both of us now have a corner of the house that’s dedicated to our respective work. And for the most part, our kids stay clear of it;
  4. Schedule Breaks And Observe Them: This seems like a redundant point to make. Most people would be inclined to think, “I take breaks during my day…” Maybe, but the question comes in the form of how MANY breaks you take and when. Treat your day as you would if you were at the office. Take a lunch hour (or 30 to 45 minutes, depending on what your company’s policies permit) and take the number of breaks appropriate to maintaining proper health. People tend to forget that remaining in a seated position for hours on end does a whole bunch of bad stuff to the human body. This can include bad posture, spine and back damage, development of chronic pain, not to mention it will affect your metabolism and likely make you go out of your mind from staring at a screen too much, which bring me to my next point;
  5. Move Your Eyes Away From Your Screen: Since you need to get up from your desk every once and a while anyway, you should be having your eyes focus on something natural that isn’t a screen. Stay off your phone, stay off your tablet and keep your eyes away from any surface in the home that “projects” light. Take a few minutes to look outside and let your eyes adjust and focus on something else. If you feel the need to check emails during your break, then it isn’t a break. Sources vary on how often you should be standing up. One source says ten minutes of standing for every half hour. Another source says fifteen minutes for every hour. That’s the one I usually opt for;
  6. Continue To Develop Yourself: Sitting at home to work may give you the feeling or impression that “this is it,” as in you won’t be doing anything different than what you currently are for the duration of your remote work. You couldn’t be more wrong. Be sure to get on your supervisor and make your career goals and intentions clear, voice your training wants/needs/expectations. Once that’s on the table and your boss is made aware of what you want, start looking into it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been online to look up courses, seminars and training. This shows that you have some initiative and if added to a reasonable learning plan that outlines how it would benefit the company, you may even have some of it paid for. And considering the amount of institutions that provide online learning, just about anything is possible, nowadays;
  7. Be Professional: This likely won’t be a popular opinion with most of my readers and it can be SO easy to attend that scheduled Zoom meeting with no pants on. But you can never be prepared for what MAY happen, so you want to maintain an air of professionalism while you work. Imagine you’re asked about something you need to to go get, so you have to crab-walk your way off the screen in order to avoid your boss and co-workers seeing your polka-dotted Hanes? Getting dressed for work is a definite start. Despite any video meetings you have on the go. This is a bit the same as having a morning routine. Getting yourself dressed and ready for work programs your brain to associate it with working. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like associating my pyjamas to work;
  8. Be Mindful OF Your Health: This is a pretty straightforward one, but even if you’re sitting at home to do your work, you want to ensure to take proper care of yourself as it relates to a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and paying attention if your physical and/or mental health start to feel like they need a refresher. This brings me to my next two points…;
  9. Maintain Contact With Your Boss and Coworkers: It can be pretty easy to feel like an army of one on a secluded island when you’re doing all your work from your home office as opposed to an office setting where you can chat, socialize and take breaks WITH coworkers. There’s a lot to be said for that social aspect, as it helps to bind people together towards common goals. So whether it’s Zoom meetings or stepping into the actual workplace on occasion, be sure to keep open lines of communication. It’s definitely not a Nerf gun battle, but it’s better than nothing; and
  10. Go Outside: One of the things I’ve always had difficulties with is being cooped up in an office environment for 8 straight hours. I’m the type of person who needs to be moving so stepping outside the house a few times a day, whether on breaks or during lunch, will help get you through the slump by getting some fresh air, sunshine and gets you out of the house. If you wake up at home, work all day at home and then go to bed at home, it can start to get a bit overwhelming to be inside the same four walls, 24/7.

There you have it, folks. Hopefully these can help or give advice to anyone who may be working from home for the first time. Some of these are a bit on the subjective side, which is why I’m considering this an opinion piece as opposed to citing a bunch of sources, but a simple Google search will also provide all sorts of tips, suggestions and recommendations for keeping proper care of yourself while staying at home. Further that, it’s important to remember that if you have Diabetes, all of those health factors become aggravated as just about EVERYTHING affects Diabetes and blood sugar levels. So you need to be certain to take proper care of yourself.

Last but not least, working from home doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help and resources when you need them. Even if you happen to be working from the comfort of home, you have every right to be provided what’s needed to do your job properly. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for something if you need it. ☯