From The Mouths Of Babes…

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

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

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

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

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

My son Nathan and I
Advertisements

Stretches and Warm-Ups… Yay or Nay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martial Arts, One Language, Many Dialects…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three weeks worth of beard and hair growth

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

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

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

Before and After

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

Nature Is All Around, Even When you Don’t See It…

Sometimes living in the city gives us the impression that we don’t have many aspects of nature around us. My family and I live in a suburb North of a city. We often see rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks wandering the yard.

A squirrel in the tree adjacent to my yard

This afternoon, my son and I were having a rather spirited snow ball fight in our back yard. Temperatures reached a warm high of 4 degrees, which is a welcome change to the frosty and foggy conditions we’ve had recently. While we were tossing snowballs at each other (with our dog Molly jumping around our legs) we noticed this cheeky squirrel chirping at us and leaping from one branch to the other.

It served as a great reminder that no matter where you live, nature finds a way to join in the fun!

This little guy seemed to be just as curious about us as we were about him! he hung around and chirped loudly at us for the longest time. Of course, maybe we were making too much noise and disturbing him.

With milder weather available, it’s important to get out and stay active. Get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors and everything it has to offer.

Blood, Sweat & Tears…

Being a Type 1 Diabetic means exercising on the reg, even though EVERYONE should be exercising on a regular basis. Consistent exercising, in conjunction with proper diet (although I have a soft spot for nachos) has been proven to improve sleep habits, blood pressure and help to lose weight. It’s important to keep things varied and interesting so that it becomes something fun instead of a chore. One of the big problems with working out is that most people are gung-ho to start getting in shape at the beginning, but that often starts taking the wayside when muscle pain and fatigue kicks in.

I’m a big fan of Men’s Health magazine. There are usually a number of different workouts focusing on different muscle groupings. One I particularly enjoy is a US Marine workout designed for body-weight only, which is used by sailors on submarines when they have no space for workout equipment. When done properly, it is an intense assault on the body and I usually feel like battered bread dough the next morning. What’s nice about it, is you can do this workout anywhere since you don’t need anything but yourself. My wife Laura has done this workout with me on occasion, and she usually curses the day I was born the following day. That’s generally a sign that the workout was intense.

On Wednesday, Laura and I did a bicep and tricep workout that lasted just over half an hour. It was a good burn and I definitely got a sweat on, but I ended the evening thinking I’d done worse. The following evening, I went to karate class, where I practiced a lot of arm techniques and trained with escrima sticks. Apparently, the two workouts, one after another, was apparently enough to send electric bolts of workout pain through my arms and shoulders the following day!

It’s important to, as they say, feel the burn. I know way too many people who go on walks or something of the like but never put any serious effort into their fitness. Now, just to be clear… Anything that gets you moving and gets you out of the house for some fresh air will have some benefits. But in order to reap the proper benefits of exercise, you need to sweat! You need to get that heart rate up! Go join a local gym, take some classes, join Zumba (and yes, I’ve tried Zumba and it is a wicked workout! So is spinning!) You should have at least three or four workouts a week that result in a small puddle beneath your feet (And before any of you get sarcastic about it, I mean a puddle of sweat! If it’s a puddle of anything else, you should probably go see a doctor!)

Boxing drills and shadow sparring are fantastic ways to work up a sweat and help regulate blood sugars.

Why So Sensitive…?

Have you noticed that the world has changed its point of view significantly in the past ten years? Maybe it’s just me… I remember a time when people would speak with one another before a problem, became prominent, first and foremost, and everyone wasn’t so damned sensitive about everything.

“I identify as…”

“That offends me…”

“You know, SOME people may not appreciate your point of view…”

It seems as though no matter what you do nowadays, you can offend someone with almost anything you do. One of my favourites is how medical professionals have started getting offended when a patient offers up an opinion…“Oh, let me guess! You Googled that, didn’t you? Congratulations, you can searcgh for things online! Maybe you’d like to be the doctor???” Considering how many medical professionals I’ve dealt with due to my Type 1 Diabetes, I’ve had this retort thrown in my face on a number of occasions. I guess that all things considered, I can’t blame them! In my line of work, I’ve had people suggest that they know the law better than I do. Although that hasn’t saved them from getting charged. And with the World Wide Web at everyone’s fingertips, where does a professional draw the line in knowing when a client is simply postulating and not threatening your skills?

The other issue that seems to have changed radically in the past ten years is what I like to call “The Holiday Effect”. Canada is home to diverse cultures and multiple backgrounds. And even though we are living in 2019 and should all be able to just get along, this tends to cause an unmeasurable amount of head-butting! We see a great amount of that during the Christmas holidays. These days, saying “Merry Christmas” seems to have taken the wayside and the preferred greeting is “Happy Holidays”, so as to not offend those who may not celebrate Christmas.

Really? So just because you don’t celebrate Christmas, I can’t wish you a happy one, based on how I was raised? Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be advanced enough in our development by now that we can respect and ACCEPT all beliefs and cultures?

As a Buddhist, I generally tell people that I am a student of all religions and beliefs. I pride myself on being open to anyone’s perspective (at least until I learn that it is realistically harmful to themselves or others, of course). But where do we draw the line at how far we are willing to change ourselves in order to accommodate others? And is it appropriate to do so?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I change my habits to accommodate someone of different background or culture in order to accommodate them. Many would believe that it would be insensitive if I didn’t do so. How far does it go before it starts becoming insensitive to me?

These days, it seems everyone gets to choose the core aspects of themselves: Their name, their gender, EVERYTHING! And people get outright offended when you don’t refer to them based on their chosen lifestyle or perspective. And you know what? It’s okay to choose your own way of life. Maybe it’s not quite okay to get offended, and even angry, if I don’t understand, especially when I don’t know you.

A part of me believes that the advent of social media has made things worse. These issues have plagued the world for decades, but the arrival of information at the world’s fingertips has made it possible for us to hear about these things, even experience them in a much more comprehensive manner than we would of, say ten years ago.

The bottom line is this: No matter what your cultural, religious, racial or ancestral background may be, we can all co-exist. The world is a mighty big place (even at its current population of approximately 7,700,000,000 people (as per the World population Clock at http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/). But despite that fact, there’s room enough for us all to carry our beliefs with us, without disturbing or interfering with anyone else’s. If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas and you don’t celebrate it, no big deal! Just say thank you for the well wishes and move on. I’m certain your respective beliefs teach you to appreciate kindness, and it would be just that! If you identify in a way that may not be clear to other people, don’t get offended or angry; embrace your right to explain it so that people understand. We are all capable of learning, so take the opportunity to teach. If someone offers up a suggestion regarding something related to your professional trade, don’t take it as an insult; simply use it as an opportunity for open dialogue (and remember that YOU are the professional and the opinion is simply that: an opinion).

Let’s find the balance. Let’s learn to co-exist with one another. In a world where every culture is available and visible to the entire globe, it becomes more important than ever for us to learn to get along.

Balance!