Conformity Does Not Mean Acceptance

“Pressure’s a privilege and only the privileged get to experience pressure…” – Vernon Adams Jr.

I hate hockey. (Cue every brick in Canada being shat at once) Yes, I hate hockey. There, I said it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the sport, and it certainly is staple of Canadian culture since, well, you know… it was invented here!

I’m slightly biased against it, since all throughout my schooling the hockey players were the de facto “rulers” of the school. They had privilege, they went to all the parties (and were often the ones throwing them), they had friends and got all the girls. I was a bit more on the “intellectual” side of things… Okay, fine! I was a nerd!

My point is, I’ve never been much of a team sports guy. I grew up with more of an interest in singular physical activities such as cycling, mountain climbing and the martial arts. But I’ve never been into mainstream sports.

But being into these sports is not what makes me Canadian. And no matter what you’re into or what your interests are, you can still learn from these things. For example, the quote I started this post with, was spoken by the Montreal Alouette’s Quarterback.

You’d be surprised at what you can learn if you’re willing to mingle and learn, even from things you aren’t interested in. One of the first activities I did with my co-workers when I moved to Saskatchewan, was sit in one of their living rooms and watch the Grey Cup. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but the energy in the room and the camaraderie was certainly positive. ☯

Make Sure Your house Doesn’t Crumble

I think we can unanimously agree that no matter what structure you try to build, it’ll never stand on its own without a solid foundation. One of the most famous examples of this, is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Constructed in the 12th century, the tower was constructed using a too-thin foundation set upon weak sub-soil. Once builders began adding the second floor, the foundation began to sink, leading to the well-known angle of today.

This is why a proper foundation is so important. And this applies to anything one does in life, not least of which is the martial arts. Every style has its own type of foundation. And for karate, that foundation is form.

In karate, forms are called kata, which literally translates from Japanese as “form”. Katas are a combination of specific movements and techniques that are combined in order to develop them. Although katas are meant to be used as a means of training alone, they can be performed in unison in a class setting as well. Katas mostly refer to Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as karate, judo and aikido.

Katas are often poorly received by students because they are so structured and fixed. Students obviously prefer the more exciting and “fun” aspects of karate, such as sparring and using punching bags. But katas are what allow a student to develop the skills required to properly do all the fun stuff like sparring and using punching bags.

When doing katas, one should perform a minimum of three repetitions of each form. Some systems only have the one form or kata, and add sub-parts to the one. Other styles, such as mine, have almost a dozen different forms and katas and are all necessary to master the techniques and fighting methods used in combat. The three repetitions are as follows:

  1. First speed: You’re doing the kata at the slowest possible speed. The point to this one is to perform the kata with as much precision as possible. This slower speed allows the student to focus on their stance and proper technique, lending emphasis to form over power. It also allows the student to balance their breathing in time with the striking aspects of whatever kata they may be performing;
  2. Second speed: This is only slightly faster than the previous one, and the student should begin adding a certain element of power and strength behind all strikes and blocks. Emphasis should still remain on proper breathing, control and stance;
  3. Third speed: This repetition is basically an unhindered version of your kata. You basically let yourself off the rails and do the kata as fast and as strong as possible while maintaining proper form and stance. This speed is as close as one can come to shadow boxing while still maintaining the pre-arrange format of a kata.

Every workout should include form or kata, without exception. After all, if you don’t maintain your foundation, the entire structure of your training may start leaning like a failed bell tower! The best martial arts workouts often begin and end with form. Either way, depending on what style you train in, remember to maintain your foundation and keep it strong. ☯

Space, The Unneeded Frontier…

One of the biggest issues people have when trying to focus on their fitness is worrying that they’re not set up for it. Most people are concerned about paying high prices for gym memberships, and the difficulties often associated with quitting when necessary. Take it from me, some gyms almost require an offer of a first-born in order to get out of a training “contract”, and I use that term lightly.

But fitness doesn’t have to be that complicated. And you definitely don’t need a bunch of fitness equipment in order to be effective. Considering I study Karate, which translates to “empty hand”, I think I can speak to that, just a bit (hint of sarcasm sprinkled on).

All you really need is a clear, open space of about 10 by 10 feet. That’s it. A small corner of your basement, bedroom or living room will do. If you don’t have access to dumbbells or other weight equipment, you can easily workout your entire body using body-weight exercises within your designated corner.

Sit-ups, crunches and leg raises are great for the abdominals. I enjoy planks, myself. Lunges, squats and “climbers” are fantastic for the legs. The rest of the upper body can be done using a variety of all the classic push-ups, chin-ups and tricep dips. If you study the martial arts, that 10×10 space should be all you need for forms, shadow boxing and practicing techniques.

An intense hour of sweaty, at-home karate in a small corner of my basement (and yes, that’s my insulin pump infusion site on my side)

Don’t get me wrong, training in a gym environment can be great fun and provides a number of benefits. You get to meet people, get out of the house and use some equipment that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. But if you’re looking to keep it inexpensive, it’s a pretty simple to do so.

You can easily go on the internet and search for “body weight exercises” and find hundreds of different exercises that you can do in the comfort of your home. Then, start doing a number of sets and increase your intensity, reps and variety as you go along.

It’s one of those things where saying that you can’t afford a gym membership or don’t have the space at home is no longer a viable excuse. So as my brother-in-law would say, why put off to tomorrow what you can do today? Get up, get started and get fit! ☯

That Towel Won’t Throw Itself…

I’ve written a number of posts that outline the importance of knowing why you’ve joined the martial arts. These reasons can include improving one’s health, learning to defend oneself or simply the curiosity that many have relating to the martial arts.

There really aren’t any BAD reasons to join, unless your goal is to become a bully or beat the crap out of people. Barring that, a subject that anyone rarely covers is when to step away and quit! Seriously, how do you know when your time in a dojo has run its course and it’s time to walk away? Here are some thoughts…

  1. The school doesn’t meet your specific needs. This is a pretty common one, and it happens much more than we think. Each martial arts school is unique and their rituals, protocols and rules may not suit you. Some people try to “tough it out” because they’re paying tuition, but it’s better to lose a month’s worth of payment than stay with a school that doesn’t;t fit your needs;
  2. You spend more time yawning than sweating. Most new things take a certain amount of effort. But karate requires focus and concentration, as well as a certain amount of precision and speed training. Combining all those aspects can be a touch overwhelming and take some time. If you’re getting bored with what you’re being taught, perhaps it isn’t for you;
  3. You’re in conflict with the instructor’s teachings. Oh boy, where to start on this one! Having been a Sensei myself, I can attest that there’s always the occasional student who decides to “test” the instructor… Either they question the knowledge being quoted or they doubt whether a technique genuinely works or not. This leaves the instructor in the awkward position of either trying to prove his or her point or losing face in front of their students. Losing face shouldn’t matter, but it’s very difficult to teach a fighting art to a group of people who question your skills and abilities. If you feel that you might not be buying what your instructor is teaching, don’t create conflict; just get the hell out!
  4. You’re being forced to be there. I’ve had a lot of students who have come to class because their parents are “making” them. That royally sucks, because most of the time the student drags on the overall mojo of the class because he or she genuinely doesn’t want to be there. I’ve had to have some heart-to-heart conversation with some parents over the years where I’ve gently “suggested” that their kid shouldn’t be back! If you’re being forced to be there, do yourself a favour and talk to your Sensei about it;
  5. You’re “surviving” the class rather than training. I’ve saved this one for last, although it certainly isn’t least. It’s one thing to push yourself and work through a session even on days when you don’t feel like it or during times when you may be feeling a little off. But if you’re checking clock every ten minutes, if you’re loathe to leave the house, knowing you’re going to class and the interest simply isn’t there anymore, it may be time to re-evaluate why you’re going.

The martial arts is like everything else: it should suit your needs and fit your lifestyle. There’s no shame in trying it out and walking away if you discover that it isn’t for you.

I’ve had periods in my training where I felt as though I wasn’t learning anything, or I simply wasn’t advancing the way I thought I should. Sometimes a break is needed, but it shouldn’t be permanent. The idea is that remaining part of a martial arts club that doesn’t;t suit you may take away from the club as a whole. A kind of “only as strong as your weakest link” kind of deal. ☯

The Right Path Isn’t Always The One Of Least Resistance

Gene Dunn once said, “Your technique means nothing if you’re not using your talents for the betterment of humanity.”  

I began studying the martial arts what feels like a very long time ago.  Thirty-one years ago this year, to be precise.  Although I started this journey with the intention of improving my health and saving my own life against the complications associated with Diabetes, it would end up becoming who I am as opposed to something I was doing.

Martial arts have provided me with more than I could possibly express in written word.  I have carried and used my skills with dignity and with respect for others. Through my study of the Way, I came into Buddhism, which became the central focal point of my faith.  I believe that as a people, we have an obligation to give as much as we get.  And on the occasions where the only possible response to prevent harm to others or myself was violence, I have been swift but just.

My chosen career has carried me far from home and away from my dojo over the past ten years.  Although I have never stopped practicing, it’s been a lonely road considering the rural areas I’ve lived in generally never have martial arts schools.

When I moved to Regina, I was elated to hear that there were several schools that I could explore and I was excited at the prospect of training among other students of the way once again.  I visited MANY martial arts schools over the course of a few weeks and observed several classes.  None of them seemed to be a fit.  Although I wouldn’t presume to classify any one style better than another, I believe a style should call to the person and fit their requirements.

That’s when I walked into the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate.  After observing only one class, I came to realize that it would be a good fit.  Not only because there were some techniques and aspects similar to my own, but because of the ambiance and the manner in which students were taught.

Without hesitation, I was accepted as a student despite being an outside black belt (something that many instructors would not allow).  When I decided I would be testing for my next degree of black belt, I was allowed to step outside of protocol and practice my forms during class even if they were not of the same style.  

For the many who believe that learning the martial arts is simply about learning how to fight, it’s important to look at the quality and value that comes out of a dojo’s students. The growth, maturity and knowledge that is imparted on a student is truly the trademark of a quality dojo. If you consider training, be sure to do your research and find something that is a good fit for you. In the long run, you’ll get much more out of it. ☯

We’re Only Human

We all get old, eventually.  It’s one of those few uncontrollable aspects of life that none of us can escape.  We can, however help to alleviate what happens as we age.  Most of this involves having good eating and fitness habits and staying away from the nasty things that can potentially bring our existence to an end.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions of being “old” per se, but some age is often felt rather than gained.  I have to admit that in recent years, my blocks have gotten a bit slower, my techniques a little sloppier and my ability to get up and go has got up and gone (Yes, I just referenced an earlier blog post of mine!)

The shirt I just got yesterday

It really doesn’t take a great deal…  A few too many break days, skipping meals or lack of sleep and your health can easily start to fall off the rails as you get older.  This is especially true for Type 1 Diabetics who depend on a proper balance to keep things in check.  And balance really is the key!

Start by getting proper rest.  The average adult requires between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.  As long as you’re getting it all at once (unlike me, who occasionally cluster naps) it should go a long way to helping you rejuvenate yourself.  Many of your body’s systems are working at resetting and/or resting while you do. This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t eat heavily before bed.

And while we’re talking about food, make sure you’re getting your three meals a day and that they’re properly balanced with vegetables and proteins to help with muscle repair and growth.  It’s okay to have some cheat days now and again, as long as you don’t go overboard.

Last but not least, get some damn exercise.  Even when you’re sore, tired and just plain fed up… it gets exponentially worse if you just sit back and do nothing.  You have to keep moving.  Movement is life.  Even if you just start by doing some light stretches first thing in the morning, it’ll help to get the blood flowing, make you more alert and start your day off properly.

All of these points become increasingly important as you collect more birthdays. Muscles become less flexible, joints are less limber and if you don’t keep up with everything, you may find yourself seizing up. ☯

When It Doesn’t Make Sense Is When You Need To Keep Working At It

One of the weirdest lessons in life is how things have to be the opposite of the result you seek to achieve in order to realize you have to change it.  For example, most people won’t necessarily realize it’s time to change their diets and hit the gym until they gain a noticeable amount of weight and start experiencing health issues.  Or we often won’t eat properly until we are diagnosed with some measurable health deficiency or dietary issue caused by eating too much junk food or making bad health choices.

I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you don’t understand it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  There’s a depth of truth in this that applies to all persons, regardless of their goals. Here’s the simple truth: you shouldn’t wait until you fall out of shape or gain weight to start “getting into shape” or exercising.  You shouldn’t wait until your blood sugars run rampant or your health falters before you change your diet and eat better.  And live better.

That’s an important aspect as well.  It’s not all about diet and exercise (although they are two of the most important factors and the focus of this post).  You have to be well within your own existence.  You have to be able to wake up in the morning WANTING to face the day instead of dreading the next 8 hours that may be coming.  Trust me, when I say that this is not always an easy aspect.

But let’s focus on the two first factors, diet and exercise.  I once read that the only way to get in shape is to show how out of shape you are.  What I interpret this to mean is, there’s nothing impressive about the 250-pound muscle jock benching huge amounts of weight and screaming with every rep. Sure, he no doubt worked to get to the state he’s in, but what’s more impressive is the brave soul who steps onto the treadmill and sweats within a minute and has to struggle to speed walk for five minutes.  Then they come back the next day.  And the next. And the next.  And before you know it, this person is losing weight and becoming stronger, faster and better.  That’s how change is made.  By showing up and doing it!

Your diet is the next big aspect.  It has to be specific to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The athlete training for a heavy weight boxing match won’t have the same diet as someone trying to slim down and lose weight.  And most people seem to be confused about what diets can work and what specific foods can do for you and/or against you.

Let’s discuss carbs for a moment.  Carbs are a Type 1 Diabetic’s biggest nemesis.  Why? Because carbs are the reason we need to take insulin.  The more carbs we ingest during a meal, the larger the dose of insulin that’s required. That’s an over-simplification, but carbs are meant to provide energy for the body.    This is true for all people, Diabetic or not.  So it’s usually not advisable or healthy (unless instructed by your health practitioner) to try and be completely carb-free.  Carbs get broken down into glucose or stored as fat.

Carbs get stored as fat when we take in more calories than we require or burn within the day, and get stored in all those lovely areas we hate to look at when we hop in the shower.  That’s why many professional athletes will “carb load”, because they know they’ll need the energy and it will all get used up, as opposed to being stored as fat.

The lesson here is that in order to lose weight and get into shape, you need to combine exercise AND diet.  There’s no getting around this.  You have to fire up your metabolism to help you along, and there’s no magic pill that will accomplish this.  You just need to get off the couch and do it.  You can’t diet but sit around like a lump and expect t lose weight.  You can’t exercise like a pro athlete then go out and eat the entire value menu at your local fast-food restaurant and expect to stay healthy.  You have to combine both aspects.

You want to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars such as pastries, white breads and pastas as well as sweetened drinks and sodas.  Base the amount of carbs you ingest on your level of exercise.  If you are just starting, then keep your carb intake on the lower side in order to prevent increasing those fat stores.  Eat plenty of fiber and lean protein to help with muscle repair and development and the continuance of “friendly” bacteria in the digestion.  Lean protein means meat options that are low in fat and provide the healthiest totality, such as skinless chicken or fish (sorry vegetarians, cutting out meat does NOT help you lose weight).  And last but not least, don’t make any major changes to your lifestyle without consulting your health practitioner and/or professional trainer.

All pebbles seem small until you have one stuck in your shoe.  I forget who said that, but it’s true.  Getting into shape and reaching your health goals always seem like a HUGE challenge… until it’s not.  Then you get to maintain that health instead of trying to fight for it, and you can look back on the days you wished you were in the shape you are now. But you have to start.  One step, that’s all it takes.  Then once you get moving, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to stop! ☯