In The Absinthe of Good Sense… (A Long Read)

In some respect, I was kind of what some would call a “late bloomer.” I never had a rebellious phase, never got brought home by the police and contrary to the majority of my age group back home, I didn’t spent my teen years partying and drinking alcohol. In fact, I only drank my first beer at the age of 23 when I was training in Okinawa. And during those first few tastes of golden, alcoholic bliss, I was hanging out in a climate that required my body to retain every single drop of fluid I was taking in, which meant I was pretty much drinking beer AND water with impunity. That first little while saw me drinking with little to no after effects (other than raised blood sugars from the occasional high carbohydrate beer) and never a hangover.

Because of that fact, I thought I was somewhat invulnerable to the effects of alcohol. At least where hangovers were concerned. I didn’t learn my lesson until about six months AFTER my return from Okinawa where, on my way to a friend’s party, I couldn’t decide between two brands of beer, and bought a 6-pack of both. And then consumed them all. In one evening. Within about three hours. Ironically, I remember my evening quite clearly and it was a lot of fun. No worries or concerns, really. But the physical pain I was in the following morning taught me the error of my ways and why I should never drink with such impunity again.

I woke up soaked in what I hoped to Light was sweat, and my body sending out warning signals of varying sorts. My blood sugars were through the roof and my bowels and stomach were having an extremely loud argument over who had the right to kick out their unwanted guests first. I decided that my parched and swollen tongue required some water before giving attention to anything else. The water aggravated my stomach further, causing me to rush to the washroom where I managed to sit on the toilet while simultaneously testing my ability to aim by unceremoniously throwing up into the sink next to me.

It was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was throwing up. I walked away having learned an extremely valuable lesson about alcohol, after that night. Despite being in my early 20’s, it would prove to be only one of two or three times in my life (so far) that I would actually get drunk. Putting aside the story of the staff party where I don’t remember being dropped off at home, the recollection of the third and last instance where I got truly drunk is the topic of today’s post. It involves an unplanned road trip coupled with a legendary and often-feared drink: absinthe.

Because of the first two instances of getting drunk, I had a strict “no getting drunk” policy, which involved never drinking anywhere but the comfort of my own home as well as never drinking enough to go beyond the enjoyment of simple libations and the flavour of whatever I may have been consuming at the moment. That isn’t to say that I don’t have the occasional beer when out at a restaurant or bar with friends. Far from it. But as a personal policy, I never allow myself to drink to excess. I think this is an important self-policy and should be followed by everyone. But my third and last time of getting drunk hammered it home for me. Here’s what happened…

Sometime between my return from Okinawa in 2001 and moving to Ottawa in 2007, I had a friend who lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The capital city of New Brunswick, it sits near the south-west corner of the Province and is about four hours away from where I was living at the time. My friend had moved there some years’ prior and had an apartment on the south side of the river. Although some locals may argue this point, the south side is where it’s at. It has the university, the shopping, the coffee shops and the bars. It also has the best comic shops.

Since I had a lull in my career, I found myself between jobs and had recently become single (unrelated) so I decided to pay my friend a visit. I haven’t spoken to him about retelling this, so for the purposes of this story I’ll simply call him “Treats.” If he reads this, he’ll be the only one who knows this involves him. I swear on my right hook that this is how the night went down, but his recollection may be different. I’ll let y’all know if he ends up reading this and reaching out to me. But I left early in the morning and arrived at Treats’ apartment around lunchtime. This worked out well, since we decided to go have brunch at one of my favourite breakfast restaurants called “Cora’s.” Although it’s nothing special beyond the fact they serve fresh fruit with every dish, one of our mutual friends also work there.

Treats had managed to gather a small group of mutual and new acquaintances to join us for breakfast, which included Treats’ brother and made for a pleasant, social outing. That’s right; I can be social. After an uneventful afternoon of coffee shops, comic book stores and good conversation, we discussed what we would be doing for dinner and with our evening. This is where things began to slowly roll downhill. Innocently enough, we decided on a local pub where we could indulge on a dose of unnecessary calories while having a few drinks. Once again, we had a few people with us but everyone kind of melted away as the evening progressed. A combination of university, work and the fact it was a week night made for a quiet party.

We got bored and didn’t want to spend a fortune on every beer we got, so we stopped by a local liquor store and got a case of beer for the apartment. We decided to binge watch some Family Guy. This was before Netflix was the big thing, and Treats actually had all the current seasons on DVD, so we watched and giggled like drunken school girls until we watched a scene involving Peter Griffin and the giant chicken. This prompted a heated discussion about fighting and martial arts, as I had been training in karate and he had apparently been doing kickboxing for quite some time. We already had quite a few drinks and despite being heated, it was nothing but conversational until Treats spoke the words that would change the tonality of the evening: “We should do a shot of absinthe…”

Folks, absinthe gets a reasonably bad rap. There was a this misconception that it had hallucinogenic properties and was mostly banned in North America, as a result. This concept has been mainly disproven in the past twenty years, and you can now buy the stuff at most liquor stores. Its no more dangerous than consuming any other spirit. Treats had brought over bottle from his travels in Europe over the previous couple of years and wanted me to experience the stuff, since I had never tried it. On the flip side, this shit is about 150 proof and is meant to be consumed by sprinkling sugar over ice and combining the absinthe with water. Treats took out two shot glasses and poured straight from the bottle. Asshole.

We were already drunk and bearing in mind that both of us had likely consumed close to a 12-pack each, albeit over the course of several hours, I wasn’t keen on the prospect of downing a shot. My previous experience with spirits hadn’t ended well. But I figured, what the hell was the worst that could happen? We were in the relative safety of Treats’ apartment and weren’t planning on going anywhere. Famous last words…

I take an experimental sniff of the greenish liquid and compared it to a bad combination of surgical-grade antiseptic mixed with antifreeze. I watch Treats throw his head back and down his shot. Suddenly, my self-confidence is shaken since Treats is about half my size and weight and he’s drank as much beer as I had. I do my best not to be a prideful person, but booze makes all the smart thoughts go, “Fuck it, I’m outta here!” So, like a true drunken idiot, I also throw back my shot and down it in one gulp.

It almost felt as though my entire body went into panic mode as every molecule in my esophagus was suddenly screaming at me and asking why I had brought this unwanted guest to the party. My stomach responded in kind, akin to a bouncer trying to tell someone they weren’t on the list and didn’t belong in the club and to get out of there. My stomach threatened to reverse impulse engines and expel right there in Treats’ kitchen. Sharp beads of sweat break out on my forehead and my knees buckle as I get dizzy, wondering what the hell I just did to myself.

Treats is laughing at me, mostly because he’s drunk and he sees me swaying in place but also because half the absinthe bottle was empty. This meant it wasn’t his first rodeo and he intentionally wanted to see what effect it would have on me. This makes me indignant and I consider this a slight against me the likes of which karma needed to correct. Once my momentary weakness passes, I decided it would be a good idea to test my blood sugars. This is a true testament to my muscle memory and control over Diabetes. Most people would have put that shit on the back burner.

When I come out of the guest room, Treats is back on the couch and has continued to watch Family Guy without me. This makes me morose as I sit in silence and begin to watch with him, having missed a portion of the episode. Somehow the conversation returns to our respective fighting styles and becomes more argumentative over the value of certain methods and techniques. I pride myself on being open to others’ interpretation. But as I mentioned earlier, drunk Shawn has a much different perspective. I berate and belittle his perspective. This makes him openly angry. Absinthe has joined the argument!

Treats finally decides he needs to demonstrate the effectiveness of his kickboxing prowess and invites me to spar in his entryway. We’re talking a less than ten-foot by ten-foot space inside an upper floor apartment. I start picturing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s drunken fight scene in Kickboxer and decide that this is a fantastic idea. We move his dining table slightly and square off. I can only imagine how ridiculous we must have looked; two grown-ass men, drunk beyond reason on beer and absinthe, planning to “spar.” I use the quotation marks because of what was to come next…

He starts with a couple of simple jabs. He’s using the typical boxer’s stance that I despise; his guard is firmly against the side of his head as he delivers his jabs. I block the first one. Then I block the second one. I begin to realize that my excessive martial arts training allows me to operate almost on instinct and I stop TRYING to block and simply let the blocks happen. I am in the zone. He delivers a couple more jabs and punches without any success. Although my guard is still up, I start laughing. And that’s when it happened.

Because of my drunken stupor, my laugh involved my eyes squinting shut. This is not a good thing during a fight. His next straight jab catches me right in the face. My eyes were no longer closed, let me tell you! I look at him in shock and surprise and try to deliver a jab of my own. As I do, he suddenly remembers the “kick” aspect of his art and delivers a firm, roundhouse kick to my right ribs; right underneath the arm I was jabbing with. I fold over on the injured side, which opens up the left side of my face. BAM! He delivers a right hook to the left side of my face.

The hook jars something loose as a flood of all the times I had been bullied and beaten up in school came flooding to the surface (Yes, I was bullied in school! One story at a time, people!). I was drunk on more alcohol than I should have consumed and my inner filters and controls melted away by Mr. Absinthe, and I saw red. I threw a quick rounded punch into Treats’ gut. He grunts. I am displeased at his lack of folding over, so I deliver a front kick to his solar plexus. As he doubles over, he guards the left side of his face. Since his fist is firmly against his head, I strike and it’s as though the fist isn’t even there. I bring a knee up into his abdomen and back kick him into his living room, sending his sprawling over the coffee table.

Maybe I should have mentioned that his girlfriend was also there at the time. Did I mention his girlfriend was sleeping there, at the time? She got up and was not impressed. We were both battered and bruised, with fine rivulets of blood at our nose, mouth or both. Everything had happened over the course of about five minutes. She used a rather matronly voice to “suggest” that we quit our bullshitting or she’d get “involved.” This this day, I don’t know what she meant. I didn’t want to know then, and I don’t want to know now. We watched a couple more episodes and the mood lightened significantly. Probably because we had drained out all of our testosterone in those few moments. Who knows?

I awoke the next morning and staggered my way to the washroom. The left side of my face had some mild swelling and it hurt to move my rib cage. I stepped out into the kitchen and found Treats seated at the table. He offered me coffee, which I gladly accepted and then grinned devilishly while making some off-the-cuff comment about how I couldn’t handle my booze. I left it alone. I didn’t know how much he remembered from the previous night, but I have the significant advantage (or disadvantage) of always retaining full memory of what I’d done despite the alcohol.

We decided to have a second round of brunch at Cora’s before I got back on the road to home. I had a reasonably low after-effect and little to no hangover, considering the amount of alcohol AND the strikes to the head. We chatted, we laughed and I got back on the road having thoroughly enjoyed my time with Treats. Good times and good memories. It would prove to be the last time I would ever consume that much alcohol of any type, and one of the last time I ever went beyond “tipsy.” Even though I didn’t have a rambunctious youth, I recognized that my capacity for violence when inebriated was significant. And I didn’t want to ever chance inadvertently bringing harm to someone.

So there you have it! A little insight on lesser moments in my 20’s. I definitely wasn’t proud of how I was that night. Anymore than I was of the other two instances when I allowed myself to drink outside the home. But this is why I make a point never to consume to intoxication. And for the most part, I never drink outside my home. My personal and professional life have taught me that there’s too much room for error. To this day, I enjoy my wine. I also enjoy beer much the same way many folks do: cold and while barbecuing. But sometimes we need to learn about moderation the hard way. Maybe some of you will see my story as a way to learn that lesson. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll need a couple of hits to the head, like I did. ☯

There’s No Alternative To Zen

Modern life can be pretty hectic, and the requirements of daily life can get in the way of some of the things we do for our own benefit and well-being. Mostly, I’m referring to my study of Zen Buddhism and meditation. I have to admit that the past three years have derailed a lot of the self-discipline and routines I had in place for myself. once of the biggest gaps I have is the ability to sit in relative peace and quite and meditate, uninterrupted. Think about it… When was the last time you’ve found yourself able to find some total silence?

Even as I write this, I can hear vehicle traffic, engines revving and the sound of my own house’s air conditioning unit droning away. Silence? Yeah, right… I’m sitting in relative peace in my garage to write, but silence still eludes me. And finding time to meditate can be difficult, if you live a modern life. There’s work obligations, familial obligations and overall life obligations. It can make it difficult to find one’s inner Zen. And if you’re not careful, you can find yourself trying to find an alternative to the bliss of Zen.

Meditation can provide countless benefits to the body and mind. Not only is it relaxing but it can improve concentration, blood pressure and heart rate. It can aid in the healing of injuries, mitigate pain and provide benefits for a proper sleep cycle. So why WOULDN’T you meditate? Haven’t you been paying attention as you read??? BECAUSE LIFE GETS IN THE FREAKING WAY!!! When you get used to meditation, the lack of it can leave a pretty noticeable hole in your existence, and people will often try to substitute.

I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this, myself. Indulging in a smooth cigar, having a couple of strong drinks or some other calming vice can often seem like a good idea. But the bad usually outweighs the good. And regret always sets in. And if you guys know anything about me, it’s that I don’t believe in regret. So, what’s a person to do?

The ideal solution would be to find an hour that you can allot for yourself. this can either be first thing in the morning before the family wakes up and your daily routine starts up, or lastly before bed. This also has the added benefit of sending you off to slumber with a relaxed body and mind, which can promote a better night’s sleep. The bottom line is, this is one of those situations where “there’s a will, there’s a way.”

There’s no alternative to Zen. So even when life gets in the way, it’s incumbent on you to find the time to make it a priority. There’s always an opportunity to make it happen. Meditation has been a staple of my life for over twenty years. When life gets harsh and difficult, it’s been one of the best coping methods imaginable. So maybe I need to put down the cigar and step back into meditative bliss. Food for thought… ☯

One Love, One Religion, One Style…

The title is a saying that Sensei always used to have. He’s always been a firm advocate of maintaining only one style and never branching out to anything else. Although I’ve always been prepared to agree that one needs to study consistently in one style in order to properly learn, I’ve always been of the opinion that one needs to allow oneself to at least TOUCH on other styles, other techniques and other training methods, in order to add some variety to one’s overall martial arts toolbox.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to train with a variety of schools and dojos, learning what i could from different styles. After all, if the techniques you’ve practiced for decades don’t work in a specific situation, what would do? Give up? Let yourself be injured or killed? Doesn’t sound too ideal, to me. With that thought in mind, I’ve always been quite open to studying and training with other styles.

With that in mind, one of the biggest sore points in my training, especially in the past ten years, is the fact that I moved out to the Prairies for my job, which took me away from Sensei and his dojo. Although I’ve had some opportunities to train in other schools since then, I’ve been sitting at my current level for a very long time. Rank has never meant all that much to me. I believe that some white belts can have wisdom and skill that some black belts never achieve. Especially if you’re in a style/dojo that graduates black belts in two or three years.

But my thirst for knowledge never ends, and my ambition to climb stems not from wanting another gold bar on my black belt, but from wanting to learn new techniques and methods and to know the answer to that ultimate question that all dedicated students ask, at some point in their martial arts career: What’s next? It was the driving curiosity behind that question that had me set out to try and find a solution to promoting to my next level.

In 2019, I had a comprehensive conversation with Sensei about my training and how the flow of my life and career had gone. We agreed that it was unfortunate that I had spent the last decade out west, as I might have climbed a couple of ranks within that time. But he agreed that if I was willing to put in the time, money and frequent trips to New Brunswick to train, I could see my next rank within the next year or two. Then, we had a second child. Alexander was the unexpected blessing to our lives that would require an increased presence within my home and wouldn’t make it appropriate for me to be running across the country four or five times a year for the next two years. I had to adjust my plans.

In 2020, I started calculating ways to stabilize things so that I could make my continued learning possible. Just when I felt there might be a glimpse of hope in my efforts, COVID-19 struck and locked the world down in a way that hadn’t been seen since before my lifetime. I was once again at a standstill. I wanted to continue my training, but only if I could do so without having it be at the cost of my familial obligations and finances.

I recently found a school of Uechi Ryu karate in Alberta. Although it would be several hours’ drive, that would be far better than a few thousand dollars for a flight to New Brunswick and being away from my family for extended periods of time. I reached out to this dojo and asked what the thought might be on helping someone promote to their next degree. I’ve been in open exchange with the dojo since last week, and it will be interesting to see if this is the path that allows me to continue my black belt path in this style.

I often say that life rarely cares about one’s plans. I don’t really need to prove that statement. A look at how my life has turned out in the past three years is a documented testament to that very fact. Although Sensei may likely disapprove and believe that stepping into another dojo in this fashion may dilute the teachings that were imparted on me, I need to be realistic of the facts. Sensei has closed his dojo. He no longer teaches. Continuing on my journey with him would be contingent on conditions I may not be able to meet. But you can’t keep a good karateka down. It’ll be interesting to see where life takes me, in this respect. ☯

Oops, Boards No Hit Back…

Last autumn, I decided to step up my at-home karate game by making and installing my own makiwara. You can read the post here, but I have to say that I was pretty proud of the accomplishment and I did get SOME use out of it before the winter hit and training outside was no longer optimal. My son Nathan was quite helpful with drilling the holes and installing the bolts that hold the 2×4 wooden planks together, as well as binding the cord and making it stable. Although many makiwaras are floor-mounted, I had no such place to appropriately install one. So Nathan and I dug a 3-foot deep hole at the corner of our backyard and placed the post into the hole, filling it with dirt and yellow clay.

In case you haven’t read the previous post (or any of the others where I’ve used the term makiwara), a makiwara is a hard, stable striking surface that’s usually made of wood. Depending on your style, background and training methods, they usually have a pad or designated striking area. In Okinawa, they usually scoff at the use of padding with preference for striking the bare, wooden surface. If you’ve ever seen photos of an Okinawan karate master’s knuckles, you know why this can be a problem. I built mine so that the top, striking area is wrapped in nylon cord. This allows for a harder striking surface than a punching bag, while preserving some of the bone structure in my hand.

The results of my punches!

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of a rather spirited boxing circuit in my garage. It involved a full minute on the punching bag followed by 45 seconds on the makiwara. That was one set. I did this for 30 minutes in total with no breaks in between. Somewhere around the 15-minute mark, I was striking the makiwara and the entire post shifted sideways and the dirt and founding around the bottom collapsed. The next couple of punches basically had the makiwara bouncing up and down as I struck. I had uprooted my homemade striking post. It was now useless.

Strength depends on the foundation.

Because I’m not a big of giving up, I put some thought into how I could repair it and ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen again. Just to be clear, I’m no Hercules. I have no illusions that my strikes are so powerful that nothing can withstand them. But even though water is the softest stuff in the world, single drops will eventually penetrate stone, if continued on a consistent basis. I had to recognize that prolonged use of the makiwara would always result in some level of damage, in the long term. The question was how to prolong its existence.

Nathan and I went to a home improvement store and purchased a bag of “Post Haste” concrete. Basically, this stuff is designed to harden and set within half an hour. Perfect. We followed up with a trip to our local dollar store and bought a plastic, 10-galloon bucket to mix the concrete in. $8 for the concrete and $4 for the bucket. Probably one of my cheapest repair projects. We were good to go. Nathan was excited and was itching to help me repair the makiwara and wanted to be involved in all the steps. Great.

The stuff!

I started by removing the makiwara, which unfortunately came out of the ground far too easily. This spoke to how unstable I had it, in the first place. I then used a shovel to scoop out the excess dirt and yellow clay and set it aside. I followed the instructions on the bag and placed two litres of clean water in my bucket, followed by emptying the contents of the concrete bag into the water. I was surprised that the water came to the surface, displaced by the density of the cement powder. I used an old wooden staff to start mixing the concrete.

Nathan measuring exactly 2 litres as per instructions. See, men CAN follow instructions!

It was tougher than I thought and it started getting too dense to move the stick. I had Nathan add a bit of water to help with consistency but when the stick came free and moved, I splashed myself with concrete. All over my left leg and all on and in my sneaker. Bloody marvellous. I would need to hose all of that off before going inside, as I really didn’t want to try running concrete through my washing machine. It gave Nathan a laugh though, who was quick to comment, “Haha, Daddy messed up…” He’s such a GREAT helper!

Nothing like cement all over oneself to add to the weight of the world…

Now that I had it mixed at least to some level of consistency I felt would work, I had Nathan hold the post wile I poured the cement mixture all around the post into the hole. It was rough going and didn’t pour nicely since it was so thick. I had to scoop it out with a small dowel and pat it down to ensure that it filled all the cracks and crevices within the hole. It also didn’t help that Nathan’s idea of holding the post steady included allowing it to slip at an angle every few moments. Kids…

Set in stone.

Once I managed to get the concrete poured properly, the hole was filled almost to the top, which would be topped off with yellow clay at a later time once the concrete cured completely. Within about five minutes, the concrete had set and hardened enough that the post could stand on its own without being held. Despite having made a mess with the water and splashing myself with concrete, I had managed to repair the makiwara and it would only require some quick finishing touches once the concrete finished setting the following day.

The finished repair!

As of yesterday, the makiwara seemed to be firmly in place, with the concrete doing its job and holding it strongly. I added the bracing to the rear and replaced the yellow clay over top the concrete. Although I have my eye injections today and didn’t have time to test it out, I can’t wait to reef on this bad boy and see how strong it’s become. At just $12, it was a much cheaper alternative than finding a different means of striking a stable surface. Only time will tell how long the repair, or the makiwara, will last. ☯

Cobra Kai, Season 4

I’m not going to lie… I’m stoked for the continuation of this Netflix series! When YouTube first released Cobra kai, a continuation series based on 1984’s the Karate Kid, ill admit that I was a bit sceptical. I was even more irked by the fact that if they were going to release a series picking up 30-odd years after the fact, that they’d focus on Johnny Lawrence as opposed to Daniel Larusso. Those fears were quickly put to rest with the inclusion of both characters.

Cobrai Kai focuses on showing how during the original film, Johnny was at the top of his game, winning trophies, being an alpha dog while Daniel was a down-on-his-luck new kid who unfortunately crossed paths with Johnny and paid a physical price. This is where Mr. Miyagi comes in and trains Daniel in the way of karate so that he can go on to the All Valley tournament and win against Johnny, albeit with an illegal kick to the face that even i didn’t agree with. but it’s all in good-natured 80’s fun, so it works.

Some three decades later, Johnny is seen as single, having fathered one estranged son, living within limited means and down on his luck, while Daniel is the owner of a multi-location car dealership franchise, appears to be wealthy and is happy in a successful marriage with a teenage daughter and young son. The first couple of seasons focus on Johnny reopening the Cobra Kai dojo and beginning to teach students, which prompts Daniel to do the same.

The end of Season 2 shows both dojos coming to a head as their students square off against one another in school and a non-literal bloodbath ensues, with one of the main protagonist characters becoming severely injured. Season sees both dojos come together against a common enemy from the past (I’m trying not to provide TOO many spoilers) and combining their students into a singular class. The upcoming Season promises the return of a key character from The Karate Kid III, which although not universally well-received, I thought stood well on it’s own merit.

The Karate Kid III saw Daniel continue his karate training with Mr. Miyagi while facing a new opponent who forces him to defend his title in the All Valley tournament. It shows the return of John Kreese as Johnny Lawrence’s disgraced Sensei and a new character, Terry Silver, as the antagonist of the entire ordeal. It’s an inspirational movie that sits well with me, from a martial artist’s standpoint. Season 4 of Cobrai Kai will apparently see the return of Terry Silver.

I know that I usually try to focus my posts on informational content, but the nerdy boy in me can’t help but write about this. I grew up on the Karate kid movies (as well as the ill-fated and ill-received Karate kid Animated series, which only ran for 13 episodes after The Karate Kid III) and absolutely love how Cobra Kai allows me to dip my toe in the waters of nostalgia. It also provides that minty hint of inspiration to continue working hard at my own martial arts training, especially since one of the main characters, played by Mary Mouser is Type-1 Diabetic and uses an insulin pump. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it. ☯

Clean Yourself Up…

Cleanliness is important, especially as it relates to physical fitness. This means cleaning yourself, as well as cleaning the equipment you use. When you work out, you sweat. That’s no big secret. So, what happens if you don’t clean up properly? Believe it or not, it can be quite important to your overall health. It sure as hell affects the people around you, when you don’t.

Sweat is your body’s main function to control overall body temperature. You get too hot from working out, you sweat. Pretty simple, right? There are a few problems with that. Your body has pores, and that’s usually where your sweat comes from. Over the course of the day, your pores fill up with dirt, dust and bacteria. Part of your body’s sweating function is to eliminate all of that. You know, along with the elimination of a bunch of other nasty stuff. But it’s the bacterial content that usually makes sweat smell bad.

There’s nothing worse than an unwashed body. I know a lot of guys who go to the gym, then sit in their own sweat for the remainder of the day. The thing is, sweat is composed of ammonia, salts and urea. In case you’re not familiar with that last one, it’s one of the main components of piss. That’s right… Sweating is basically pissing out of every pore in your body. If that doesn’t gross you out enough, think about laying on a piece of gym equipment that hasn’t been wiped down!

If you don’t shower or clean yourself up, your pores will tend to clog as the sweat dries. Not only does that lead to some pretty nasty “B.O.” but it can also lead to rashes, infections and illness. Even if you don’t work out regularly, you can potentially face these issues if you DON’T wash your body on a regular basis. When you don’t bathe regularly, it can lead to a build up of dirt, sweat and bacteria. That’s where you’ll start to notice increased acne and sores, rashes and skin issues.

This might seem like a pretty obvious post, and I don’t think I’m sharing any new information. But I’ve trained in enough gyms and dojos to know that a lot of people don’t take personal hygiene to heart. And the big clue is when someone has an extreme level of funk BEFORE working out. And there are those, and those are they, who make the gym all the more difficult for others. Don’t take wiping down gym equipment for granted. Not only for yourself, but for other users. Launder your damn karate gi or gym gear and for the love of all the light, shower or bathe daily! Ax Body Spray is not a substitute for soap! ☯

You Say “To-May-To,” I Say “To-Mah-To”

A punch is a punch. Until you learn that it isn’t. To the untrained eye, nothing seems quite so basic as throwing a punch. But in reality, there are many small intricacies involved in the proper execution of a punch. Keeping the fist tight, proper bone alignment and technique are all critical aspects to making sure that your target will feel your strike as opposed to pointing and laughing as you sprain/break your wrist, fingers and/or knuckles against a hard, bony surface. So keeping this in mind, different styles train to throw a punch in different ways. This has been widely debated and written about, so I’m not providing anything original here; simply putting in my two cents. I’m referring to punching with your fist vertically or horizontally.

Example of a horizontal punch. You can ignore the terrible guard by sticking the other fist against the face!

In Uechi-Ryu karate, I’ve always been trained to punch horizontally. This means that my arm extends and the hand is horizontal to the ground, with the two foreknuckles of the fist being used as the striking surface. It’s what I’ve been training to do for over thirty years. For the most part, it’s always served me well and has always seemed to be effective (as effective as an individual person CAN make their punch).

Over the years as I’ve studied and examined other styles, I’ve come to realize that there are a number of different martial arts that use a vertical fist as opposed to a horizontal one. This means that the arm extends and the hand is vertical, with the striking surface being the last three knuckles of the hand. Some styles will still use the two foreknuckles for a vertical punch, but I personally feel it forces me to turn my wrist downward, compromising proper bone alignment. But to each their own… So, which is better? IS there a better one? Interestingly enough, I’ve used and trained with both.

Probably one of the most famous examples of a vertical punch, is Bruce Lee. yes, yes, I know… Not everything martial arts related needs to be compared to Bruce Lee. But the reality is he represents one of the clearest and easiest examples of the vertical punch, a fact that confirms that many (if not most) kung fu styles rely on this method. There are some benefits to vertical punching. Of most importance, it feels like a faster punch, as it relates to how it’s executed. Maybe that’s all in my head. But I definitely feel as though I can execute more vertical punches in the same amount of time than horizontal punches.

Another important issue is the fact that a vertical punch involves less telegraphing of the strike, since the elbow stays down. Considering most students train poorly during repetitive drills and tend to throw out their elbows when executing a horizontal punch. This is an important aspect, especially as it relates to letting your opponent know what’s coming. It also opens up your rib cage in an extremely uncomfortable way. Unless you train and execute for the horizontal punch correctly. You can do the horizontal punch without your elbow flaring out, and in fact you should!

Not all styles of karate use a horizontal punch. In fact, Isshin Ryu is a style of Okinawan karate that originates from very much the same source as my own style. They use a vertical punch that has a unique thumb placement involving pressing the thumb down on top of the second knuckle of the index finger. Many styles of martial arts use a vertical punch, but Isshin Ryu has made a point of having it as their way of doing it, with a unique twist.

A great article posted on Jesse Enkamp’s blog (KARATEbyJesse) outlines some of the differences, pros and cons of horizontal vs. vertical punching. Depending on the martial artist you speak to, everyone has their preference. Especially as it relates to their specific training. What’s important to remember is that just because a technique is done differently than how you’ve been taught, that doesn’t make it bad or incorrect. It’s all in how you execute it. As Jesse pointed out in the last sentence of the linked post above, “The tool depends on the target.” ☯

My Kids & Karate

I decided to put out a brief video clip of my two boys, imitating their daddy! The first part is Nathan, doing a horse stance with a double-handed downward strike. The second part is Alexander having a pretty fair go at the punching bag after watching me on it for about 30 minutes. What’s interesting is that both boys were just a bit older than 1-year old in their respective clips, and I never formally taught them any of what’s seen in the video. It just goes to show that some skills can be inherent. ☯

Didn’t Your Mother Teach You To Stand Up Straight???

It’s a classic scene. You’re at the kitchen table or in someone else’s home and your mother will quietly but firmly tell you to “Sit up straight,” or “Stand up straight…” Who’d have thought that you should have perhaps listened to that advice as it would serve you well, as it relates to your martial arts journey. I’ve witnessed and trained in a lot of different styles; sometimes for fun and sometimes to add a little something to my self-defence repertoire. And of all things that I’ve learned over the decades, one of the most important ones is to maintain a proper posture and a good centre of balance.

Standing up straight and keeping your weight centred are integral aspects of martial arts and self-defence. When you lean or all your weight is moved forward over a single leg, you put yourself at risk and expose areas that you should probably be thinking about protecting, instead. It often seems that so many arts are willing to allow practitioners to overreach, stand on one leg through extended techniques or have their heads bobbing and weaving every which way… Don’t even get me started on the concept of holding your hands in FRONT of your face.

Have you ever had that ONE friend who, when you were younger would suddenly push you for no good reason other than being a jackass? No? Just me? Alrighty, then… My point is, if you’ve ever experienced this you’ll notice that you can fall over quite easily once your centre of balance is no longer directly below you. And just to be clear, I’m not referring to issues surrounding forms or pre-arranged techniques; I’m referring specifically to issues surrounding a real-world combat scenario where you need to defend yourself.

I’ve always noticed that a strong tendency with some people who fight is to bob and weave their bodies back and forth to avoid strikes. I suppose that if you’re faced with an actual fight, you’ll do whatever is necessary in order to avoid being struck and to ultimately win. But if you bend at the waist in order to avoid a punch, your centre of gravity suddenly finds itself over open air, which will leave you vulnerable in a way that’s much much than what the above-mentioned jackass would cause.

I’m going to be a bit of a bully for a moment and pick on boxers because they’re the best example. They’re definitely not the ONLY ones, but they have a tendency to bend and sway in a variety of directions and what’s worse, they do it with the torso OR the head. I’ll remind all of you that I categorized this post under the “opinion” tab, so there’s no need to lose your cool. The worst is when I’ve seen people who do that frowny, lowered head posture that they believe makes them look so bad-ass. In reality, you’re obscuring your field of vision and exposing sides of your head that will get you smacked!

In traditional Okinawan karate, we’re taught that not only are extremely high kicks dangerous, as they expose the groin and various other areas, they throw off your centre of balance. A quick, prepared opponent can take advantage of this and send you spiralling to the ground. Once you’re down, the game’s pretty much over unless you have increased skill in defending against a standing opponent who’s dropping his boot down on your head. (Cue the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi… “Don’t do it, Anakin! I have the high ground…)

The same applies to hand techniques and you head, as well. If you overreach during a strike, you face the possibility that someone quick who may have training in grappling (or even someone who doesn’t) could grab your hand and drag you forward. Once you’re off balance, you’ll be too busy trying to regain your footing to avoid the plethora of strikes that may come at you, immediately following your stumble. And anyone I’ve ever sparred against who’s taken the chance of lowering their heads to give me a frowny look has usually been rewarded with a hook punch to the visual cortex.

Although getting into a real world fight scenario is a fluid and unpredictable situation, you should bear the following things in mind:

  • Stand up straight and keep your centre of gravity beneath you;
  • Keep your hands in front of you, but don’t block your face. You don’t want to obstruct your view of the opponent;
  • Keep your head up. Avoid burying your head in your fists as you’ll be unable to see and/or block, if your opponent decides to throw a kick or some other technique at you;
  • If you’re going to perform kicks, be reasonable and keep them at waist-height or lower. High kicks may result in a loss of balance; and
  • Don’t overreach! You should be able to know the distance of your reach. If your opponent is outside of your reach, the proper recourse is to step in BEFORE punching, not try to overreach.

You can get into the proper mindset on all of those with one simple method: drills! Drills, drills, drills! Keep practicing and build that muscle memory. If you develop safe habits and techniques in training, you’ll have a much better chance of doing the same in the streets if you find yourself in a fight situation. ☯

Don’t Let The Mud Drag You Down…

There’s an unfortunate side-effect that comes with having Type-1 Diabetes that people often ignore or fail to recognize. For the most part, it isn’t their fault. After all, Diabetes involves so many side effects and necessary treatments for various aspects that we often tend to ignore the symptoms that aren’t detrimental. What I mean is a significant and noticeable lack of personal energy. It’s a common side-effect of someone with Diabetes but in reality, it can affect absolutely anybody.

In my teens and through the majority of my twenties, I had significant difficulty finding my “get up and go.” A lot of that had to do with improperly balance blood sugars as a result of poor insulin dosing and a diet that DIDN’T involve the calculation of carbohydrates (my family basically thought that “no sugar” was all the diet I needed). But I would often have to melt out of my bed, stagger to the washroom and physically struggle to eat, get dressed and get out the door. To say that I was thankful to have no responsibilities beyond sitting in class and listening to teachers was an understatement.

I’ve had incidents where I’ve faltered or fallen asleep in class, often because my blood sugars were too high or too low. I would usually be okay by the time classes let out, which was definitely a good thing since Sensei wouldn’t have taken that grogginess with stoic silence. He’d have punched and kicked the grogginess right out of me. But there were nights where even karate class saw me feel as though lifting my limbs was like lifting blocks of concrete and I didn’t feel as though I had the energy to put forth my best effort.

This kind of effect isn’t simply limited to someone with Diabetes, and there’s a lot you can do to reduce/eliminate that “checked out” feeling one often gets on those days where the energy to get shit done just doesn’t seem to be there. One good example I like to use when it comes to this, is how a person starts their day. I usually make a point to wake up roughly two hours before my scheduled work time. If I use a specific morning last week as an example, I awoke about five minutes before my alarm went off. Annoying, but decent.

I started by putting away all the dried dishes I had done the night before, took my prescribed medications and began sucking back some caffeine and made Nathan’s lunch for school. This was followed by preparing a work lunch for myself, getting cleaned up and dressed and getting all the trash receptacles in house emptied as it was trash day. I got dressed, brushed my teeth and stepped out to put the trash bin to the curb. I finished with ten minutes of relaxation, sitting in the living room as my infant son Alex, climbed around my legs to get some much-needed attention before I left.

I walked out the door feeling pretty good. Blood sugars were normal and my day had begun. I know some folks who get up a couple of hours before work, but basically sit like a lump until they almost literally have to step out the door. What’s the point? May as well get some extra sleep, if that’s all you’re gonna do! But my point is how you start your day sets the standard for how the remainder will go. If you start your day on a negative kick with no “get up and go,” it’s almost a certainty that you’ll like feel stagnant throughout the day. If you hit the ground running, well… An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

What people need to understand is that the energy is already there. But it’s how you promote it and use it, that makes the difference. You don’t need to be an all-star athlete in top shape in order to feel energized throughout the day. You just need to be smart about it. Light knows, I have my days where I have to hammer through the sluggishness to make it back to the pillow at night. But it’s important to remember that even the most powerful 4×4 truck will still struggle and spin its wheels, when trying to get out of the mud.

Energy creates life. Life promotes movement. Movement promotes energy. And on, and on, and on… If you get you and get moving, your energy will be better allocated and you’ll feel better. You may have to struggle through that first little bit, but it’ll happen. If you settle in like a rock, you don’t get that promoting of one’s energy that’s so critical to a healthy and energized day. So when the alarm goes off, first thing in the morning, start by getting up immediately. Avoid the temptation to hit the snooze button and stay curled up. Hit the ground running. You always be tired at the end of the day but then again, that’s when you’re SUPPOSED to be tired. And as I always say, balanced blood sugars and regular exercise are always a great help. ☯