Fake It ‘Til You Make It…

Something that drives me absolutely batty is when I see folks intentionally going out of their way to prove martial arts as something fake. It’s one thing if someone takes steps to expose someone they know for a fact is teaching a fake form of martial arts, but I’m referring to those who simply have a blanket belief that ALL martial arts are fake. As someone who has spent over three quarters of his life studying traditional martial arts, I can promise you that genuine fighting arts, such as they are, are anything but fake.

Unfortunately, movies and television make a pretty good attempt at portraying martial arts as something mystical and almost ethereal. But the true reality of martial arts, if it’s a genuine style, is that it requires a shit ton of hard work and dedication to hone one’s skills in this respect. I found myself falling down the YouTube rabbit hole last week, and ended up watching a bunch of videos where “fake” martial arts were being exposed.

Some of the stuff those videos showed was beyond borderline ridiculous, if I do say so myself. With this thought in mind and with all due respect to the hundreds of YouTube videos exposing fake martial arts, here is my top 6 list of things that the martial arts does NOT do:

  1. We’re not undefeatable: Masterhood is something that should happen organically. A student should never get into the martial arts with the thought of “I’m gonna be a master” in their heads. Although I’ve often said that no reason is inherently bad, there are some obvious exceptions. But no matter how long you trained and developed yourself, there will always be someone stronger and better skilled than you. Even though I’ve had the benefit of being the victor in the fights that mattered, there are some that I’ve lost. Martial arts does not make you invulnerable;
  2. We don’t keep secrets: The true goal of every traditional martial artist is to develop a student who will pass on the teaching in order to guarantee the continuation of the style. The concept of a master holding back a “secret technique” so that they can win any fight. Once we take on a pupil, we teach them everything there is to our style, albeit in due time. Advanced techniques obviously aren’t shared with someone who JUST started. The material is doled out according to experience level and skill. But we don’t hold anything back. Our systems wouldn’t survive if we did;
  3. We can’t move or affect people/objects without touching them: Some of my favourite videos are the ones where you see some fuckin’ idiot holding a hand out to someone charging at them, only to have the charging pupil pass out or fall over from an “unseen force” or energy that the “master”is projecting. This is, without exception, only effective against the master’s own students and never works in a real environment. Because it’s fake;
  4. There’s nothing “mystical” behind what we do: Martial arts isn’t some magical or mystical thing that originated from a spiritual source. Not to be mistaken with the fact that some us are “spiritual,” but martial arts is based strictly on how the human body moves, responds and functions. That’s it. Strikes, blocks and movements are all based on how the human body allows them. Even the styles that profess their origins from animal movements are still using natural movements of the body. There’s very little more natural or instinctive than a punch or a kick. We’ve been doing that for as long as we’ve existed;
  5. We don’t feel the need to compete: With the exception of a couple of times where I’ve demonstrated forms, I have never participated in tournaments. The need to pit myself against another person or style has never been necessary, nor do I want to. trust me, when I say that my martial skills have been proven in the line of duty on more than one occasion;
  6. We don’t hide our history: If the instructor or “master” you speak to can’t answer some basic questions about the style, where he was certified or who he’s trained with, he or she is likely a sham. I was trained by Guy-Sensei in New Brunswick. He was trained by Nakama-Sensei in Okinawa who was trained by Uechi-Sensei. I’m third generation, directly under the style’s Grandmaster. I obtained my black belt in 2002 in Dalhousie, New Brunswick after training in Okinawa during the previous year. I can explain the lineage and creation of my style with ease, and any true martial artists should be able to do the same (beginner’s being the exception).

There are a number of fakes out there, as with any sport or industry. Even though it can easy to watch all the uploaded videos and assume that martial arts are fake or ineffective, the important takeaway is that even someone who has spend decades training in a style can still be defeated on camera by someone else. This doesn’t mean that martial arts are fake; it simply means that you need to keep a keen eye open for some of the things I’ve pointed out.

Otherwise, recognize and acknowledge that like boxing and MMA, someone who has trained for long years in martial arts of any style and has put in the effort will undoubtedly have the skill and capability to defend themselves and others. So maybe it isn’t a fight you wanna pick. Granted, the YouTube videos are definitely good for a laugh. Some people will do anything for a buck… ☯

Best Of The Best

Listen, anyone who reads my blog regularly, knows that I’m not here to endorse any specific source or product. But once in a while, I feel it necessary to speak about particular books or films that have had an impact on my life, training or beliefs. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to re-watch a movie from my youth that had a definite impact on my choices regarding the martial arts. I’m talking a little movie called Best Of The Best…

Released in 1989, the movie follows the journey of five American fighters who are chosen to be part of an American Karate Team intent on competing against five fighters from the Korean team… In Korea! The team couldn’t be any different from each other, with a traditional Korean Tae Kwon Do champion, a dedicated karate practitioner who has a young son (sound familiar?), a chubby, hillbilly asshole who challenges everyone’s patience and even includes a caucasian Buddhist to add some flavour to the group.

I tried to find a promotional poster to share with the post, but there was nothing that was free or wouldn’t have cost me a ridiculous amount just to share, so I’ll satisfy myself with sharing the movie’s IMDB link here. IMDB is a phenomal tool for reading about a movie, but if you have Canadian Netflix, it’s on there right now and you should stop what you’re doing and watch the movie immediately! Starring Eric Roberts and Philip Rhee, the movie includes many aspects that I can relate to (minus competing, of course) in relation to my own martial arts journey.

This’ll be a short post, especially since I don’t want to provide any spoilers. But if you want a decent, realistic martial arts movie, Best of the Best is definitely the movie for you. It can feel like a bit of a slow burn at times, but the story is solid, the training is realistic and factual and the message is timeless. I’ve seen this movie almost a dozen times, and I never hesitate to sit through it when I see it cross my path. If you want a story of true martial arts prowess and dignity, pop a bag of Orville’s best and fire up your Netflix and watch Best Of The Best. If you love martial arts, you won’t be disappointed. ☯

Nobody Ever Wins A Fight

Fighting is an unglamorous thing. Although it looks real neat and epic on the big screen; two trained fighters squaring off, monologuing to each other then beating the living crap out of each other for almost half an hour before one of them finally succumbs to that one punch or kick that puts them down… What bullshit! I can promise you that a real fight is normally nothing like that. Even “professional” fighters train for hours and hours for a scheduled match and even they usually deal with heavy exhaustion by the end of it.

“Nobody Ever Wins A Fight…”

– John Dalton (Patrick Swayze), Road House, 1989

I’ve been training in the martial arts for over thirty years now, and I’ve run out of fingers on which to count the number of fights I’ve been involved in. To be clear, I refer to the fights that were in the line of duty or in the defence of myself or another person, not sparring matches or in karate class. None of them have been by choice, and the few of them that were a “choice” were not mine to make. But since I’m sitting here writing this, they were obviously mine to finish.

As time and the years have elapsed, I’ve taken stock of the old adage that a true martial artists trains to fight so that he or she will never have to. I can say with firm honesty that I have never been the one to start any fight I’ve been involved in. The choice to take violent action has always been made by my opponents, although they’ve always regretted it, soon after. I’m sure that sounds like bragging, but rest assured that I say it only because it illustrates an important point: every fight MUST have a victor and a loser. Any true battle that is seen to its conclusion can only be as such.

So, which one will you be? I’ve read that you win every battle you never fight. That may be true. It’s kind of hard to lose if you don’t fight to start with. But it all depends on one’s reasons. I’ve lived with the belief that violence is never a reason. You should never seek out violence or to do harm to others. That being said, it would be a great dishonour to sit back and allow events to unfold if violence is visited upon your family and loved ones. At this point, learning to fight so that you’ll never have to is no longer a choice. Someone else has already made the decision and has dragged you into the consequences.

I’ve never stepped onto a sparring competition mat. Ever. The concept of fighting for a plastic trophy has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. My Sensei never believed in it, either. He always said that if I chose to participate in tournaments that he only had two conditions: never to ask him to train me for it, and to make damn good and sure that I won. And in truth, I’ve participated in forms on a couple of occasions when I was invited to attend certain tournaments. And form, or kata if you will, is a beautiful demonstration of the discipline that is learned din the martial arts. But even on those instances, I never demonstrated in a competitive manner.

I believe in peace. I believe in “live and let live.” And so should you. If you choose to fight, you must be certain that your reasons are noble. And worth it. The protection of yourself. The protection of others. To keep your family and loved ones safe. The preservation of peace. Upholding the law. There are some reasons worth fighting for. But even in those circumstances, it should never be your “choice” to fight. But once the choice is made, be certain that you win. Especially if your reasons are noble and honourable. ☯

A Strong As Your Weakest Link

Martial arts requires a lot of things: focus, concentration, dedication and commitment, to name a few. To a true martial artist, practicing any given style usually requires a life-long dedication and is a way of life as opposed to a hobby or a sport. This is why it’s typically referred to as “the way of karate.” Depending on one’s reason for joining martial arts, the sports and fitness aspect can be a good reason; provided you’re willing to include all the aspects I’ve listed above.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of having multiple styles of martial arts, is that everyone thinks that THEIR style is the best. Every person is likely to have a preference. After all, there are nearly 200 different styles of martial arts in existence around the world, including the popular ones that people are familiar with, such as karate and judo. But there are many that are a bit less familiar. No matter the style, the result should be the same: train to fight so that hopefully you never have to.

The truth is that it isn’t so much the style that matters, as much as the effort put in by the practitioner. When I first started out in martial arts, I studied Tae Kwon Do for a number of years before I recognized that it wasn’t for me. This is something that most of my friends and family don’t know. The high-flying kicks and flashy movements did not encompass what I felt MY martial arts needed to be about.

But this doesn’t mean that Tae Kwon Do isn’t an extremely effective form of martial arts. It simply wasn’t effective for me. Trust me, when I say that I’d think twice about exchanging blows with a properly trained Tae Kwon Do practitioner. During basic training, I was thrown into the ring with a Tae Kwon Do black belt. I consider myself to be an adequate fighter, but I got my bell rung several times. A tip of my hat to you, Jesse! I had a headache for days, after that fight.

The same can be said of just about any style of martial arts. Most people would think that Tai Chi is nothing but a style for the elderly, something to get older folks together for something to pass the time with the added benefit of increasing circulation and mobility. But the reality is that Tai Chi (and all its sub-styles) is an incredibly old and effective form of Kung Fu. The question is whether the practitioner chooses to train and study it as an effective form of martial arts or as a passing thing.

The big screen has done a fair bit to create this effect. Old school Kung Fu movies often showed the wise, old master holding back a special or “secret” technique that would allow him to maintain the upper hand in a fight with anyone he came across, including his students. And most martial arts movies will usually depict a student from one style pitted against a student from another, with only one being the victor. But this is hardly the reality of how things are actually done. My Sensei never held back any “secret” techniques and always shared everything he learned. This is genuinely the only way that a style would ever be successfully passed on.

Martial arts only gives out as much as a student puts in. If you don’t show up and don’t put the time and effort in, you won’t get much back as a result. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can confirm that there have been times that I judged other styles of karate against my own. That’s simply human nature. One will always believe that their way is best. But it isn’t so much the way you choose as it is the path you take while studying the way. ☯

What’s Your Dollar Worth?

Despite the downward spiral that my fitness routine has taken in recent months, I’m a big fan of staying healthy. All the time and effort seems well beyond worth it, when I get the opportunity to visit with my endocrinologist and he tells me that I have the heart of a horse and all my systems are functioning ALMOST as well as someone who doesn’t have Type-1 Diabetes. This was further confirmed last week, when a visit with my ophthalmologist confirmed no presence of macular edema in my eyes, the first time in over five years.

Now that I’m done bragging about how I AM ALL THAT IS DIABETES!!!! I can get to the point of today’s post. Something I’m not a big fan of, is crowds. I prefer to train in private or in the company of my family or like-minded martial arts individuals. This doesn’t mean I won’t train with anyone who wants to learn or get in shape, but I’m not a big fan of working out in public gyms. There are a few personal reasons behind this, but there are some definite pros and cons behind getting a gym membership and working out in the public eye.

I try not to be cynical about things that can be of definite benefit to someone’s overall health, so I’m going to share my top five pros and top five cons when it comes to joining a gym and working out in public. This isn’t sourced from anywhere, it’s all me. Here we go:

PROS:

  1. They have equipment you can’t afford: I’ll be honest, paying for fitness equipment is killer. Most retail and fitness equipment outlets charge more than a dollar per pound for dumbbells, which means you’ll be hitting the 100-dollar mark for a pair of decent 45-pound hex dumbbells. The cheapest treadmill I’ve been able to find online (that isn’t second hand) came in at just over $500 dollars. Working out with a variety of different equipment can be costly. Working out at a gym can circumvent the need to buy everything you need;
  2. They’ll have resources: Most gyms offer personal coaching, group workouts as well as access to things like yoga and Zumba classes. It’s a great place to meet like-minded people; not the weirdos who are all muscle and no brains that monopolize workout stations, but people who are genuinely interested in getting in shape and working on their personal fitness;
  3. It’s convenient for the working population: You can take advantage of lunchtime workouts, get to the gym right after work or even before you start work. Since most membership-based gyms offer shower service, you can be cleaned up and on your way to the office before start of shift;
  4. It’s great for motivation: There’s no denying that humans are pack animals. There’s a reason why we gather in towns and cities. Fitness and working out is no different. Trying to get in shape can be easier if you try to do it around other’s who have the same goal in mind;
  5. It gets you out of the house: I enjoy working out in my basement, garage and back yard. But once in a while, quarantine measures be damned, you need to get out of the house. A gym membership can be a good way to get out of the house a few times a week, even if it only means a simple travel from “A” to “B”.

CONS:

  1. Memberships are expensive as shit: Honestly, a year’s worth of gym membership could effectively pay for that $500 treadmill I mentioned in the PROS list. And don’t even get me started on these fuckin’ gyms that are so high and mighty that they make you sign a “contract” that makes it almost impossible to quit once you’ve joined. I’ve had gym managers I had to verbally fight with, just to cancel a membership so that I could transfer with my job;
  2. They smell like a warm bucket of hamster vomit: Not all gyms are created equal. As much as the Rocky franchise romanticized the concept of gyms that smell like blood, sweat and puke, no one wants to be in a bacteria-infested environment that smells like the backside of a dead calf. Especially if you’re breathing hard during some extreme cardio or trying to use some equipment that the last douchebag forgot to wipe down;
  3. You may be forced to deal with haters: In my opinion, a gym should be a haven of fitness for anyone who wants to work on themselves and improve their lives, either physically or mentally. But there is an unfortunate small group of people who go to the gym and belittle people who are trying, making fun of them and making them feel worse about themselves. It can make working out difficult;
  4. You sometimes have to wait: The one, nice thing about working out from home is that you don’t have to wait to use whatever you have available. Even if gyms have a ton of equipment you either don’t have or can’t afford, you may find yourself in a position where you have to wait in line for someone else who may be using the particular piece of equipment you need;
  5. You gotta leave the house: Go figure, I’ll share point #5 with both lists. I’m weird, that way. And a bunch of other ways, but honestly I LOVE working out at home. I prefer it, in fact. But that’s just me. It’s always a good idea to get out of the house once in a while. But honestly, I like the practicality of having my wife and children nearby, access to my own shower and snacks, drinks and all the other stuff.

At the end of the day, I’ve worked out in public gyms AND I’ve found ways to work out at home. My personal preference is to work out at home. If I had to weigh out the pros and cons, cost ends up being the big deterrent. I’d love to keep a membership and enjoy all the benefits of working out at a gym. It would be incredibly fun to bring my wife and have her enjoy those benefits as well. But considering there are dozens of “body-weight only” workouts that one can do from home, it’s hard to justify the cost.

The rest of the PROS and CONS can sort of cancel each other out. But it’s a matter of preference. My best advice would be to give it a try. But be sure to protect yourself and join that gym that doesn’t require a contract membership and that you can leave with only a month’s notice. That’s usually pretty reasonable. You should be able to let them know within the month if you plan on quitting. But with the reasonably balanced amount of good and bad, you really can’t tell if a public gym is for you less you try it. ☯

Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Dojo?

Most people have been adversely affected by COVID-19 over the past six to eight months. Either their finances or their jobs have been affected, people unable to pay their mortgages or rental fees, not to mention the poor souls who have contracted the virus and those who have unfortunately succumbed to it. Some areas of Canada have been doing fine, with the virus practically non-existent. Other areas haven’t been so lucky (like Ontario and Quebec).

But some of the smaller things can have a big impact on a person’s day-to-day life as well. For myself, one of the biggest losses I’ve suffered throughout the pandemic is the closing of the karate school I frequent. Although fortunate and grateful that my job, finances and home have not been affected and that no one in my family has contracted COVID-19, Tuesdays and Thursdays bring about a reminder that not only do I no longer have a dojo to train in, but the world is a long way from returning to normal.

Riding on the coat tails of yesterday’s post, the colder weather has had a profound effect on my level of motivation. Every joint in my body has started to ache every morning, thanks to 32 years of intensive training that’s caused wear and tear on almost everything. My feet are cold due to lack of circulation, thanks to Type-1 Diabetes. My sleep has always been horrible, but it’s all the worse now, with the fact that the sun doesn’t rise for almost an hour AFTER my alarm goes off.

All in all, the cold weather and pandemic have had a profound effect on my level of fitness and motivation. It’s already starting to be too cold for extended bicycle rides, even if I could sneak in a short one here and there in the afternoons. And with the renovation of our basement starting in a couple of weeks, we’ve started to move most of our belongings from the basement to the garage, thereby taking away my little “at home dojo” that I recently wrote about. I’ve also started to indulge in morning naps when my 1-year old takes his (my 5-year old is gone to school), which is a terrible habit to get into as my body has come to expect it. It’s gonna suck when I go back to regular work!

Can I train at home? Absolutely. DO I train at home? Most certainly. But there’s a lot to be said for training in the dojo environment. Not only to you get to feed off everyone’s else energy and motivation, thereby increasing your own, there’s a camaraderie that one gets to enjoy that can’t be found elsewhere. Unlike working out in a gym or by yourself, social interaction within the dojo is basically a requirement. Although not impossible, it’s quite difficult to train for an entire class without interacting with at least a few of your classmates.

The selfish side of me is disgruntled at the fact my dojo has remained closed throughout all of this. Considering the dojo runs on the school schedule and schools have let in, and the few students we have ensures a better chance at social distancing and lower percentage of contracting the virus than most classroom settings currently have, in some ways it makes little sense. The sensible side of me understands that a karate school is a far cry from being a “necessary service,” and that it would be an unnecessary risk to allow classes to resume.

There are some sources that have expressed that the world may factually never completely return to normal and that social distancing practices will become the new standard. If this is so, perhaps the dojo will never reopen. That would truly be heart-breaking, as it could mean the severe decline of modern martial arts and the possibilities that some arts may be lost. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I need to find my own motivation and continue to forge ahead, feeling that small twinge of loss every week when Tuesdays and Thursdays roll around. ☯

Cold Thoughts

If there’s one thing that’s usually consistent, it’s the changing of the seasons. Maybe not consistent in the fact that it always starts happening on the exact same date every year, but one could bet good money that autumn will follow summer and winter will follow autumn. So on and so forth. Although most people I know aren’t exactly huge fans of the cold, the seasons bring about the same process where most people complain about the heat in the summer and complain about the cold in the winter.

Personally, I’m a fan of autumn. Not only is the weather cooler so that I’m not sweating bullets when I’m outside, I’m not forced to shovel the copious amounts of snow that drift into my vehicle due to Saskatchewan winds. The autumn also brings a lot of beauty with the changing of the leaves and it almost feels like there’s a change in the atmosphere. Because there is. Even though we’re not in the swing of winter yet and there’s no snow on the ground (at least here in Saskatchewan), the weather has already started to drop and this has some measurable effects on the body and one’s mood.

First thing’s first: let’s dispel the old rumour that the cold weather causes a person’s blood to thicken. Not only is that total bullshit, your blood actually has a better chance of thickening in the hot weather, due to the dehydrating of fluids in the blood. But the colder weather does seem to bring a yearning for curling up and binge-watching a show with various pumpkin spice-flavoured snacks, compulsive napping and most importantly, lack of motivation.

That last one is rather important, especially if you have Type-1 Diabetes. Motivation is a key element in maintaining one’s eating habits, sleeping habits and fitness habits; all of which are affected by colder weather. One of the main conditions that help to make things worse is the fact that the days get shorter and darkness hangs around for longer. This causes change in our moods, appetite and sleep cycles, which brings us to the next problem: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Yes, cold weather can bring on an actual disorder and it can play hell on your system. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can cause lower levels in energy, lack of motivation or mood, difficulties concentrating and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. There are a lot more symptoms, and I’d invite you to click the Mayo Clinic’s link to see them all.

The problem with SAD, especially during the colder seasons (the article does show that there’s a summer version as well) is that it can lead to nasty things like overeating, weight gain, lack of energy and flat out, good old fashioned laziness. As previously mentioned, all of these things are absolutely horrible for people in general, but even more so if you have Diabetes.

Although most health professionals will tell you that you can eat whatever you want so long as you take the appropriate level of insulin for it, that doesn’t protect you form the weight gain you may experience from doing so. If your sleep is affected, your blood sugar levels will be affected. If you have a lack of energy and motivation, the lack of exercise will also adversely affect your blood sugar levels and your overall health.

It can get tough to focus on routine and the status quo, when cold weather kicks in and all a person wants to do is curl up under a warm blanket and binge-watch Star Trek reruns for hours on end. No? Just me? Alrighty, then… But it’s important to maintain proper diet, sleep and exercise, Diabetic or not, in order to maintain one’s health and well-being. Especially since the winter season has the highest percentage of depression of the rest of the year. With the colder weather approaching, self-care and keeping a routine is most important. ☯

Can You Fight With No Hands?

When the average person hears the word “karate,” they picture kicking and punching. This stands to reason, since mainstream cinema has provided that portrayal for decades. But martial arts is so much more than just kicking and punching. There’s an entire way of life behind it; and knowing its proper application is just one piece of the puzzle.

“Before I Learned The Art, A Punch Was Just A Punch, And A Kick, Just A Kick. After I Learned The Art, A Punch Was No Longer A Punch, A Kick, No Longer A Kick. Now That I Understand The Art, A Punch Is Just A Punch, A Kick Is Just A Kick.”

– Bruce Lee

I’ve been doing Okinawan karate for over 32 years, and I’ve learned a great deal. I’m still learning. Despite that fact, my abilities within the art have limitations. Like anything else in life, there are aspects I’m quite good at and some that I’m NOT so good at. One of those aspects happens to be kicking. Kicking is a bit of a strange creature, in my opinion. Although stronger than punching and in some ways more effective, there are inherent risks involved.

My style of karate has taught me never to attempt a kick above the waistline. That may seem pretty restrictive, but why would you risk trying to put your foot that high when you have two very effective arms that can do the damage without compromising yourself. A real fight isn’t like what you see in the movies; opponents don’t spend forty minutes exchanging devastating blows to each other’s bodies and heads with only one winner declared once the penultimate strike is delivered.

In fact, any serious impact to the head will cause dizziness, nausea and disorientation. The recipient will likely be on their ass for a day or more before they’d be ready to do anything more than wipe their own backsides. That’s the difference between what you see in the movies and real life. The human body has backups and defences that prevent sustained battle when you get kicked in the head. But I digress…

A proper fight, even in the street, requires a combination of balance mixed with techniques and attacks that won’t compromise you. Your legs should be squared in such a way to maintain proper balance while allowing fluidity of movement. This is something that can really only be achieved after serious hours of intense training and development. You have multiple striking weapons on your body that allow you to effectively deliver attacks without compromising your balance and stance, including your fists, elbow, knees and forehead (a headbutt is a fantastic thing, but that’s for another post).

People see a lot of fancy, high-flying kicks in colourful styles like Tae Kwon Do. But these kicks are reasonably useless, unless you’re fighting someone who’s willing to sit there and take it. Let’s look at the illustration above. This is a free stock image of a kickboxing match. To the average spectator, this likely looks reasonably impressive. A nice high kick, poised to strike his opponent’s head.

Want to know what I see? I see an exposed groin. I see a lack of proper balance on the red guy’s part, due to the supporting foot being on its fuckin’ tippy-toes. And I see the guy in blue, ready to bob his head down and deliver a nice, devastating blow to the red guys’ groin. Obviously, this is a professional fight and a groin strike wouldn’t be permitted. But I deal with the real world, not organized fights with referees. The blue guy can take his sweet time striking anywhere on the red guy. Or better still, he can simply grab the leg and push back. This will throw the red guy completely to the floor. And as anyone who has watched an MMA match can attest, falling to the ground and having someone else come on top of you is usually the end of the match.

In Okinawan karate, we focus mainly on front kick to the abdomen, roundhouse and blade kick to the legs and knees. We let our hands do the work, if it involves the upper body. There’s just too much risk of injury, in any actual fight. And although I don’t advocate fighting, if you must fight, you must win. Anything else is simply not acceptable. ☯

It’s Okay To Skip A Step…

I hate cardio. This probably comes as a surprise, coming from someone who believes that if you aren’t dripping in sweat when you’re done, it wasn’t a workout. And the truth of it is, I do enjoy cycling. But that’s mostly because it allows me to get outside, reconnect with nature (to a degree) and keeps the cardio aspect buried in the background. The best of both worlds. But to say that I’m heading out for a run or doing cardio for the sake of doing cardio would be a stretch.

Cardiovascular endurance training is important for one’s health. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, cardio exercises help to strengthen your heart and muscles, burn calories, help control your appetite, increases sleep, promotes joint movement and helps to manage Diabetes. Cardio can be a long-term or long-distance thing, like long-distance cycling or swimming 30 laps in a pool, or something incorporated into a weight or resistance workout, such as jumping rope.

Jumping rope is an easy, convenient way of including some light cardio into your workout routine. I’ve kept a jump rope in my gym bag for the past ten years, and I make use of it whenever I get the chance. Jumping rope can burn a wicked amount of calories; several hundred calories in a 15-minute period, in fact. It can help improve overall balance and coordination, not to mention that the heart benefits are the same as with traditional cardio. And although it can be taxing on the knees and leg joints, doing it properly is considered a lower-impact than something like running.

I like to incorporate it by using it with circuit or interval training with karate techniques. For example, I’ll do a minute of front kicks, followed by a minute of high-speed jump rope. Then a minute of the next kick and a minute of high-speed jump rope. So on and so forth. Sometimes I’ll simply use it as a warm-up or a cool down. A good quality jump rope is portable, convenient and low-cost. You can stuff it into any gym back or backpack and all you need is about a 25-foot square of space.

As much as I dislike cardio, it is a necessary aspect to proper health and fitness. And there’s no denying that it also helps with the blood sugar control and sleep quality required for someone with Type-1 Diabetes. If the last time you used a jump rope was during a spirited game of double dutch during your school years, you’ll want to start slow and ensure you do it on a stable surface. Avoid grass or carpet as it can snag the rope or catch against your footwear. ☯

Chishi! Gesundheit!

The martial arts can incorporate some pretty eclectic training techniques that can often appear strange or unusual to those who don’t use them. Often, certain techniques or training tools may remind us of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, teaching Daniel karate by having him perform yard chores. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying to do karate against an opponent simply because you’ve been waxing your car or painting your fence all summer, there are some atypical things that traditional, Okinawan karate styles employ. Enter: the Chishi.

And no, despite my comedic title, it’s not the sound of someone sneezing. The Chishi is an Okinawan training tool used in Hojo Undo, which basically means “supplementary exercises.” It covers strength, stamina, muscle tone and posture by using a specific set of prescribed exercises and some rather arcane looking training tools. In fact, the makiwara, which I’ve written about in a few previous posts, is used in Hojo Undo for conditioning of the wrists and knuckles.

Example of a pair of Chishi

The basic construction of the Chichi consists of a lump of concrete attached to a wooden pole. That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? There’s little more to it, especially if you’re making your own at home. You’ll need to get a few screws or solid nails through the end of the pole that sits in the concrete, to make for a stable setting. These weight clubs are used in Okinawan karate as a means of strengthening the fingers, wrists, hands and arms, as well as the shoulders. If you’d be looking to make your own at home, there are several really good DIY videos on YouTube that show you how.

If you’re like me and you’re a little on the cheap side, you may not want to buy a bag of cement simply to make a couple of these. After all, you can easily train in karate without them, since most modern dojos don’t use them. But if you’re looking to change up your training routine and get back to karate’s roots, a chishi can definitely be the way to go. You can easily recycle old materials (wooden pole, screw or nails) and go easy on the concrete.

The best I’ve found is a 10-pound bucket of “Quikrete” for about 20 dollars, which is a small bucket of quick-drying cement. And since you probably shouldn’t start with anything more than 5 pounds per chishi (since it’s a weighted lever effect, it will feel like more than 5 pounds when using it), this small pail can provide you with exactly what you need to start out. Or you can be a stubborn practitioner and do what I do… Use a fuckin’ sledgehammer!

The ending portion of a chishi exercise

In the photo above, you see me using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a makeshift chishi. The handle of a traditional chishi would usually be shorter than the handle of a sledgehammer, so some adjustment usually needs to be made. But here, you can see me doing an exercise where I’m in a seated horse-stance position, and I’m thrusting the hammer out and bringing it back in towards my chest in repeated succession. The balance of the weight at the very top, combined with the movement of the arms, feels a bit strange at first.

In this next photo, I’m doing an exercise meant to strengthen the forearms and wrists. You can tell I’m getting fatigued at this point, since my horse-stance is starting to rise and the positioning of my right forearm and wrist isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But I can tell you that after repeated reps on each side, 8 pounds starts to feel like 80!

In this last photo, I demonstrate how a sledgehammer can also be used for some more traditional weight lifting exercises, with an added twist. The photo above is the starting position to a dozen squat thrusts, using the sledgehammer as a bar. I drop into a deep squat, followed by pushing the bar out in front of me as though I were doing a chest press, bring the hammer back to my chest and rise to my feet. Not only do I get the benefit of squats, performing a thrust with all the weight on one side and nothing on the other adds a certain amount of muscle confusion, which is great for working the core and some of the stabilizing muscles we often neglect.

This isn’t something that’s all too easy to purchase. For the most part, most practitioners make their own or use a substitute, like I do. Plus I get to feel a little like Chris Hemsworth, holding that hammer. But the best I’ve managed to find online are some shitty-looking units on Amazon or from the UK that range anywhere between $20 to 30$ (before shipping and all that good stuff). I’m certain there’s more out there, I just haven’t dug too deeply. Since that small, 10-pound pail of Quikrete I mentioned earlier costs about $20, you may consider it easier to simply order one online. To each their own.

There are all sorts of stabilizing and weightlifting exercises that you can do with a chishi. It allows you to incorporate whatever’s needed during your workout with a traditional feel, while remaining true to the roots of your art, presuming your art is Okinawan karate! But even if it isn’t, any practitioner can benefit from the exercise one can do with a chishi. Since you’re dealing with a heavy, concrete weight levered at the end of a stick, you just want to be mindful that you don’t bash your head in or drop it on any of your limbs. And as usual, consult your medical practitioner or at least an experienced Sensei before starting any new training regimen. ☯