No Pain, No Gain! Some Pain, Though…

Everyone wants to seem like they’re tough. Most training regiments encourage the aspect of “push through the pain” and many will follow this credo a little too literally. Almost to the point where some people will cause serious injury or even aggravate existing ones in order to continue training.

The most common injury that we deal with in the martial arts (besides the occasional bloody nose or bruise) is pulled muscles (sometimes referred to as a “strained muscle”). This is what happens when any given muscle is overused, overstretched or torn. For the most part, these injuries are minor and will subside after a few days, provided the practitioner takes appropriate steps to help the injury heal. In some extreme cases however, the injury can become aggravated and require medical attention.

According to a post published by Harvard Health Publishing, doctors often classify pulled muscles under three categories:

  • Grade I Strain: In this mild strain, only a few muscle fibres are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength;
  • Grade II Strain: This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibres and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise;
  • Grade III Strain: This strain tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes causing a “pop” sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or shears away from its tendon. Grade III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discolouration. Because Grade III strains usually cause a sharp break in the normal outline of the muscle, there may be an obvious “dent” or “gap” under the skin where the ripped pieces of muscle have come apart.

Pretty gross, right? I’ll admit to having dealt with Grade I and II strains, but I’ve never had a Grade III. The article goes on to explain that if you are suffering from a Grade I or Grade II strain, you should follow the RICE acronym:

  • Rest the injured muscle (and take a temporary break from sports activities);
  • Ice the injured area to reduce swelling;
  • Compress the muscle with an elastic bandage;
  • Elevate the injured area.

Some further recommendations may include taking some over-the-counter pain medications such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. Here’s the article if you want to read the whole thing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/muscle-strain-a-to-z

Although the RICE acronym is accurate, there are a few points to bear in mind. First, although it is important to rest the injured muscle, you have to be cautious not to rest it for TOO long. Otherwise, it’ll heal up stiff and with reduced flexibility and movement. Light, mild stretches should be done as soon as the pain subsides in order to ensure the continued full use of the muscle. Icing to reduce swelling is important, but the average medical practitioner recommends icing for no longer than fifteen minutes at a time to prevent tissue damage.

Another detail that many people tend to forget about is that swelling is not only a normal part of a pulled muscle, but a necessary one. So while it’s okay to help REDUCE swelling, trying to eliminate it isn’t recommended. The big takeaway, and the hardest one for us old school martial artists, is to rest up and give the muscle time to heal. you aren’t doing yourself any favours by pushing the injury and aggravating it.

There’s plenty you can do to prevent pulled muscles. Start by ensuring you take the time to stretch and warm up properly prior to any workout. Increase the intensity of your workouts gradually and try not to stay static in the same position for prolonged periods of time. This tends to reduce flexibility and proper blood circulation, all of which can contribute to possible muscle strains. Think about times where you’ve worked at a desk for eight hours at a time; you should be getting up and stretching at least once every hour.

If anything unusual is noticed about the pulled muscled, be sure to seek treatment from your medical practitioner. And by “unusual”, I mean things like severe bruising, numbness, a “pop” sound at the time of the incident, complete loss of use of the affected muscle group or even if your symptoms don’t clear up after a few weeks.

Although it depends on how severe your pulled muscle may be, you might be able to return to full use after a few weeks at minimum, provided you take care of it. Severe strains may require months to heal and possibly even surgery.

Being “tough” and pushing through it definitely isn’t worth the potential possibility of aggravating an injury to the point where you’d require surgery. There’s no shame in taking a break and letting an injury heal. Your body will thank you for it. And depending on what sport you’re training at, there’s nothing saying you can’t continue a light training regiment, taking close care of the pulled muscle. ☯

Stuck In The Middle With You…🎶

I have to be honest with you: One of the things that drives me absolutely bat-shit crazy during a sparring match is one of these fools who “bob and weave,” constantly. Although this may be a short post, it covers something very important in the martial arts.

The human body has a centre of gravity. That is to say, a specific line that runs down your body into the ground that signifies where gravity has the greatest pull on you. No matter what technique or form you happen to be performing, it’s important that you keep this invisible line sitting right between your feet.

There shouldn’t be a whole lot of rocking back and forth, and your head should always stay positioned above your feet. This ensure that your centre of gravity is, well… centered! I know some mainstream martial arts styles have some very colourful flying kicks and techniques that contort the body and have the practitioner bending and leaning, but the reality is that one needs to maintain a proper fighting stance, with their feet well positioned beneath them.

If you punch or kick, don’t overreach. If you’re blocking, let the attack come to you. If you’re doing calisthenics, keep your head positioned straight up and between your two feet. your centre of gravity should always be well-balanced. If you lean of put off your centre of balance, you risk being pulled off balance or caught off guard. ☯

Learn To Count Past Twenty-Five!

Humans are creatures of habit. I’ve written about this before, and it’s no less true than it was when I wrote specific posts about it. And despite this truth, habits can often have a nasty HABIT (see what I did, there?) of leaving us in a slump.

Take your fitness as a prime example. Remember a time when you found a workout that suited you. Maybe it was the style of workout. Maybe it was the specific exercises involved or the amount of sets or reps that were included. Maybe you started jogging or cycling the same route, day after day. No matter the reason, you enjoyed this workout and started doing it regularly.

The problem with this type of habit is that it can lead you into a slump. I know someone who always used to warm up with the same number of push-ups. Every workout, the exact same number of push-ups… His claim was that always doing the same number of any exercise allowed him to know his body well enough to realize if something was wrong, if a muscle was pulled or something in his body wasn’t quite right, he could compare it to the last time he did that specific number of push-ups. Although this sounds like a good theory, it is inherently flawed. You can’t grow and progress without pushing yourself beyond the limits you’ve imposed on yourself.

Imagine that every morning you wake up, have your coffee then head downstairs to your workout area to get a sweat on. You grab some 25-pound weights and do bicep curls for 3 sets of 20 reps. You do this same routine, every morning. Maybe you get a light sheen of sweat on your brow, maybe you don’t. The problem with this sort of a routine is that it doesn’t have the results that weight exercises SHOULD have.

When you weight lift, it causes microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. These tears cause the healing process of your body and encourages your body to develop to prevent that same damage in future workouts. This means that once you’ve gained everything you can out of those 3 sets of 20 reps, you either need to increase your weights, increase your sets or reps or start doing something different.

Routines can be a good thing. They’re constructive and can help you in many ways. Habits, however, are a different story and are what can cause a slump.

Don’t be afraid to change it up. If you’re a weightlifter, go take a bike ride. If you’re a marathon runner, do some light weights. One of the most difficult aspects of challenging yourself is being able to step outside of your comfort zone and do something different. ☯

Why Are You Hitting Yourself???

I’ve occasionally written some posts that have elicited some pretty “strong” responses from people. Especially within certain sports and martial arts circles, some old school practitioners aren’t always game to hear about things they don’t want to change.

That being said, I want to discuss a particular bad habit that some modern martial arts practitioners have adopted in the past two decades: holding one’s hands on front of one’s face.

There is a significant difference between boxing and the martial arts. Boxers train for hours on end to endure repeated hits to the face and body, all while delivering them to their opponent as well. It is a sport. Mixed Martial Arts, or “mixed up” martial arts as some associates of mine have called it, have included these aspects into their fights as well. Although not boxing specifically (I’m guessing this is where the “mixed” part comes in), MMA includes many of the characteristics of boxing.

Boxers and some MMA fighters tend to square off by keeping their hands close to the sides of their faces. This is intended as a means of guarding the face and making it easy to block incoming strikes to the head and the deep bend of the elbows helps to block shots to the body. Unfortunately, to the traditional martial artist, this is a HORRIBLE way to face an opponent.

The big problem with this type of “face guarding” is that it has a tendency of blocking part of your field of vision. You’re effectively preventing yourself from seeing all around you. The other big downside is that you’re leaving your hands very close to your face, which can lead to an unintentional game of “why are you hitting yourself.” Especially when your opponent crushed your own fists and forearms against your face because you didn’t see their attacks coming due to the decreased field of vision. From your hands. Because of your shitty fighting posture.

When squaring off in a proper fighting stance, one needs to stand comfortably with the feet equidistant apart. the hands should be closed into fists and the arms should have a slight bend and at chin level. The hands will be well away from the face in front of the body. This allows a full field of vision around your immediate area and also allows you to respond and block much quicker than if your hands are right in front of your face.

Obviously, this information is based on opinion and the techniques used by my specific style of karate. I’m certain that some of my counterparts would have some “corrections” or style-specific differences. The takeaway here is that when practicing, you must train yourself to keep your hands at a relaxed posture, away from you face. this allows for the best field of view and best ability to properly execute blocks in a real fight situation. Although the normal human reflex is to cover up when someone is throwing punches, overcoming that fear and being able to trust your hands will help ensure you prevent getting smacked in the face. ☯

Even If You’re Hard-Headed…

I wrote a post a few days ago about the reality of fighting in the street versus how they happen to be portrayed on film or even in the context of a class or gym. Following that, I had some people ask for clarification regarding the comment I made about how getting struck in the head is likely to put you down.

Just to be clear, I’m not a medical practitioner. I’ve mentioned that a number of times, but you’d be surprised how often people tend to call me on the information I share, despite making it clear from the get-go that I’m not a freakin’ doctor! So keep this in mind as you read the information I’m about to share…

First of all, if you get punched or kicked in the head by another person, it causes your brain to bounce around. Seriously! Although it isn’t all that cartoony, it will suffer some movement. And because there isn’t a great deal of space in the brain pan, the brain will likely bounce and rebound once or twice.

Unlike the romanticized image that Hollywood has created, no one has the genuine ability to receive multiple blows to the head and keep on fighting with little more than a split lip or bloody nose. Even after only one punch, the receiving person is likely to experience dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness. This is one of the reasons why real fights barely last a minute.

That’s at the low end of the spectrum. On a more serious level, getting struck in the head, even once, can result in skull fractures, concussions and damage to the brain stem.

According to an article posted by Queensland Health, a person with a concussion may or may not have lost consciousness. They may suffer from headaches, memory loss, nausea, dizziness and ringing in the ears. Since many of those symptoms can also occur WITHOUT a concussion, it’s important to get yourself checked by a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms after being struck.

The article also goes on to describe other conditions such as damage to the brain stem, brain hemorrhage or hematoma and swelling of the brain. The article can be read here: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-alerts/news/one-punch-medical-effects-can-kill

And yes, one of the myths that has at least touch of truth to it includes the fact that a person CAN actually die from one strike to the head. Ultimately, the martial artist and Buddhist in me feels compelled to say that one should avoid physical confrontations at all costs. But should it happen and you get struck in the head, the next step (once you’ve explained your actions to law enforcement) should be to consult a doctor. ☯

If You Get Punched In The Face, Your Stunt Double Will Likely Laugh At You

Everyone loves a good action movie. Especially an inspirational one. A perfect example of this is my favourite series of movies, Rocky… Although not all the sequels have received the same level of acclaim, I can watch the entire batch of 8 movies over and over and enjoy them as much as I did the first time I saw them (8 movies includes the newer Creed movies, just to be clear).

The first movie sends an important inspirational message; the unknown amateur boxer who trains as though his life depends on it and is given the chance of his career. Although he loses in that first movie, the moral victory sends chills down my spine (if you haven’t seen the original Rocky, I apologize for the spoilers. But the movie came out in 1976, people! You should probably get on that!)

But how much of what we see in movies is genuine and can have real-life applications? Obviously, I’m talking from a combat or fighting standpoint.

Hollywood, and mainstream sports such as boxing and MMA have romanticized the notion of duking it out, round after round, for long periods of time. Even within the martial arts, we train for hours on specific techniques, but these aren’t practical applications as they would happen in a real fight. We simply do this to engrain the technique and commit it to memory so that we can call upon muscle memory when needed.

The reality is that there is no such thing as a real fight where the protagonist and the antagonist square of and circle each other while dialoguing for several minutes before getting into an exchange that includes spinning kicks and multiple blows to the head where each combatant continues to fight it out, unfazed. All the while with a wicked soundtrack by Two Steps From Hell playing in the background…

The average street fight will last less than a minute. This includes both combatants squaring off, taking their stance and exchanging no more than three or four strikes each. This is all the time that’s necessary for one and/or both combatant to fall to the ground and keep pummelling each other until exhausted. And the reality is that if someone even matching your weight gives you a full contact punch to the head, you’re likely going down. Getting punched in the head causes the brain to impact with the wall of the skull and can cause dizziness, confusion, loss of balance and potential loss of consciousness.

In fact, in an article written in HighPercentageMartialArts.com by Louis Martin, he explains that fights “happened most often within thirty seconds” and that “after thirty seconds, the chances of a knockout or TKO dropped sharply.”

Martin goes on to explain what I described above: “Men usually charge at each other with power punches, fall to the ground, and continue punching until they get tired or knock each other out.” His article actually contains a number of interesting statistics and information regarding 200 street fights he observed to accumulate this information. (https://www.highpercentagemartialarts.com/blog/2019/3/6/how-long-do-street-fights-actually-last-and-what-can-we-learn-from-that)

Sports combatants train to build their endurance to surreal levels because they are required to last as long as possible in the ring. Martial artists will spend hours honing their skills on specific techniques so that they’ll execute them using muscle memory when the need for defence arises. But once it comes to a no holds barred ACTUAL fight against the guy who cut in line while you were waiting for your maple scone at the local coffee shop, you’re looking at about a minute at most, as far as the actual fighting goes.

So keep practicing those specific techniques. It’s important to get them down pat before trying to use them. But understand that if you get into an actual fight you’ll get two, maybe three, punches or kicks against your opponent before the outcome is decided. And in the real world, there usually are no actual winners in any fight. ☯

To Chi Or Not To Chi, That Is The Question…

What is chi? It’s a term often associated with the martial arts and usually referenced as something mystical in popular cinema. Chi or Qi, depending on your source, is defined as a pseudoscientific , unverified concept that is believed to be the underlying “life force” or energy that sustains life (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qi).

In the Japanese martial arts, this is referred to as the Hara. More specifically, we tend to centralize this to the stomach area, although it doesn’t refer to the organ itself. But it is considered the energy field of the body that sustains us (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hara_(tanden))

I’ll admit that I’m a weird mish-mash of traditional and modern beliefs. Although I don’t believe we encapsulate an unseen, unproven energy field that sustains us and makes us stronger in the martial arts (if we can tap into it), there’s no denying that from a purely scientific perspective, we have to concede that we are primarily composed of energy.

This energy is based on the atoms that constitute us, and in no way forms some unseen energy that allows us to pulverize bricks or knock people over without touching them.

I’ve written a few times on the fact that living things tend to move, and movement creates energy. This energy is required to maintain life. One needs to wonder what the possible connections may be, between the scientific energy that we know to exist or the pseudoscientific energy that’s been discussed and studied for over 2,000 years. ☯