Martial Arts, One Language, Many Dialects…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood, Sweat & Tears…

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

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

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

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

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

Regina Institute of Kempo Karate

For almost three years now, I have had the honour and pleasure of training at the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate. Although not directly related to my own style of Uechi Ryu Okinawa Karate, Kempo provide many similarities and techniques that relate to my own style.

Tonight (March 7th), I had the opportunity to sit with Master Greg Harding, Head Instructor for RIOKK (Regina Institute of Kempo Karate). He was willing to answer a few questions after one of his evening classes. Here’s what he had to say:

ME: Alright, I’m here with Master Greg Harding, Head Instructor for the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate. Master Harding, thank you.

Master Harding: Hey Shawn, a pleasure.

ME: Umm, I guess the first and most basic question would be, how long have you been studying the martial arts?

MH: I started various martial arts before I got into Kempo and that would have been when I was a young tyke. First experience I would have had was with Judo, I would have been about nine. And then, my parents allowed me to… in our community, it was kind of, everything went through the YMCA. So, it was Judo at the “Y” and then the next year I was allowed to take karate with the Judo. And then, umm, my dad had a friend who was doing boxing out of a small gym in Regina, here, and my dad got me into that, which was kind of a nice thing for me. So, that would be my earliest experience. When I was, uhh… before I hit high school, I was not a teenager, that was when I got into Kempo. And at that time, the person I trained with, Dwight, he was doing Kempo and Kali and so I literally started with Kempo and Kali at the same time. And that would be, well… let’s just put it this way, I’m pretty old now so that’s about forty-some years ago… about forty, I’m gonna say forty-two… forty… coming on forty-three years!

ME: So, how many of those years have you spent teaching?

MH: Umm, I was… when I was… when Dwight still ran the school, I was assisting him with instruction, running classes at that point. We would have been in the 80’s, and what are we now, 2019 now? So, about in ’83 on, I’m guessing ’84, so somewhere in there. So, a few years now. But, I’d like to think that even though there’s been times that I’ve been instructing the class, it’s always been the fact that I’ve had more to learn than to ever teach (laughs).

ME: So, what can you tell us about Kempo? Where does it get its roots from?

MH: Well, many different branches of Kempo… the branch that we have, and almost all and anyone in the same family… we have strong correlation with any group that connected out of Hawaii. In umm, pretty much after World War II into about the 1960’s, early 70’s time period, whether it’s Canada or the US, even into parts of Europe, if one of the instructors had come through that Hawaiian group. And that would be with Mitose and Chow. Prior to them, early in their career there was guys like Mitobe. Umm, interestingly enough, at that time period, there was also a lot of Philipine people were actually there in Hawaii because they were there to like, harvest. They were brought over to work on the fields. And so a lot of them got into training but they also brought with them their family art of variations of Kali. And it’s kind of neat that for me, when I started in Kempo, having the Kali right there. But also, it had been with different generations, if you will, back and forth. And, umm, so there’s historically, one of my hobbies has been to look back and to try to match up with different people in the influence. And there was quite a few visiting people that trained and played with each other that we would trace the influence of the Kali into THAT Kempo family, that we’re part of, way back into that time period. Umm, some pretty interesting people from that time period visited, and went through with the Kempo. But the lineage that would go with that, would be sort of two strands; one would be Chinese lineage that brought it into Hawaii and sort of had a lot of the Shaolin foundation. And then there’s also a lineage, sometimes nicknamed as “Moar” or “Pine tree” that came out of the Okinawan area. And then the two blended really well, because I say, umm, respectfully, two really strong characters. Umm, not that others weren’t influential but Chow and Mitose kind of allowed the two to blend. And a lot of people would give the credit to, just slightly ahead of them in terms of years, Mitobe sort of resurrected the grappling side. At one point, people would refer to as Kempo, as Kempo-jujitsu, because the grappling was so dominant. And then it sort of lost flavour to, where hands and feet became more for striking. And then the influence of Mitobe thankfully, affected that family direction to get the grappling back.

ME: Wow, so a lot of… a lot of secondary influences were brought into the style?

MH: Absolutely. The one beautiful thing about it, that’s always been in Kempo, is its always been one of those systems where it wasn’t so much of just do what I say… there’s always been an expectation of question and explore. And that’s another signature of that crew that came out of anyone that was descendants from that time period and that group is that it was sort of driven and became part of their heart, to believe in spending some good quality time with, umm, being able to ask a question kind of wonder. And enjoy inviting people. And not being afraid to look at “oh, you do it differently”, what does that mean for me to learn from you? And you know, in some cases there’s been some criticism, well… If you’re not strict with how you look at things, then you know, it’s kind of a question of, is it wishy-washy? Where Kempo looks, from the way I was brought up, is flexibility equals strength, not rigidity.

ME: So, in all of your years as a teacher or as a student, or both, what would say has been your biggest obstacle to overcome?

MH: Uhh, well, I… time! Uhh, you know, I think as I get older, I certainly appreciate, but umm,… when we’re young and I mean youthful in experience, not just age, umm, we never value time to put in the repetitions. So we put them in then we never think of that one day we’re gonna wish we had time to still put in repetitions. And then, at a time period where, we always lose some key, amazing people, although we know that their spirit lives on from what they’ve taught us. But you never have enough time with the people that have influenced you and I look over the years as I’ve aged, and I think of all the people that have spent time with me and have given me the gift of their energy, their life’s blood in the martial arts, if you will. And as they’ve passed on, you hope that you have enough time to pass a, little bit of them on? And it’s umm… you wish that sometimes… in a perfect world, classes would never end!

ME: True! (Laughs) Okay, so out of all that, then, if you had to narrow it down to one thing, what do you feel is the most rewarding aspect that you’ve gotten from martial arts?

MH: Definitely the relationships with people. People that, for no reason, will give you the gift of all that they know. It’s funny but, martial arts, just by the culture you know, when people look from the outside in and they think “oh, it’s about fighting” or you know, it’s a lot about discipline and… all of which is true. I mean, let’s face it. It is a study of warfare and it takes a lot of self-discipline. But the generosity of people is what’s touched me over the years. And I think of all the years… I’d never say I was a gifted student, by any means. But there is always someone who took their time to share with me. And I really, to this day, cannot thank them enough and appreciate that. And I hope that when I’m working with some little students, some little guy like I was that, you know, there were days I didn’t know which foot to put forward, left or right, and someone would have to coach me “no, no, change your foot!” And you know, when you run across that, it just kind of brings you back to that time period. It’s like the cycle sort of stays alive. So the challenge for me has always been to appreciate and enjoy those moments. But to learn to let them go, as people do move on. Sadly, all we have then is the memory they gave us and the time they shared with us. And then actually just enjoy the fact that you can channel that on to the next generation. And keep that balanced in your head so that you don’t get overwhelmed (laughs).

ME: Would you do it all over again?

MH: Absolutely.

ME: If you could go back to the beginning and… we’ll call him “White Belt Greg Harding”… If you could deliver a message, what would it be?

MH: Well, you know what? The instructors were delivering pretty good messages to me. Truthfully, one of the reasons my parents put me in the martial was I had trouble with discipline, I had trouble with concentration and somewhat I had trouble with behaviour. And so, umm, all those things that the instructors struggled with, they were pretty straight with me about what I needed to do. I would go back in time, to be honest, Shawn… I’d be talking to myself, I’d be saying “You probably don’t believe it now, but there’s a lifetime here!” And my instructors back then always talked about it as martial arts is for a lifetime. As you’ve aged in the martial arts and you’ve been around for a while, you sort of start to realize that yeah, that’s kind of cool. It is. And as you change in how you approach things, because of your age, but it doesn’t mean it ends. I think the kid I was when I started thought that it was gonna be a one or two classes, and I’d be done. I don’t know if that kid was capable of realizing that there was gonna be more than one or two classes anyways (laughs).

ME: And here you are all these years later.

MH: Well, age is one thing. But like I said, people kept me around. And they were pretty generous because I probably wasn’t the best student to keep around. But they never gave up on me.

ME: That’s good! So Master Harding, is there anything you’d like to pass along to my readers in terms of the martial arts or the philosophy you’ve followed for all these years?

MH: Well, I’m humbled by the question. I think that the most important thing I’ve learned is that there is a wonderful brotherhood, sisterhood, family that comes with those who train in traditional martial arts. I recognize that a lot of martial arts enjoy competitive sides. There’s competition based on it. But the hours that a person puts in and the people that you train with all those years,… and it becomes kind of like a family. And those are relationships that I’ve cherished, and I think are some of my strongest friendships, are because of that. And that’s certainly something that I would hope for anybody in the martial arts. It was what I loved about it and I would hope that anybody else could get out of the martial arts is that true feeling of what a real friend is. And how you really can, literally, some days feel like you’re dying and sweating to the point where you don’t know if you can do one more. And yet somebody there helps you bring that energy through yourself. Next time, you do that for them. And the time that you put in, and that hard work… Not a lot of people will ever know other than the person beside you. And those are some good friendships formed. I also think that the nicest thing, also, is there’s so much nowadays where it feels like everything’s out there for everybody else to share and to celebrate. And I’m maybe a little old school in the sense that I think it’s nice to have something that maybe you do that not everybody else knows about. Only your closest of friends.

ME: Love it! Love everything about it!

MH: Yup!

ME: Thank you, Master Harding!

MH: Well, thank you Shawn. It’s a real pleasure and, as I’ve said, it’s humbling to be asked. So, thank you for your time.

It’s always interesting getting other folks’ perspective on something you’ve spent most of your life doing. My thoughts reflect many of the points Master harding brought up. Over the decades, I’ve forged many friendships through the martial arts and they’ve been the ones that have consistently remained.

Martial arts is almost the “jack of all trades” of the sporting world. Whether you’ve started to learn to defend yourself, to get into shape or the camaraderie, there’s something for everyone.

If you live in the Regina, Saskatchewan area and would be interested in checking out a class, they are every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 6:30 at 40 Dixon Crescent, where you’d get to meet the Blogging buddhist in person.

For more information on the Regina institute of Kempo Karate, you can visit the website at shao-lin.ca/content/regina_institute_kempo_karate

Repetition is key, Repetition is key… (see what I did there?)

We live in a very technology-dependent society. Nowadays, you can see people sitting together at coffee shops with their eyes down at their smart phones or laptops instead of conversing with each other. Don’t get me wrong, considering that I’m writing in my blog at this moment, I’m also a firm advocate of the technological age. But one of the outlying results of this modern trend is that we as a people have developed a shorter attention span. This has a significant and real impact on the study of traditional martial arts.

Martial arts in general involves a lot of repetition. In fact, my style of karate is descendent of a Chinese Kung Fu lineage that generally required its students to study and practice the same form for three years before anything else was taught. Can you imagine? How many of you would willingly join a recreational sport that required you to repeat the same series of movements over and over for three years before you could move on? It does happen in some sports, but it’s usually intermixed with other aspects that make it so you don’t really feel like you’re repeating a redundancy. I have had students, even recently, who have complained about the fact that they feel as though they are not progressing and are always doing the same thing. This sometimes brings us to question what we’re doing here or why, while training in a martial arts school.

In my youth, my Sensei told me a story that applies to this concept: A young man in a small Province in China dreamt of training with Shaolin monks in the art of Kung Fu. His family sacrificed and did everything so that he could travel to, and be accepted into one of the best monasteries in the country. The young man travelled for days and camped outside the monastery for nearly two weeks before the monks finally admitted him as a student. The student was excited to begin his life as a “kung fu monk” and of the mystery of the teachings that would follow. For his first few days, the student became acclimated to his new surroundings until finally asking one of the masters when he would begin learning kung fu.

The master arched an eyebrow at the young student and asked “So, you wish to learn kung fu? Follow me!” The master brought the student into an empty room with a hard wood floor. The room had a small hole about two feet wide, in the centre. The hole contained a pool of water, which was fed by the local well.

“Until you are told otherwise, you will kneel before this well, and pull out the water with your right palm, like so…” The master demonstrated the movement until the pool of water was half empty. The master then picked up a mop and cleaned up the water into a nearby bucket. Once the process was demonstrated, the monk left the student on his own to begin his chore. The student was despondent and felt that he had come to the monastery for nothing.

Every morning, the student would wake, eat a light breakfast, then spend his day pushing water out of the pool with his right palm and cleaning it up with the mop. Over and over, he repeated this chore diligently. All the while wondering when he would learn something of Kung Fu. Always wondering when he would learn something useful.

After one year at the monastery, the young student was permitted to visit his family. The student’s family gathered all the relatives together for a big celebration. They were so proud to have a true Kung Fu monk in the family. When everyone got together for the meal, everyone teased and prodded, asking the student for a demonstration of everything he had learned in his year at the monastery. The student’s frustration grew until his anger finally got the best of him. He stood up and loudly yelled, so that the entire family could hear: “I HAVEN’T LEARNED ANY KUNG FU!!!” and slammed his right fist down on the solid oak table at which he was sitting. The wooden table split cleanly in the middle, right where the student had struck it. The family as well as the student stared at the broken table in awe.

Turns out that the year the student had spent pulling out the water and cleaning it had developed an immensely powerful right arm for punching, striking and attacks.

Sometimes the wisdom of our instructors eludes us. We don’t always understand the lesson until we see the result. Have you ever seen the hit 80’s movie the Karate Kid? Mr. Miyagi had Daniel-san doing all sorts of crazy chores that he could have sworn was getting him nowhere. It wasn’t until Mr. Miyagi demonstrated the movements in a karate context that Daniel-san finally began to understand the purpose behind the lesson. And that, my friends, is the ultimate message: wait for the purpose behind the lesson. I’m not necessarily advocating that the Karate kid was an accurate portrayal of important martial arts, but it did impart some important lessons.

While practicing any fighting art, the constant repetition and routines may seem tedious and pointless. But anything worth having comes only after effort and hard work. So, stick with it. Whether it’s martial arts, hockey, gymnastics or any other sport you may choose to participate in, that repetition will end in positive results; AS LONG AS YOU STICK WITH IT!

Meditate Your Way to Success…

Meditation has long been steepled in mysticism and has fascinated the western world for multiple reasons. When someone mentions meditation, one can’t help but picture a little bald dude, clothes in orange robes and sitting cross-legged on the floor with his eyes closed. Despite its history and how it’s seen by the public, there’s nothing mystical about meditation.

Depending on what sect of Buddhism or style or martial arts one follows, the manner in which you meditate can differ. Some prefer to try and keep their mind completely clear of all thought (although I usually argue that thinking of nothing is, in fact, still thinking of something!) and some believe you should choose one singular thought to focus on. Some people prefer to stare vacantly and let their eyes relax, while some prefer to keep the eyes closed. Some believe that it’s important to sit crossed legged with hand on the knees, while other prefer to sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on a carpet. No matter what your preference, the end results generally tend to be the same.

No matter what your martial arts or religious background, allow me to explain what meditation is not: it is not some magic, mystical way of healing yourself. It cannot replace sleep. It likely won’t let you touch the world’s energy and you likely won’t find the answers to the universe while doing it. Bear in mind, this is coming from a Buddhist! We tend to believe we can achieve enlightenment through meditation (among other things).

Let me tell you what meditation CAN do! Medically speaking, regular meditation has been proven to slow the heart beat and lower blood pressure. This has a calming effect akin to being “zen”. It will allow you to clear your mind and relax you during times in your life when it seems like you can’t get calm. Meditation is most effective after a serious workout, as it allows your body the rejuvenative breathing required to properly oxygenate the blood after building all that lactic acid in your muscle tissues. Although some have described the ability to alleviate or block out pain, this is generally just a result of increased blood flow from deep breathing that is done during proper meditation.

My Sensei always used to tell me that twenty minutes of proper meditation could replace approximately three hours of sleep. This was generally because the calm and deep breathing associated with proper meditation would allow your body to rest and rejuvenate itself almost as effectively as sleep. This hasn’t been my experience, to be honest, but to some who practice it, it can be quite effective.

I found an illustration on Pinterest that sums it up quite nicely Here it is…

This illustration is pretty accurate. No matter what your beliefs or why you choose to do it, meditation is a healthy habit that can add a positive spin to your daily routine. I’ve been meditating for three decades now, and it has always been helpful; to find answers to problems, to calm me and to help alleviate stress.

For more information on how to meditate, wikiHow has a wonderful page that provides some basic beginner steps for those looking to start. This page can be found at https://www.wikihow.com/Meditate.

The Anti-Diabetes Workout Routine…

One of the things that makes me something of a Diabetes success story is my rigorous workout routine. After nearly four decades of being a type 1 Diabetic, I’ve tried a little bit of everything. This includes weightlifting, running, swimming, mountain climbing and of course, the martial arts. Even if you aren’t Diabetic, it’s important to keep things varied and allow yourself to experience a wide variety of exercise routines. Try some different workouts. One of the best sweats I’ve ever gotten was during a spin class (Thanks, Aunt Marjolaine!).

Ever since being diagnosed with Diabetes in 1982, doctors have been baffled by the fact that I have a clean nervous system, clean renal system and the heart of a horse. Most people my age with Diabetes have developed a set of severe complications that make their later life a little difficult. Despite stepping into my forties last year, this didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and effort.

Besides following a reasonable diet, balanced blood glucose, insulin levels and proper sleep (not always easy in my case), one must stay physically active as often s possible. According to http://www.active.com, the average adult should be putting in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 5 times a week. Although every person is a bit different, this goes a long way towards maintaining good health levels and a healthy lifestyle.

When people ask me what my workout routine includes, I usually tell them that you need two factors in order to be successful: you have to push yourself and you need to have fun! If you don’t have those two things, your success rate drops dramatically.

Expensive gym memberships aren’t necessary. Sometimes all you need is a heavy bag!

I like to do things that challenge me, but allow me to enjoy yourself as well. Even though martial arts was originally a means of improving my health and saving my life, it’s become a part of me and I practice it several times a week. Although my principal style is Okinawan Karate, I study Kempo Karate on Tuesdays and Thursday with a local school in Regina, Saskatchewan.

I also try to include heavy weights twice a week. Heavy weights shouldn’t be a main focus (unless you’re primarily a weight lifter), because the larger you get, mass-wise, the less flexible you become and other activities will get tedious. At the moment, my wife and I are are currently doing the 21-day MetaShred workout on DVD (this can be ordered through Men’s Health at https://www.shopetc.com/menshealth/21-day-metashred-dvd-water-bottle.html). It’s proven to be a wicked challenge. It permits variations of the workout for beginner, intermediate and advanced, allowing my wife and I to work out together and adjust individually as required while doing the work out together.

Find your maximum and try to do a few reps with something heavier; push yourself!

Up until 2016, my Hemoglobin A1C was always above 8.0 (for those of you who don’t understand, and A1C is the cumulative average of someone’s blood sugars over a three month period). The normal range is between 5.0 to 7.0 so I’ve been trying consistently to reduce it where I can. Stepping away from shift work has helped immensely as late night or overnight shifts will greatly affect blood sugars. These days, I’m hovering in the mid to lower 7.0’s, which is a vast improvement on the grand scale of things.

Although it’s a personal preference (and a religious one), meditation is also important. There are several books covering the subject that you can read, but the bottom line is that meditation can help with blood pressure, stress, sleep patterns and healing of the body after workouts.

At the end of the day, as long as your having fun, you can’t go wrong! Get off the couch, get your heart rate up and push yourself. If you go outside and have a snowball fight with your kids for an hour, you’ve already done well. And when you aren’t doing something physical, pick up a book! Read about whatever piques your fancy. Although many people feel they need a piece of paper to prove they’ve studied something, knowledge is knowledge. I used to say “when you aren’t exercising the body, you should be exercising the mind.”

Don’t be afraid to try new workout routines and change it up!

Way of the Empty Hand, Way of Life…

Someone asked me when I started studying the martial arts and what style I practice. The answer is a bit convoluted, and dates back to quite a while ago…

I’ve technically been interested in the martial arts since I was four years old. I had access to a lot of reading material as a child, since my father was almost as much into books then as I am now. I had started reading about traditional martial arts in general. This is also around the time I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I had a significant number of medical complications in those first few years, including being comatose on more than one occasion. I wasn’t a sporty kid when I was young. Unlike most kids my age, I wasn’t involved in soccer or hockey and preferred to spend most of my time reading books and watching documentaries (yes, I know what that makes me sound like!). I had taken swimming lessons and even started the advanced training to become a life guard, although I didn’t stick with that.

Training for my black belt in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

At seven years of age, I joined one of my friends at a local Tae Kwon Do class. I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and it would allow me to satisfy my curiosity about the martial arts. I attended several classes over the course of the first year and started to enjoy it quite a bit. My parents didn’t approve of my choice to join martial arts as they felt that my Diabetes made me too vulnerable to be involved in rigorous physical activity. In some ways, they were very right. However, given how my body would react to Diabetes in the very near future, they were also very, very wrong…

Tae Kwon Do was fun, but it wasn’t quite right for me. For those of you who don’t study martial arts, or never have, allow me to explain; there are hundreds of different martial arts styles in the world, originating from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. From these styles, multiple offshoots of each style have emerged over the past centuries. Some more popular than others, some better known than others. I needed to find a style that would provide what I needed physically as well as spiritually.

In 1988, I started having more difficulties with my blood sugars and further complications arose from my Diabetes. I had an adverse reaction to extreme high blood sugar while sleeping one night and slipped into a coma. My parents found me in my bed, foaming at the mouth and my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I was rushed to the local hospital via ambulance, where they put me on an insulin drip and slowly lowered my blood sugar over the course of the following twenty-four hours and treated me for Diabetic Ketoacidosis (I ain’t explaining that one, that’s where Google comes in handy!). I was comatose for about three days. I woke up with the worse case of body pain and confusion I have ever experienced, even to this day. Further tests and a few days later, my doctors explained that I had insulin resistance. Basically, my cells were incapable of using insulin effectively, causing the high blood sugars that led to my coma. It was made quite clear that if we couldn’t find an insulin my body wouldn’t reject, my life expectancy was about three years. I was ten years old at the time.

I knew I would have to take matters into my own hands and do something. If being a child who was afraid of dying wasn’t bad enough, it often seemed as though the medical industry could do nothing to help me. Even at a young age, it appalled me that they could send a man to the moon but they couldn’t find a way to balance out my blood sugars. In the Spring of 1989, one of my best friends from childhood was studying karate in my home town. After a bit of inquiring, I learned that his father was the head instructor of the karate school, or dojo, and that it was a school of traditional Okinawan karate called Uechi Ryu. My parents were still sensitive from my coma, which had happened less than a year prior. They put a strict hiatus on my physical activities for fear that my waning health would suffer further. I ended up telling them I was quietly hanging out with friends when I attended my first karate class. I walked into that class full of hope and promise. It would ultimately lead to one of the best decisions of my life…

Practicing forms in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

Those first months in karate were rough. I had to attend classes and squirrel away my allowances to pay for tuition, all without my parents finding out. But the ruse paid off. Within the first year, my metabolism and immune system improved. I started to gain some mass and my insulin resistance began to dissipate. My parents noticed the improved blood sugars and health and I made my way forward.

By the time I had reached the point where I had to test for my green belt, it had become time to tell my parents. Considering that it would be a four hour test on a Saturday, it would be a little difficult to hide. My parents were NOT pleased with the fact that I had been keeping this from them for so long. But when weighed against the fact that it had helped towards improving my health to its current point, they agreed to allow me to continue training in karate as long as it didn’t affect my grades and schooling (which it hadn’t to this point). This solidified my martial arts lifestyle for the rest of my life.

Meditating on the mats after a two-hour workout in 2017.
Photo shoot at the RIOKK 30th Anniversary celebration in 2017.

I’m not going to say that karate changed my life, but… Okay, karate changed my life. Karate saved my life. I’ve been doing it ever since and its been an important factor in every aspect of my life. Its helped maintain my health, discipline and got me to where I am today. It also helped peak my interest in my current career direction. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of amazing people through karate and have experienced wonderful things. I began studying Buddhism in 1998 and it followed me all the way to Japan in 2001 where I had the opportunity to visit and study with Buddhist monks and train with the karate masters in Okinawa.

These days, I’ve been training in Kempo karate and furthering my martial arts training. I’ve been chatting with my karate instructor about testing for my next grade of black belt and my wife and son have started to train with me.

My three year old son and I training on the mats.
My son and I, sparring at home. Karate is in his blood!

I often wonder how far I would have made it through life, had I not started martial arts. I once heard that “we often find our destiny on the road we least thought to travel”. I have no idea who passed on the quote, but I know it’s stuck with me all my life. These days, I leave myself open to all schools of thought and train with people of all styles and backgrounds. After all, I was born with two ears and one mouth, so I tend to listen twice as much as I speak.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you’re a practitioner of the martial arts and would like to discuss.