Are You Making Faces At Me?

Unless I’m engaging someone in conversation, I usually tend to stay silent on my shopping excursions. I acknowledge and greet the employees of whatever location I may frequent with a smile and a nod, sometimes even allowing the smile to reach my eyes, which can also speak volumes. So, how does it affect communication when we all wear a facial mask that covers our facial expressions? Do we NEED those facial expressions? Are they necessary for everyday communication? The simple is answer is yes. And no. Of course I won’t make it simple…

There are plenty of animals who use facial expressions as part of communication. In fact, horses, dogs and chimpanzees all have a plethora of facial expressions although they may be using them for different reasons. I’m not a veterinarian. But humans use facial expressions as part of their communication with other humans, which can be found lacking if the recipient can’t see your face. I’ve found this to be an issue during this entire pandemic, when a smile and nod still looks as though you’re deadpan even when you aren’t.

Think about a simple email you sent that was completely misinterpreted… Maybe you were in a perfectly good mood when you sent it and had no malicious intent behind it. THEN you get an aggressive response from the recipient, accusing you of being rude and aggressive with THEM. Ever happen to you? I’ve had supervisors who I’ve asked for help with something, only to have them snap back, accusing me of telling them how to do their jobs. It actually happens a lot.

Despite the words being the same, the recipient can’t see your body language, sense your tone or feel the intonations behind your communication. For example, your spouse saying “you’re such an asshole!” while smiling shyly and shaking her head at you can seem playful and can even be interpreted as a sign of affection. Having that same spouse text message “you’re such an asshole!” without any context will likely have you thinking you’re in trouble for something. This is the same deal. Facial expressions are integral to proper communication.

It’s taken me a while to recognize that when someone out in public says hello or thank you, a simple smile is no longer enough. Because they won’t see it. Oh, there may some small movements of the mask that could potentially tell an observant person that there’s something happening beneath the mask. But for the most part, I look like a creepy mute guy, squinting at the door greeter on my way out. I’ve had to make a concerted effort to remember to actually say “thank you” or “have a nice day.” First world problems, right?

To be honest, I’m not sure where I was going with this post. I admittedly just throw my thoughts out on occasion. But this is another instance where the pandemic has affected our daily lives, much without us thinking about it. Lack of visible facial expressions makes it harder to communicate in public on top of our voices being somewhat muffled by the mask. Added on top of steamy glasses and the unexpected belch that basically makes you hotbox yourself and it adds a bit of speed to your grocery shopping. ☯

You’ve Lost That Vegan Feelin’…🎶

I’ve often said that I have absolutely nothing against people who choose different diets and/or lifestyles, so long as it isn’t harming anyone (those people included) and isn’t being shoved down my throat like some unwanted rhetoric. Unfortunately, most people who choose such diets or lifestyle choices are prone to wanting others to jump on the bandwagon; either through a sense of not wanting to be alone or because they seek validation for their choices. Whichever reason they may have, it’s almost a safe guarantee that if one of your friends or family members has made the decision to consume a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’re gonna hear about it! And today, I’m gonna be one of ’em! Buckle up…

In recent weeks, I’ve slowly groomed myself to reduce the amount of calories I consume in a day. No, I don’t starve myself! I can certainly promise you that I’m not going hungry and the pool floatie I seem to be carrying around my mid-section would sustain me for weeks without food, anyway. But I digress… I recently wrote that as part of an unofficial “New Year’s resolution,” I would be trying to maintain a certain level of calorie-deficit in my daily diet in an effort to coax my body towards tapping into its rather substantial fat stores. I’ve also been aware for some time that I tend to consume far more calories in the course of a day than I generally require.

It’s been going rather well, with no lingering hunger and no visible effects that I can report. I’m still exercising regularly, but one significant side effect is that I’ve noticed better, more balanced blood sugar levels overall. This is due in part to the fact that for about two meals a day, I’m only consuming a negligible amount of carbohydrates for my insulin pump to deal with. In fact, when you factor in meals such as a tuna steak with brussel sprouts, I occasionally don’t have to bolus at all! This means that I can maintain blood sugar levels that are in range for longer periods of time than my usual diet.

That’s been nice and all, but as a 210-pound man, I frequently crave certain foods that would be better off left in the grocery store. One of those guilty pleasures (besides cheeseburgers) is buffalo chicken. I absolutely love the stuff, despite the fact that the after-effects very much dislike me. I’ve had buffalo chicken in almost all of its form, including buying plain chicken strips and/or nuggets and simply making my own buffalo sauce at home using hot sauce. After all, buffalo sauce is only hot sauce mixed with butter. (I’m drooling through the chest pain here, folks!)

Recently while doing groceries, I decided that in the spirit of eating better and trying to reduce the number of calories I consume, that I would purchase and try a package of vegan chicken strips. They boasted as being “hot buffalo” so I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll try anything once…” I’ve had friends serve me vegetarian meals over the years, and I can freely admit that they’ve been delicious. It’s isn’t all tofu and quinoa. Given that the vegan strips were on special, it was a perfect time to try them out. I baked ’em. I ate ’em. I went out and bought more…

They were quite delicious, and I did indeed purchase more while they were still on special. But as with al things in life, there should be a balance. And there is in fact, some good news and some bad news. For obvious reasons, I won’t be naming brands or locations and before I dip into information from everywhere else, here are the facts I collected during my own consumption of these vegan chicken bites. The first problem is that they’re comparatively more expensive than traditional chicken strips and/or nuggets. Even while on special, factoring in the portion size shows the vegan option to be more expensive.

This is a problem, especially if you’re as cheap as I am! And as the old saying goes, “as long as a burger costs $1.37 and a salad costs $6.95 at my favourite restaurant…” Right? Am I the only fiscally responsible one here??? Maybe? But the biggest aspect is looking into what you actually get from these vegan bites as opposed to chicken-based bites. In order to make this comparison, I matched up the vegan chicken bites against their popular, fast-food chain counterparts in order to see how they stacked up against one another.

First, let’s look at the chicken version. For a popular chain’s pack of just 4 chicken “nuggets” or bites (approximately 58 grams), you’re looking at about 170 calories, 10 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbohydrates. Not too bad, right? 10 grams of carbs for a meal is manageable. Throw some greens into that equation and it’s a pretty low-cost meal, especially since it would only represent ROUGHLY 10% of my daily caloric intake. Not a bad start to the show, if my second meal is just as low, followed by a “all bets are off” meal of about 500 calories.

Now for the vegan option. This is based on the brand I tried, either buffalo or plain so that my wife could partake (she isn’t a fan of buffalo). For a 51 gram serving, which is about two strips, you’re looking at 90 calories and about 4 grams of fat. So there’s a reasonable reduction in those respects, but it’s a negligible difference of 8 grams of carbohydrates for this serving. Considering the fact that this serving is a bit smaller than the chicken alternative, you’re basically getting the same level of bang for your bolus. But it’s still ideal for a bit of a reduced-calorie serving.

Here’s the real kicker: some of these vegan alternatives are often made to look, smell and taste like the meat they try to replace. And there’s a fair bit they do to accomplish this. Meat replacement options can often contain high levels of sodium, fillers and preservatives to not only give them a signature look, but to make them palatable. And you’ll have less nutrients and vitamins than their meat-based counterparts.

To be clear, a vegan diet isn’t inherently bad for you; but these specific frozen meat replacements aren’t GREAT for you. That’s the point I’m trying to make. In fact, an article posted online by Men’s Health names frozen meat alternatives, tofu deli meats, frozen vegan meals and veggie chips as food alternatives that are inherently bad for you. In defence of vegans, those foods aren’t the greatest for you in their original iterations, either. It’s all about watching the sodium and calorie levels and reading your nutritional labels properly.

My verdict on all of this is that your local grocery store may be selling vegan options that are boasted to be “healthier,” but this just isn’t so. Eating these vegan strips/bites on the odd occasion when they come on special won’t harm you any more than going out for fast-food once a week. As with all things in life, it’s about moderation. But from a Diabetes standpoint, you can burn through just as much insulin eating these vegan options as their genuine counterparts. Sorry, folks. Be wary.

If anyone has their own stories or information on this topic they’d like to share, feel free to post them in the comments. Please, keep it kind. I’ll mention that I wrote this post in the interest of sharing the information and my experience, not to pick a fight with anyone whose lifestyle is based on a vegan or vegetarian diet. I’m still reeling from the unfortunate blogger who thought she had to attack me personally for writing a post about the differences between meat and vegetarian diets. Seriously. Grow up and quit arguing, people. As the theme song goes, “The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum…” Can’t we all just get along? ☯

Why You Shouldn’t Force Kids Into Karate

Every parent wants what’s best for their kids, and that often involves putting them into sports, after-school activities and variety of different hobbies and groups. But what should you do if your child isn’t interested in the things you have them try? This video provides my perspective on why you should never force your children into karate, or the martial arts in general. ☯

First Or Last, It’ll Suck…

Fighting is a nasty business. No matter what the reason, no good ever truly comes of it. I could throw out a bunch of quotes, written by well-known and well-meaning martial artists about how fighting should never be for anything but defence of yourself or others, how no one ever truly wins a fight or something similar. But it would be nothing I haven’t written before, and it would provide no insight into what needs to be done once a fight actually happens. There’s actually quite a bit…

Unlike what you might have seen in the movies, a real fight will never be a drawn out thing lasting thirty to forty minutes with both combatants taking heavy blows to the head and body but yet, still keep on fighting until the penultimate moment. For the most part, a real fight will usually last less than a minute and will often involve several blind swings where other combatants miss their target. The unfortunate reality is that most people, especially those who have trained in a fighting sport like wrestling or boxing, will falsely assume that they’re prepared for the realities of what happens when there is no regulating or governing body to referee the fight and no rules to protect the combatants.

I’ll even be brazen enough to say that those who train extensively in the martial arts will still lack a certain something required to deal with certain realities. For example, have you ever been punched in the face? Have you ever taken a strike to the body when prepared for it? Have you ever faced multiple opponents? Have YOU ever struck a human body? Something other than a punching bag, of course. Objects never strike back. But these are always concerns that one needs to be aware of. Luckily, my martial arts training and chosen profession has given me insight in both sides of a conflict. And I’m going share some of that knowledge with you now…

Let’s talk about hitting and getting hit. What happens when you get punched in the face? Simply, you’ll experience a batch of effects, including but not limited to dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and perhaps loss of consciousness. Definitely, your ears will likely start ringing. If someone successfully lands a solid blow to your face and/or head, it will potentially end the fight, right then an there. This is one of those times when the instructor in me wants to remind you that protecting the vital areas of the body are paramount during a fight. If you can’t avoid an incoming strike, a glancing blow on a less vulnerable area is preferable, even if it means you’re still getting hit.

Getting struck anywhere else on the body will have its share of complications, especially if a blow lands in an area where you were unprepared for it. Getting punched in the gut isn’t incapacitating in and of itself. But getting struck in the abdomen can cause internal bleeding and injuries that while not immediately painful or incapacitating, can be life-threatening if left untreated. Even getting struck on the limbs is not without risk. If your opponent manages to fracture or break a bone during the exchange, it can incapacitate you. If the pain doesn’t distract you enough to cause you to lose the exchange, going into shock likely will.

Next, one needs to consider the aspect of throwing an actual strike against another human being. I’ve seen fighters spend hours practicing drills on pads or a punching bag, only to turn their wrists or fracture a bone after one strike during a real fight. There’s a significant difference between striking an inert target and trying to hit a moving opponent, who likely won’t take kindly to being struck (whether they initiated it or not).

Another important aspect is how a fight is initiated. Listen, I’m all for self-defence and never being the one who strikes first. But the reality of the street is that if someone means to do you or someone else harm, you may not have the opportunity to wait for them to throw the first punch. Doing so could critically endanger you or a loved one. Certainly martial arts training should always be used ONLY for self-defence. But self-defence occasionally means striking first. It will sometimes be inevitable.

Now, what happens if you’re stuck facing off against multiple opponents? I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with that exact scenario. The thing to remember when dealing with multiple opponents at once is to deal with the first one quickly. You’ll always see one of two scenarios: either the ringleader will be the first to attack, or the ringleader will hang back and let his or her peons get taken down before stepping in. It’s important to know the difference. Because much like taking out a bully, the rest will usually scatter quickly if you take down the ringleader. But the same rules apply, regardless of how many opponents you face.

I’m always reminded of a story Sensei told me when I was younger. He described a time when he worked as a bouncer in a local pub. He wound up tossing out a group of troublemakers and had gotten word that they would be waiting for him outside when the pub closed. True enough, he stepped out of the pub in the wee hours of the morning to find the five guys he had kicked out, lined up in a semi circle waiting for him. He was quick in thinking, an explained to the group that they would certainly kick his ass. Of that, there was no question. But he was swift enough that whomever was the first to approach would get his eyes clawed out before he went down.

The threat had the desired effect, as no one dared to be the first one to attack. Although they would have certainly been successful if they had swarmed him, no one wanted to take the chance of being first and being blinded for life, just to extract petty revenge on a bouncer form the local pub. Sometimes the best defence is one’s voice. Not every fight will result in a physical altercation, and that’s an important lesson.

Last, but definitely not least, is to avoid fighting altogether. Yes, yes, I’ve made a point of saying that this is sometimes inevitable. Not everyone is comfortable with the prospect of running away from a fight. Our in-born fight-or-flight reflex makes this a possible reality, but most people fight against that reflex due to some twisted sense of pride or macho sense of bravery. But tactically repositioning yourself to “fight another day” can definitely be a means of slipping out of a fight without injury.

It may not always be possible. But when it is, avoiding a fight is always preferable. Violence is never preferable, although it may sometimes be necessary. But when you can avoid any of it, it’s preferable. As the saying goes, you win every conflict you never fight. But if you find yourself in a situation where a fight is inevitable, it’s also important to remember that you need to protect yourself and others first and foremost. It’s always important at the end to find a way to go home. ☯

The Unexpected Prejudice

When we think about the word “prejudice,” we mostly think about race, culture, ethnic background or religion. To name a few. But in reality, the term “prejudice” refers to preconceived notions or opinions about someone else, based on something that is KNOWN about the person. This opinion or notions, however, are never based on fact or actual knowledge. Having someone be prejudice against you for any reason can be hurtful, harmful and cause damage to a person’s self-esteem and even prevent certain advancements on life.

I bring this up because believe it or not, I’ve spent a good portion of my life having folks be prejudice against me, because of my Diabetes. Hard to believe? I know. It SHOULD be hard to believe because it isn’t something that should occur. But believe me when I say that it has happened to me far too many times to recount, for a variety of different reasons. I started being “pigeonholed” at a very young age; essentially being dropped into a category that defined me according to my condition as opposed to who I was as a person or what contributions or goals I could achieve.

This started extremely early; as far back as when I was first diagnosed. I was part of a younger group of Scouts, called Beavers (let’s keep the NSFW jokes to a minimum, shall we?). I joined this group when I was 4 years old, and believe me when I say that I was pretty excited about it. Then I was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. A group “camping” event, which entailed staying in the community hall with sleeping bags over a weekend, was denied me on the basis that I had Diabetes. My parents objected to this and tried to do everything possible to allow me to attend. At the end of the argument, my mother even volunteered to attend and stay the weekend as well, in order to deal with the Diabetes aspect of the issue. I was still refused.

I know what you’re going to say; as an adult I understand what the Scouts’ view of the situation might have been. There are risks and liabilities and issues that Scouts Canada simply wouldn’t have wanted to take responsibility for. I get it. But I probably would have been far more understanding at the time, had they made an effort to understand what was going on rather than simply say, “Sorry, we can’t accommodate him.” Effectively, my time as a Scout was over before it began. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. But given my age, it set the tone for all the things that would follow through my life.

My diagnosis came while I was attending kindergarten. This was the big one, because it set the tone for the next decade, in terms of who befriended me and what groups I could have been part of. I still remember the embarrassing “speech” the teacher gave about how I was a “special kind of sick,” and that the children had to treat me gently and tell her immediately if I was found to be acting strangely or seemed too sleepy. ARE YOU FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME???? Setting aside the fact that I’m already weirder than a pillowcase full of angry ferrets, this basically told a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds that there was something strange and different about me. The effect was that most of the kids avoided me unless they were forced to join me for a group lesson during class.

All throughout my formative years in school, I was denied certain group activities, sports and/or teams on the basis of my Diabetes. Some years, I was automatically excused from gym classes and given a basic passing mark for sitting on the side while the rest of my class would play ball, run and exercise, leaving me to rot as opposed to growing my physical capabilities. One would be inclined to think that teachers and adults would be more enlightened and ask certain questions about my condition before simply writing me off. After all, this was well before the snowflake generation of getting offended at everything, so my parents and I would have gladly answered any questions got assuage any concerns.

But instead, it was easier for all of them to live within their (incorrect) preconceived notions and cats me aside, refusing to take responsibility or take a chance on the possibility that something could happen to me while I was in their care. And I get that. Now. Back then, it was a constant feeling of being rejected and segregated. No wonder my health waned and I took a downward turn when I was nearing 10 years old. I was never allowed the opportunity to participate in sports and be a part of the group. If this happened now, there’d be an uproar! People would mount protests, parents’ groups would petition the school board, people would lose their jobs… Anarchy! But I just took it in stride.

I’d like to say that when I finally joined karate that things turned around. And yes, they turned around from a health standpoint, but even karate was a problem. Because my parents refused to let me join, thinking I’d get hurt or that my blood sugars wouldn’t allow me to survive a 2-hour class. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to join in secret, using my merger allowance to pay what tuition I could. Sensei was really good about never asking questions and trained me no differently than anybody else. That’s when I started to accumulate some mass, gained strength, speed and reflexes and discovered that I could have potentially have had a different path if I could have started to gain these benefits at a younger age as opposed to having everyone simply sit me on the side to watch. After all, life isn’t a spectator sport.

It’s extremely important that you never assume something about someone else’s condition. For my specific example, I may have had a rough start during my childhood. But once I took control of my health and fitness, I took huge strides and have suffered almost none of the usual complications associated with Diabetes. And what’s more is I’ve trained in the martial arts for over three decades, still have all my toes and appendages and have fathered two children. Many said I’d never accomplish any of that. Shame on them. ☯

Why So Confrontational?

The world is a violent and dangerous place. This isn’t really news; one need only to Google any aspect of world history to recognize that it’s ALWAYS been a dangerous and violent place. But there was a time when a specific violence was contained to its immediate area. If you lived in a small town, you’d likely hear about the assault that took place during the previous evening, but the world would continue to turn. Likely thinking that your small town is a quiet and peaceful place.

These days, even the most remote of places have the world’s information at their fingertips and can access it with but a swipe of their finger across their smart phone, tablets or home computers. People have become much more aware of the way the world operates, albeit most seem to think it’s become an increase since years past. It really hasn’t; we simply hear more about it now. One thing that HAS increased, and I only know this because of personal experience, is confrontation. People seem o have developed a comfort and penchant for confronting one another, either online or in person. And the results can often bring more suffering than it’s worth.

A good example I can provide is a confrontation I had with an unknown gentleman (and I use the term lightly) about a year ago. I believe I wrote a post on this, but it’s been so long, who remembers? Anyway, I pulled out into an inner lane of travel after fuelling up my vehicle. This guy was in the outer lane and decided to switch lanes right in the location where I pulled out. The result was that he honked his horn loudly and proceeded to follow me to the nearest red light where he pulled up next to me and proceeded to call me a plethora of disrespectful names and try to “educate” me on traffic laws. I didn’t bother to tell him, but had he known what I do for a living, he may have understood the redundancy in that tactic.

Long story short, whether in the right or wrong, I apologized and told the guy not to let the incident ruin his day. he seemed unconvinced and unsatisfied. His problem. But it got me to thinking for quite some time afterwards… What would these people do if they confronted someone violent? A wanted criminal or a gang member who’d be just as likely pull out a pistol and shoot the guy in the face as look at him? Because of the nature of the world, you simply never know who it is you may be dealing with when you confront them.

If for no other reason than the fact that you’re prolonging your own suffering and creating some for another person, this is something to be mindful of when confronting unknown persons. And why would you confront them? Let’s look back at my traffic scenario. Did the guy gain anything from confronting me the way he did? Of course not! Has it altered my perceptions or changed the way I drive? I can guarantee you that it did not. I’m still just as careful and mindful of my driving as I was beforehand.

But had I been someone violent or dangerous, that guy might have been caught dealing with quite a different scenario. I’ve seen and experienced it often enough to know it can happen. And this is what needs to be seriously contemplated when one is considering confronting someone. At the end of the day, if something that happened brought you no harm, hasn’t altered your life and you can carry on with the status quo, may consider letting it go rather than confronting another person over it. You may discover that your life will be more peaceful and your stress levels will be less. Food for thought. ☯

You Can’t Roll The Dice Unless You Pick Them Up…

In the short term, I’m not one for taking chances. I like challenge, but I also prefer to know the ground beneath my feet is stable and won’t fall out from under me. But the reality is that sometimes you have to grab life by the sweaty gonads and take a chance. This can relate to many different aspects of life, including one’s health, financials, career and more. In some cases, many cases, if you don’t roll the dice and take a chance in life, you may not accomplish a great deal.

This is perfectly fine if the only ambition one has in life is to make just enough money to keep a roof over one’s head and food on the table, leaving no room for any growth, expansion or experiencing the world around you. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with building such a life. I’ve certainly been guilty of wishing to have a simpler life with less belongings and property. One doesn’t need to be Bill Gates in order to have a rich and fulfilling life.

But it stands to reason that if you want something MORE in life, it will sometimes involve taking chances. Rolling the dice. Gambling, if you will. Because the chance you take will often yield negative results, it can be considered as a form of gambling. But traditional gambling is also a good example of this. For example, I buy lottery tickets each week. I’ve been doing so for the past few years and have never won anything beyond a free play or a few dollars, but I continue to play, nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong; I could give two shits about being rich. I already consider myself rich in a variety of other ways but the money would be effectively used to bring some much needed peace of mind in the form of being debt-free and having an available savings that guarantee that I don’t have to throw myself further into debt just because the foundation of my house decided to start cracking (true story). They say money can’t buy happiness. But to be honest, I’d rather find that out myself than take someone else’s word for it. Money may not buy happiness, but it’s essentially the only way to pay bills.

“Your Odds Of Winning Are Like A Hundred Million To One! Don’t You Know That The Lottery Is Just A Tax On Stupid People?!”

– Brian Griffin, Family Guy (Season 10)

This is a discussion I’ve had with a number of people over the years, since most people are convinced that there’s no point in playing the lottery as the odds of winning are almost non-existent. This may be true, but you know what else GUARANTEES you won’t win? Never playing. Eventually SOMEONE will win. And that someone will reap the benefits of that victory. And the reality is that I may get hundreds, maybe even thousands of losing tickets over the course of time that I play. But it only takes ONE winning ticket to make the difference.

I use the lottery as the subject of my analogy, because it’s familiar to most people and it’s easily understandable. But the lesson applies to all other areas of one’s life. Where would society be if no one ever gambled on themselves and took a chance? I referenced Bill Gates earlier… What if he never took a chance on himself? Microsoft may never have come into existence and the face of modern computing would be significantly different. What if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t taken a chance and developed FaceBook, subsequently fighting for it and allowing it to develop? The world of social media and how we connect and communicate would be significantly different as well.

Maybe both of those are bad examples as well. Light knows the latter example hasn’t garnered the best reputation in recent years. So let’s consider lightning, instead. Have you ever been struck by lightning? Me neither. Any idea what the odds of being struck by lightning are? 1 in 500,000! And that’s DURING the lightning storm. If it’s a clear, sunny day I’m certain the odds jump sky-high (see what I did there?). But consider this? Do you think that someone who HAS been struck by lightning gives a damn about the odds? Or the statistics? No. They simply know it can happen because it HAS happened.

“Never Tell Me The Odds!”

– Han Solo, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

I’ve basically written this fun little post with all these lottery and lightning analogies to illustrate a simple point: life doesn’t progress and move forward by sitting on the couch waiting for something to come to you. You have to occasionally take a chance. Whether it’s on yourself or on someone else, you can’t roll the dice unless you pick them up. And those dice won’t yield a winning throw unless you decide to take a chance and try. The odds may be against you, but you’re guaranteed to lose if you never play. ☯

Don’t Call Yourself Sensei…

The word Sensei is popularized in the Western world and sometimes used a little too often for comfort’s sake. Putting aside for a moment that the title of Sensei should never be self-given (except to explain to a new student that you ARE the Sensei), the word essentially translates as “the one came before,” indicating that it’s a person’ who’s been there and done that. In martial arts circles it mostly used as a title of respect used by the student body to the lead instructor, which is why I say it shouldn’t be self-given; it’s a word that your students should be using to address YOU, not to identify yourself. But as usual, I digress…

Teaching can be a difficult thing and is in fact, a very strange creature. Most people who DON’T teach, assume that all it involves is passing on knowledge that you know something about. Although that’s a part of it, teaching has a great deal to do with HOW you impart that knowledge, how receptive your students are to what you’re providing and the communication that takes place and control methods used in order to achieve that goal. Teaching is not for everybody; a fact that my wife and I have learned in great detail over the past month from trying to take ownership of Nathan’s “at home” learning.

From a martial arts standpoint, it isn’t enough to have the rank and experience to know what needs to be taught. This is especially true of kids’ classes, but it holds to all students. Having the dynamic methods to impart said knowledge to the students who wish to learn takes a number of different steps on behalf of the instructor, most of which I learned the hard way. I had my own dojo for a few years in Northern New Brunswick before moving out to the Prairies. And I learned a number of different things about how to properly impart the knowledge necessary for a student to learn karate…

Focus On The Foundation: While it may be impressive to start the first open class of your school by demonstrating a triple spin kick, couple with a backflip while holding a sword may be impressive (and redundant in a real fight), it won’t help your students to learn from the beginning. Most people who have been doing something for a number of years won’t relish going back to the beginning. Most of us want to keep moving forward. But that new student who is beginning on Day 1 needs to learn those basics that you mastered so many years ago. Not only is it NECESSARY to impart these foundational skills on new and even intermediate students, it can be a good revisitation for the instructor as it’s important to remember one’s foundation;
Explain The Rules: The dojo can be a confusing place, especially to a Westerner who’s never done martial arts before. They’ll need to be told and come to understand that they have to bow before entering the dojo, refer to the instructor as “Sensei” and how to properly line up. This needs to come BEFORE you start hammering them with all those knuckle push-ups as a punitive measure. This is one of those instances where ignorance CAN be an excuse, unless you permit it to continue;
Use Your Voice: If you’ve ever watch a show or movie centred around karate and the martial arts, you’ll notice that there’s often a lot of yelling going on, the instructor is walking the rows and correcting students’ movements, etc… This is important. Even if you know what you’re doing and you’ve told the class to mirror your movement, you can’t stand at the front like a mime trying to get out of the box. The class needs to feel your presence and receive correction. Maybe that student at the front needs a foot adjusted. Maybe the student at the back has to be reminded to focus instead of staring at the female student in front of him (true story). Be present. Be vocal;
Admit When You’re Wrong/Don’t Ask Anything You Won’t Do Yourself: With over thirty years of karate under my belt, there are still things I don’t know. It’s extremely important as an instructor that you be willing to admit if you don’t know something. Trying to circumvent the question or making something up not only makes you look ridiculous, but it can damage your credibility. Once that happens, good luck trying to teach the class. And if you intend on having the class drill through a couple of hundred kicks, you best be ready to do it as well. Nothing damages an instructor’s credibility like having the students sweating half to death while the instructor calmly and dryly walks around doing nothing. Don’t forget that even if you’re the instructor, you’re ALSO there to work out. You can’t do that from a still position. Never ask your students to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself;
Be Prepared And Have A Focus: As much as it shouldn’t be necessary, your students will need to be kept engaged and interested. If you walk into the dojo and perform the exact same warm-up and the exact same workout during every class, it won’t take long for people to start yawning in class (which is an incredible sign of disrespect, but shame on you if you’re the cause). Keep your warm-ups dynamic and different. Don’t be afraid to change it up, not only to keep it interesting but also because it will keep your muscle groups guessing and work more body parts. Every class should be thought out and planned before the class starts. Focusing on kicks? Next class, focus on punches or blocks. Doing break falls tonight? Maybe focus on pressure points or throws during the next class. It’s perfectly fine to have a class where you work lines of techniques for an hour, but that should be your EVERY class. Planning and preparation will ensure the you’re moving forward with the program and that your students will progress;
Acknowledge Ranks But Don’t Let Them Define Partnerships: It’s important to understand that the white belt that started last month won’t be able to perform some of the techniques and may not have the staying power that the green or brown belt may have. But there’s no reason why a beginner can’t be partnered up with an advanced belt for paired exercises. This is a common misconception in most dojos. Even my current dojo has a nasty habit of saying, “Try to pair up with someone of similar size and rank…” Although this isn’t done maliciously, the pairing of students at different ranks is important to the learning process. Honestly, the head instructor can’t give one-on-one focus to every student during every class. This is why it’s important for junior belts to interact and be involved with the senior and advanced belts. That way, they get the additional coaching they need and the advanced belt can also learn a lot from junior belts;
Push Yourself, No Matter What’s Going On: Life doesn’t care about your plan, and sometimes things may try to get n your way of teaching the class. One good excuse is getting sick. Now, I’m not referring to getting the chicken pox or something dangerous and contagious. But I’ll always remember the times when I’ve had a basic cold and still went to karate. It’s important for the instructor up front to be motivated and driven with the same level of enthusiasm, regardless of anything personal that may be happening or whether or not they are sick. Nothing sucks the energy out of a class like a sluggish instructor who isn’t pushing themselves.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I just took stock of how long this post has gotten, and I’m barely halfway there. Teaching can be a challenge. And since I’m going on about keeping one’s students interested, I’d also like to keep my readers interested so I’ll cut the list short before y’all fall asleep while reading it. Hopefully, it gives any prospective instructors a foundation on which to start teaching. And it should also provide a certain level of clarification for students who may be reading as well. Martial arts is meant to be a give and take. There must always be a balance. ☯

Too Much Of A Good Thing…

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Yes. Yes you can. And depending on what that thing is, you can cause all sorts of damage to yourself, your health and your well-being. Don’t believe me? Choose your favourite take-out food and go eat it in buffet format… It won’t take long before you’ve overindulged and spend the next forty-eight hours regretting it for various reasons. And believe it or not, you can also have too much fitness, exercise and workouts. And even karate. There, I said it.

I think it was Epicurus who said, “No pleasure is bad in and of itself; only the consequences from overindulgences in those pleasures.” I think this applies to everything from favourite foods, sleeping and yes, even working out. I bring this up after recognizing that during the week of January 3rd, I performed 10 workouts. No, that’s not a typo! Granted, this is partially because I joined RunKeeper’s “Small Steps, Big Goals” Challenge that basically requires walking 50 kilometres and tracking them via the app, for the month of January. I’ve just been too excited (or stubborn?) at the recent purchase of my new kettlebells NOT to include a strength workout every day after my walk, as well.

What are the possible effects of working out too often or overexerting yourself? Well, according to a short article posted by HealthLine.com, most of the signs will be pretty recognizable. The first is pain, which I think makes sense. Working out causes damage to the muscle tissue, which then heals up stronger and bigger than before. This is how fitness growth is done. The next is fatigue. Not being tired, but fatigue. The difference is that being tired can be fixed almost immediately by resting. Fatigue can have a much deeper significance, including lack of energy, poor movements and lack of concentration.

You’ll also get sick more often. When you overexert yourself, your body will take longer to heal and recover, which means your body can’t fight other shit like, say colds and flus… Things like that. The last symptom the article included is difficulty breathing. If this happens, it can mean one of two things: either the exercise is too intense for the amount of oxygen you’re holding in, or you happen to be one of those poor idiots who holds their breath when doing something that requires effort! Not only should you be breathing properly throughout your workout, a decent exhale during the peak of a movement can be helpful to its proper execution. This is especially true in karate.

I’ll add a personal one that’s quite important, which is good nutrition. Most people seem to eat like trash. You need to include some lean proteins, healthy doses of vegetables (I have a rough time with that one) with at least one meal with a good dose of carbohydrates. That’s right, the Diabetic is suggesting carbohydrates. Don’t forget that carbs are your body’s fuel and you need to refill the tank after you’ve burned most of it. Although reduced-carb/reduced-calorie can help burn body fat, you can also overdo that aspect, which will lead to a whole different batch of complications.

You can avoid overexertion by acknowledging your particular circumstances. Age, medical conditions personal abilities are important and shouldn’t be ignored. Given that I have Type-1 Diabetes, testing my blood sugar levels every hour during fitness is an important aspect. You may be thinking, “Every hour? Am i supposed to be working out for longer than an hour?” Well realistically, the average karate class lasts between one and a half to two hours. My 70-kilometre bike runs last for almost four hours. It’s a bit tougher to stop during karate, since dojo etiquette usually prohibits leaving the floor without the instructor’s consent, but health comes first!

Another good way to avoid overexertion is by ensuring you’ve warmed up properly, you avoid sudden twisting and jerking movement that will hyperextend your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, get rest and food as appropriate and at appropriate times. And test, test, test… Different workouts will have different effects on your blood sugar levels, so it’s important to stay on top of that. Also, don’t forget to lighten the load when you need to. I’ve lost count of how many times in a gym that I’ve started doing reps only to drop to a lighter dumbbell for the next set because it was too much. There’s no shame in this. In fact, it’s a smart move and guarantees better growth and faster recovery.

The last, important point to avoid overexertion is learning how to do things properly. It may feel great to pound that punching bag for thirty straight minutes, but if your technique is wrong you can risk all sorts of injury and issues. Better to start slow and learn whatever it is you’re doing properly before increasing the intensity and amount. You’ll avoid all the nasty stuff and reap more of the benefits.

Get some rest! Did I workout in some way, shape or form every day during that week I mentioned earlier? Yes, I did. I also reached 10 workouts the following week, although some of these included the fitness challenge’s walks and some meditation (yes, meditating burns calories and can be considered a workout in some instances). One of the unexpected issues with working out almost constantly, is that your body will develop a muscle memory to constantly being taxed. This means that your system, as well as your blood sugar levels, will get used to constantly moving and exercising. The next time you have a light week where you may only work out once or twice will cause a reverse effect and mess with your blood sugars. Food for thought.

Fitness is important. Absolutely. But so is decent rest, good nutrition and proper form in all that you do. Work hard and focus on the benefits you’ll eventually gain. But keep a firm eye on what you’re doing and listen to what your body is telling you. It’s normal to feel pain during a workout, but there’s a big difference between aching or “feeling the burn” and being in genuine pain. Drink lots of water, take breaks and take care of yourself first. Your body is the engine that drives you, and every engine needs to cool down from time to time. ☯

It Ain’t All Smoothies and Sports Bras!

One of the things that the current pandemic has caused is a fine line where public fitness gyms are concerned. Some have remained open, with restrictions. Some have chosen to close their doors. I hold no judgement against either side of the coin, but I have to admit that there are pros and cons to the use of a public fitness gym. I’ve held memberships with some gyms; and unfortunate side effect of some of the places I’ve been posted over the years, since some of my work locations haven’t boasted gyms of their own.

I think that at SOME point in the past couple of years, I may have posted about the benefits of using a fitness gym… I honestly can’t remember because after almost 700 posts, they all kind of blend together. But needless to say, there are some definite benefits and advantages to using an actual fitness gym to get in shape as opposed to doing it at home, despite the fact that you CAN do so at home. And although I can’t seem to find the post where I posted the benefits, I decided it might be a good idea to post the down sides. Here are my five top down sides to training in a public fitness gym…

Membership Fees: Although it’s not only expected but required that one pays a monthly fee for the use of a public gym, sometimes those fees can seem a little off the rails. Depending on where you join, the monthly fees can lean a bit on the stupid side. Be sure to shop around and make sure that there’s a decent balance between available resources versus what you’re paying. If you live in a smaller community, you may not have much choice. But if you live in a larger centre, you have the benefit of being able to shop around and find the best value for your dollar;
Contracts: Don’t get me started! This pisses me off! Why do I need to sign a contract to join a gym? Will your building and equipment disappear if I quit your gym? No. So why do you require a fixed commitment, signed on paper from me just to allow me to lift weights for an hour, three or four times a week? What, am I renting the place from you? Can I sleep on the yoga mats at the end of the day? Give me a fuckin’ break…
Crowded Equipment: There’s nothing that quite gets me like a half dozen ‘roided up idiots surrounding the station I need for the day’s current workout. I’m the kind of guy that pre-plans his workouts before he starts, and having a group of douchebags standing at the leg press station, chatting away instead of getting their reps and moving on, ENRAGES ME TO NO END!!! Seriously though, it’s great if you can use your local gym to socialize with your friends, but I’m referring to the batch that are already huge and just hang out because they want to show off;
Other People’s Sweat: No matter how many signs they put up, no matter how many spray bottles are sitting all over the place, you’re bound to lay on a machine that was improperly washed by the previous user. Don’t even get me started on the gym showers and change facilities! I’ve always had the practice of sanitizing the machine BEFORE I hop on, but very few people maintain this practice, so Light knows what funk you may be exposing yourself to! That was a problem before COVID concerns became prominent…
Personal Perspective/Other People’s Judgment: This last one can be somewhat specific to the person, but not everyone feels comfortable stepping into a public place to try and get into shape. And I get that. What makes it worse is when you have some idiots making fun of people TRYING to make a positive change. I’ve seen some heavier set people hopping on a treadmill or elliptical with the intentions of trying to make a better future for themselves only to be discouraged by some nay-sayers who point and make fun of said people. We should grow up and be slightly more evolved at this point.

Honestly, I love using a fitness gym. It usually features multiples weight machines I would never dream of being able to afford on my own, coupled with sauna, shower and spa options that you just don’t get from working out at home. I don’t like paying for it, that’s probably the worst of the top five for me. But using a fitness gym, especially a personal trainer, can help get you on the right track for your fitness goals. ☯