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!

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Exercise and the Effect on Blood Sugar…

Diabetes is a ridiculous creature. It requires a level of balance and work that most people just don’t seem to understand. The problem is, something that works one day may not work out quite so well the next. One needs to find a delicate balance between food, insulin and exercise to maintain some semblance of good health.

When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1982, there were a lot of things lacking from my routine to make it a proper one. Carb counting wasn’t a thing (at least not for me) so insulin dosages were something of a guessing game. My glucometer (blood testing machine) weighed almost three pounds and it took almost two minutes for a blood sugar reading. I won’t get into the process it entailed, but it was way more complicated than the simple, ten-second finger poke I do today. The common belief at the time was that food increased blood sugar and exercise lowered it. Although this is isn’t completely false, it isn’t completely accurate either.

The human body contains some 79 organs (depending on one’s definition of an “organ” and what medical journal you’re reading). Your body has this tendency of trying to make all your internal systems work together in harmony. That being the case, your Endocrine System (the internal system that contains the Pancreas) will work to compensate for some of the things your Pancreas lacks. For more information on these individual systems, check out Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_organs_of_the_human_body)

Although I usually only work for about sixty minutes, on average, sometimes my workouts have gone for as long as two hours. When you perform intense, physically-draining exercise, your body generates adrenaline. Adrenaline is wonderful stuff. It relieves pain and alleviates some of the stressors on the body during critical moments. It also has one other unexpected side effect: in increases blood sugar. So if you’re having a total kick-ass workout and you’re having a blast and you feel that “runner’s high”, chances are that your blood sugar will rise, not drop (despite the physical exertion). If you’re doing something consistent (like running, cycling or elliptical) you’ll burn calories and lower your blood sugar. I don’t want to say that cardio in general is boring, but it doesn’t produce the adrenaline kick that high intensity workouts do.

The primary issue with this is that if one tests blood sugar levels right after a high intensity workout and takes an insulin dosage to adjust for the high, blood sugars will bottom out once the adrenaline dies out and the insulin kicks in.

There’s no magic formula to circumvent all of this. If you have Diabetes, all you can do is plan and adjust! WebMD has a good page relating to this. It can be found at https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/exercise-lower-blood-sugar#2

Things have changed considerably for me since 1982. My blood sugar is tested via wireless sensor attached to my bicep. My insulin is delivered through an insulin pump. The benefit of all these gadgets is that I’m down to one needle every three days, at most, as opposed to over a dozen needles, including blood testing and insulin injections. I’ve been taught how to carb count and calculate appropriate insulin dosages based on my specific metabolism.

Be consistent, check with your doctor before starting any major fitness regiment but stick with it. Diabetes often causes a sort of lethargy or feeling of laziness. This doesn’t mean that you can’t push beyond this feeling and experience a solid burn through your workout. Diabetes doesn’t prevent good fitness; it is simply another obstacle for a strong fitness enthusiast to work through.

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.

What Motivates You?

What is motivation? Webster’s Dictionary defines motivation as a motivating force, stimulus or influence. Motivation is synonymous with incentive or drive. Everyone has a source of motivation, but sometimes it isn’t evident to us.

Motivation is important; ultimately it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, helps us fight our way through the daily rigours of life allows us to develop goals. Motivation applies to everything, not only your fitness.

Recently, I had to suffer a step backwards in my career. Nothing terminal, mind you. After all, some people don’t even have a job. But it’s caused me to seriously question what motivates me.

One of the concepts I’ve examined through the years through my Buddhist studies involves a simple three-sided relationship that maintains a strong motivational lifestyle. The concept is as follows:

  1. Everything that is alive has movement:  Even plants display some level of movement though their growth. Some plants can even move to angle themselves better to get the most sunlight they can or are even carnivorous. The takeaway is that everything that is alive, moves.
  2. Movement creates energy:  This one makes sense, doesn’t it? Humans have known for decades or longer that locomotion has the kinetic energy necessary to create energy. This is why we use hydroelectricity and wind turbines. The same concept applies to the human body. Our locomotion has the potential to maintain our energy.
  3. Energy sustains life: The last side of the triangle is rather self-explanatory. If there is no energy, there is no life. Something comparable to your smart device dying out once its battery red-lines.

So, the equation is simple: Movement brings energy, energy maintains life, life creates movement and so on and so forth in a sort of loop. If you remove or allow one of the sides to lapse, this is where motivation wanes and life fails to flourish.

For example, if you spend your days sprawled on the couch binge-watching Netflix (I’ve been guilty of this one on more than one occasion), you eliminate movement from your daily routine and this will cripple your energy. You’ll gain weight, have blood pressure issues and develop unbalanced sleep patterns. And if you cripple your energy, it affects your life. Make sense?

Obviously, there are other factors at play. Proper nutrition, rest and a supportive environment (family and friends) are the building blocks of what’s required to maintain a motivated lifestyle.

So, let’s ask the question: what motivates you? Is it your family? Is it your health and well-being? Is it your career? What if it’s all of those? It certainly is for me. But when one of those is torn away from you, you have to work all the harder to keep your motivation up. When you fall, there is nowhere to go but up. So rise up, and like the proverbial Phoenix, dust the ashes of your loss from your shoulders and be reborn! Find the reason for your motivation and there’ll be nowhere to go but up!

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!

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” Diabetes…

I was diagnosed with type Diabetes (previously known as “Juvenile Diabetes”) at the age of 4 years old. It was a difficult time, as my older brother had several medical issues that kept us frequenting the local hospitals on a weekly basis, so some of my symptoms went unnoticed for quite some time. And by the time they WERE noticed, things began to escalate.

My weight started to fluctuate, I was having severe mood swings (worse than the typical 4 year old, I guess) and I started wetting the bed. Some of these might have been attributed to nothing, had I not lost consciousness at the breakfast table one morning.

I was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed me with Type 1 Diabetes. My life suddenly became a flurry of medical appointments and training. I had to learn how to test my blood glucose and take insulin injections. I started to learn a rigorous dietary regiment and was restricted from eating many of things I saw others eating.

Although many people feel that it would be horrific for a four year old child to be diagnosed with this condition, it’s been 36 years since I was diagnosed and I’ve never known differently. Diabetes has become a part of my daily lifestyle.

Throughout the years, however, I’ve had to deal with a lot of stereotypes surrounding Diabetes. Even with all the literature available on the subject, not least of which includes the Internet, people are still ignorant of what causes Diabetes and what it takes to treat it.

Here’s the reality: Type 1 Diabetes happens when your own body’s immune system destroys cells in one’s pancreas known as beta cells. These cells are the ones responsible for the production of insulin within the body. Since these cells are destroyed and no insulin is produced, artificial insulin injections are required to maintain proper glucose levels within the body.

Now that the medical jargon is out of the way, allow me to share some of the worst lines I’ve heard from people (most of which are not, nor do they care for, someone with Diabetes):

“That has sugar in it. Should you really be eating that?” (The amount of sugar or glucose in food doesn’t matter, so long as you can balance the amount of insulin you take)

“I thought only fat or obese people caught Diabetes?” (This is an aggravating factor for Type 2 Diabetes, which is something totally different from Type 1.  One’s body weight CAN affect blood sugar levels once you become Type 1, but is most definitely not a cause)

Back in the day, when I used to take insulin injections with a bottle and syringe, I had one of my professors walk in on me in the washroom. “Young man, are you taking drugs? And are you doing it while on campus?” (I actually got dragged out and brought to the college administrator’s office for that one until the matter was explained and cleared up.)

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding Diabetes and it continues to amaze me how most people don’t know the most basic facts about a condition that affects over 4 million Canadians.

I recently found an interesting website (www.getdiabetesright.org) that provided a list of Diabetes etiquette, which I find hits the nail on the head. It provides the information for people who DON’T have Diabetes. Here’s what it says:

  1. DON’T offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of Diabetes.  You may mean well, but giving advice about someone’s personal habits, especially when it’s not requested isn’t very nice. Besides, many of the popular beliefs about Diabetes (“You should stop eating sugar”) are out of date or don’t apply to Type 1 Diabetes.
  2. DON’T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with Diabetes you’ve heard about.  Diabetes is scary enough, and stories like these are not reassuring! Besides, we now know that with good management, odds are good that you can live a long, healthy and happy life with Type 1 Diabetes.
  3. DON’T look so horrified when I check my blood glucose levels or give myself an injection.  It’s not a lot of fun for me either. Checking blood glucose and taking medications are things I must do to manage Diabetes well. If I have to hide while I do so, it makes it much harder for me.
  4. DON’T offer thoughtless reassurances.  When you first learn about my Diabetes, you may want to assure me with things like, “Hey, it could be worse; you could have cancer!” This won’t make me feel better. And the implicit message seems to be that Diabetes is not a big deal. However, Type 1 Diabetes (like cancer) IS a big deal.
  5. DON’T ask me “how my Diabetes is coming along.”  The management of Type 1 Diabetes involves more than taking shots and watching what you eat. It is a complex balance of three things: insulin dosage, exercise and food. Growth, illness, stress, changes in activity level, changes in where shots are given and other factors can effect this balance. On-going adjustment is needed and my numbers will fluctuate (sometimes in extremes) every day.
  6. DO realize and appreciate that Diabetes is hard work.  Type 1 Diabetes management is a full-time job I didn’t apply for, didn’t want and can’t quit. It involves thinking about what, when and how much i eat, while also factoring in exercise, medication, stress, blood glucose monitoring and so much more – each and every single day.
  7. DON’T try to find a “reason” that I have this disease.  Type 1 is not caused by being overweight. It is not caused by eating too much sugar. It is not contagious. Children do not outgrow Diabetes or their need for insulin. Nothing that my parents did or did not do could have prevented the onset . Insulin does not cure Diabetes, it controls it.
  8. DO offer your love and encouragement.  As I work hard to manage my Diabetes successfully, sometimes just knowing that you care can be very helpful and motivating.

They say that every person is going through a journey no one knows about. I’m certainly not sharing this to make anyone feel sorry for me or to complain. But like with every other serious medical condition, education is the key towards understanding this one. For more information, feel free to visit http://www.diabetes.ca, http://www.getdiabetesright.org or visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at http://www.jdrf.ca

Man’s Best Friend…

We’ve often heard the old saying “a dog is a man’s best friend”. As a child, I was never afforded the opportunity to have a pet. My mother and brother both had severe allergies to pets and my family spent most of my childhood living in rental apartments where pets would not have been permitted.

I had a batch of tiny red-eared turtles when I was a child, but let’s be honest: aquarium or terrarium pets aren’t quite as cuddly as a dog or a cat (they tend to die if you cuddle them). I used to spend a lot of my summers in my youth exploring rivers and brooks in Northern New Brunswick. There was never an outing where I didn’t manage to come home with some creature I found in the forest. And my father was totally on the band wagon. We used to collect crayfish, salamanders and fish from every outing. It used to drive my mother crazy, especially when a salamander or lizard made its way out of its terrarium.

My “Golden Doodle” Molly, as she was in when we took her into our home in 2014.

As I grew into adulthood, the idea of having a pet evaporated with time. But i’ve always been fond of animals. In 2014, my wife and I moved to a small community in southern Saskatchewan where we purchased our first home. Through social networking, we learned of a local woman who was moving out of her home and would be unable to take her dog with her. There wasn’t much information about this dog, as it belonged to the woman’s ex-husband who had abandoned the dog when he moved away. The woman was moving into a rental property that wouldn’t allow pets.

When my wife Laura saw the post, she shared it with me, as this woman resided within our community. Our newly-purchased home had a large fenced-in back yard and it appeared as though the woman would be bringing the dog to a shelter if she couldn’t find it a home. My heart went out to the dog and I suggested to my wife that we take her in. Based on the photograph, we were under the impression that it was a reasonably small dog and we could manage her within our household. We contacted the woman and advised that we would take her.

Molly after a fresh haircut in 2015.

When we arrived at the woman’s residence, we were shocked to find an 85-pound sponge of matted fur. Molly was a large dog, but so timid and came to us immediately. We still agreed to bring her home with us. I was on the job the day we picked her up, but I was able to bring her to my office and my co-workers took a liking to her immediately.

Once we got her groomed and checked out by a veterinarian, we brought her home. You know, most people don’t seem to believe how much heart a household pet has, but it became obvious in a very short period of time the Molly was so grateful to Laura and I for taking her in. She started greeting me at the door every time I came home. After a couple of months, she began running outside to greet me where we’d play for a few minutes before going inside.

Molly enjoying an afternoon nap.

One of the main issues surrounding Molly was that we had no information on her history. We had no idea where she was originally from or even how old she was. The veterinarian was able to estimate somewhere between five to seven years old. She was incredibly timid and seemed extremely gentle, but I had heard stories of rescued dogs turning on a dime, especially if their triggers are unknown.

When my son was born in late 2014, I was anxious about how they would interact with each other. Since Molly was in the household first, I worried she would consider herself the dominant one. I’ve also heard that since dogs are originally pack animals, they occasionally give in to their basic instincts and attempt to discipline human children by nipping or biting. There’s no need to explain why that would be an issue.

My son Nathan tentatively accepting a kiss from Molly.
Just try and tell me these two don’t look like they’re up to something…

But very soon after we brought Nathan home, it became quite clear they would become fast friends. Just another example of how dogs have a special place within the family dynamic. Molly would spend her nights sleeping by Nathan’s crib.

Partners in crime!

These days, it’s difficult to imagine what life was like before I had a dog. Molly is part of our family, part of the household and Nathan considers her to be his “puppy”. Lately, he’s been hugging her a lot and saying he loves her, which is sweet. Everyone who meets and interacts with Molly mentions how timid and sweet she is, which often makes me wonder about her background and how she got to be that way. Distant sounds frighten her (thunder, fireworks, even the occasional passing bus) and she gets skittish, but she’s a prime example of her bark being worse than her bite. She’ll conveniently bark at passing dogs when she’s tethered, but will walk quietly and just sniff if we pass another dog on the street.

Dogs are a special kind of creature. They have so much love to give, and they do so unconditionally. Even when Molly makes a mess or damages something around the house and I scold her, she’ll come running to me with her tail wagging within minutes. Besides being a faithful companion, she’s also a teacher of sorts. Nathan is being taught to be responsible for feeding her, brushing her and giving her treats. Watching them play together is heart-warming (except when Molly chews on one of Nathan’s toys and a melt down occurs).

Molly as she is now, in our back yard with Nathan.

So, treat your dogs well, folks! They may live much shorter lives than us, but they give freely of their hearts for the time that they’re here.