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

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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!

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