A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand…

Abraham Lincoln made the above noted comment as the opening line to his acceptance address for the Illinois Republican Party in 1858. Although I’m not referring to anything political today, I want to discuss foundations.

A good foundation is the basis for any house. And no matter how big and luxurious the house, it will eventually falter if the foundation is weak.

When getting into any kind of sport or martial art, it’s important to bear in mind that you need to learn the basics before you learn what most people consider the “fun stuff”. In my experience, I’ve found that people will often walk into a karate dojo hoping to do flying spin kicks and back flips within their first month. (For the record, in thirty years of karate I have never done either of those as they are all but useless in an actual fight)

One good example is the originator of my karate style, Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948), once explained that when he went to Fujien Province and learned Kung Fu, he spent three years training and practicing Sanchin kata before the monks would teach him anything else. Can you imagine? Doing the same structured form, over and over again, for three straight years before learning something else? Today’s modern student wouldn’t stand for it. But the monks at the monastery swore that Sanchin was the foundation for everything that followed and needed to be mastered first and foremost. Master Uechi went on to share this belief when he propagated the style in Okinawa.

When studying any martial art or sport, it is of the utmost importance that students learn and master the basics before moving on to something else. One would think this is common sense, but I’ve seen far too many students walk away once they realized that repetition was a constant within the dojo. Repetition is key in mastering any movement.

So, make sure you lay your foundation before building your house, and make it a strong one. This will guarantee that no matter how big your house gets, you can count on it being held up by the foundation you’ve taken the time to master.

No Pain, No Gain! Let’s Be Honest… There Was Pain!!!

It’s important to keep some variety in your workouts. Doing different things helps to build different muscle groups and keeps things interesting. In my case, it also helps with better blood sugar management. This is referred to as Cross Training.

Cross training refers to training in a routine that covers off several different forms of exercise. In order to excel in your chosen sport (such as martial arts), it’s important to train consistently in that discipline. however, cross training allows you to vary your workouts and helps to develop an overall high level of fitness. It can help to prevent injury by ensuring more areas of the body are developed, can help with weight loss and will help to ensure you stick to exercising since it won’t get boring.

Ace Fitness has a good article on this and can be read here: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/36/what-is-cross-training-and-why-is-it-important

This morning, I decided to do something different. I got up at 6:30 am, slipped on some dry fit gear and a helmet and hit the frosty streets on my bicycle. It was -3 degrees Celsius, the windows of most vehicles were frosted over. Since I was wearing a bike helmet, I had no protection for my nearly bald head and my face was seized with cold.

One of the benefits of biking like this is that no matter how uncomfortable or cold I got, the only way for me to get home is to keep peddling! This morning, I faced that exact situation. Within five minutes, I had left the suburban neighbourhood and was faced with endless open fields (I live in Saskatchewan, after all). The morning breeze was light, but combined with the speed of cycling along, caused the muscles in my face and neck to twitch and beg me to seek shelter.

By the end of my run (when I reached my driveway and hit stop on the tracker app), I had reached 4 kms in 21 minutes. That’s a far cry from what I wanted to accomplish and it sure didn’t burn as many calories as I expected, but I got outside, stuck with it and did something different. I’m hoping to start shaving that time through consistent biking over the months to come. Who knows? I may even start biking to work… (someone’ll make me eat those words eventually)

It was nice to do something different. I spend so much time lifting weights and doing martial arts, I realized I have a few muscle groups I don’t use often, and I don’t often include cardio. I may or may not be cursing my legs at the moment.

Right now, I’m using an app called RunKeeper. It’s pretty sweet, it allows me to track distance, time and pace with just about any type of workout one can imagine. In fact, I also use it as a passive log to document my karate classes and weight workouts.

A screenshot of this morning’s bicycle adventure

The above image is what you can look at once you’ve ended your workout. There’s a lot more information available on the previous screen and as you screen down, I just think the map function is super cool!

Although you kinda need to download the app on your smart phone, since that’s the point, you can check it out at the following website: https://runkeeper.com and sign up for it for free.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go load my legs with analgesic cream and nap before karate class tonight!

Take It Easy, Or Take It Properly…

This month will mark thirty years for me, in the study of Okinawan karate. I still remember the spring evening in 1989 when I walked into the New England Academy of Karate and Judo for the first time. Sensei was absent that evening and the class was being taught by a brown belt. I watched the entire class and was impressed enough that I chose to attend the following Monday. When I showed up, I met my Sensei and started the journey that I still haven’t completed.

One of the benefits of having done martial arts for so long is I generally know what I’m looking at when I walk into a martial arts school. People have frequently asked me what they should be looking for when thinking about joining. That’s often a dangerous question…

First and foremost, students should try and avoid schools that are open for the prospect of making money. The term “McDojo” was coined a long time ago, and refers to a martial arts school that teaches a watered down version of its art in order to make money. These are often noticeable by the fact that EVERYTHING has a fee. Belts, uniforms, registration, seminars, books the student is “required” to read and even belt tests that have no inherent cost to the instructor, will generally have a cost attached to them. To be honest, one of the first questions a prospective student should ask the head instructor is “What can you tell me about your style?” If the instructor immediately goes into the historical background and particulars about the style, then it should be fine. But if they start by explaining their fee structure, it may be an issue. These are not the only signs, but they are certainly points to watch out for.

Another problem are schools that promote students to black belt within five years. Realistically, with some very rare exceptions, most students should take approximately ten years to achieve the rank of first-degree black belt. Unless one already holds an extensive background in the martial arts, where most of the basics have already been mastered, one cannot truly achieve the skill required for such a rank in that short a time.

The purpose of this post is not necessarily a checklist as to how to find a proper martial arts school, but rather what to do once you’ve found one. Let’s say you’ve found a dojo that suits your needs; the style feels right, the instructor is sound and they have a good reputation. What should you be looking for next?

The martial arts can only be properly achieved through three obstacles, and require only one thing. These three obstacles are blood, sweat and tears. Plain and simple. In my decades of training, I’ve had lots of all three. The one thing required in order to make it through these obstacles is concentration. Through proper concentration, one can achieve a great many things. In fact, I’ve often seen athletes in prime shape be unable to continue beyond the first few classes.

The thing is, there are lots of martial arts schools where you’ll get a decent sweat, everyone high fives each other and you have lots of fun. You get a long with everyone in the dojo and you actively enjoy going to class. But there needs to be more…

There will be classes where you’ll feel as though you can no longer go on. Some classes where you’ll be learning the combat side of the martial arts and your nose will bleed, muscles may get pulled or sprained and after some belt tests, you’ll ache for days. I remember there being times when I would sit at home, weeping into my hands because I had felt I couldn’t advance any further. But these are all parts of the learning process and the need to grow as person in tandem with your chosen martial art.

Everyone has a different reason for getting into the martial arts. Maybe it’s to improve one’s health or get into shape. Perhaps you want to learn to defend yourself or you’re looking to learn about something old and traditional. You simply need to ensure that the school you’re joining has what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a place to socialize and have a work out, great! It won’t matter if your school focuses on belt ranks, proper process or how long it takes to achieve belts. In fact, you could join anything you like; it wouldn’t have to be martial arts. Go join a yoga or Zumba class. Join a gym group. If you want to test yourself and learn to fight, you may want to join a school that focuses on tournament attendance.

It’s important to find what’s right for you, and to stick with it once you do. As Bruce Cockburn once said “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” True words. I’ll let y’all folks Google who Bruce Cockburn is.

The Unseen Demons

In my line of work, I’ve heard a lot about the unseen injuries that can be suffered from years of being exposed to violent and traumatic events. Law enforcement, first responders, rescuers and military often carry scars from their time of service that can’t be seen but are mostly felt. But one important aspect to consider is that it isn’t always the people in these specific lines of work that suffer from these unseen injuries.

One of the most common of these, is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD has been around for a very, very long time. It isn’t until recent times that deeper focus and understanding has started to come to the surface. In the times of World War I, the term “Shell Shock” was used before the term PTSD was coined. It was characterized by the reaction soldiers had to the constant exposure to violence and war time incidents. There has long been a stigma behind PTSD, where many believed it only affected those who “weren’t able to deal with it” or was a sign of weakness. For decades, there were those who also believed that it was a manufactured disorder and that the sufferer was not genuinely afflicted with an injury. Even today, there are some who question the legitimacy of PTSD.

In recent years, PTSD has been the subject of multiple studies, which have proven that there is a physical transformation that happens in the human brain as a result of repeated exposure to traumatic or terrifying events. These can include, but are not limited to car crashes, robberies, sexual assault and other various forms of accidents and/or crimes against a person. Although there is no known cure for PTSD at the moment, there are a number of therapies that, when used alone or in combination with one another, can alleviate the symptoms. In fact, The LifeLine Foundation even lists meditation as one of the treatment options. Imagine that…

Obviously, what works for one person doesn’t work for every person. people who suffer from PTSD can and will often suffer from different symptoms including but not limited to nightmares, flashbacks, sweating, trembling, increased irritability and constantly being “on edge”, as though was always felt as though they may be attacked at any given moment.

In previous years, many people would turn to the more “unconventional” types of self-treatment, such as alcohol, substance and drug abuse and unfortunately even suicide. It’s important to know that there are resources and people available to help you through it, if you are suffering from PTSD. The stigma is slowly being eliminated and it is starting to be recognized as the genuine article. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that PTSD is all too real…

More information and further resources on PTSD can be found on the following websites:

The LifeLine Foundation: http://thelifelinecanada.ca/resources/ptsd/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=ptsd%20causes&utm_content=!acq!v3!42605611150_kwd-281317349__219978557412_g_c__&utm_campaign=Branded+-+Canada&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6Y2c9oO_4QIVRLbACh01VQsbEAAYASAAEgKOWPD_BwE

The Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

Most first-responder organizations also offer a number of resources and people you can reach out to. It’s important to impact the message that thesis something you don’t have to deal with alone.

Breaking Bread, It’s What’s For Dinner…

Remember the good old days when people sat at a table together and had face to face conversations during a meal? I do. I call it “good old days”, but to those who don’t know otherwise, I guess they don’t see the difference.

Tonight, we had the opportunity to have dinner with another couple and their children. It was chaotic. There was noise. There was chatter. there were multiple children vying for attention at different times.

Know what else there was at this dinner? Jokes. Laughter. Conversation. Games. Two families enjoying an evening together in the traditional sense. Something you don’t see a great deal of nowadays.

I think that the dynamic we’ve developed as a people is such that it has become easier for us to communicate through our devices. Text messages and various forms of social media have become the new norm. When most groups sit at a table together, at least a number of them will have their faces buried in their smart phones. The newest generation haven’t even had the benefit of knowing any different. We see the same thing when we sit on the bus or at restaurants, even when it’s two or more people together.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a smart phone. I use it a lot. I mean, a LOT. And sometimes, it has been to the detriment of my family. Doing things like playing games, browsing social media and watching television have proven to be a bad example to my son especially, who thinks it’s perfectly normal to sit in front of the television during a meal as opposed to sitting together at the dining table.

As wonderful as the advancement of technology has been, and no matter how much easier it has made life, I think it’s important that we pass on those particular traditions to our children. In a busy world where technology reins, it’s important to keep a foot firmly grounded on our humanity. We shouldn’t forget that the spoken word and face to face contact should never be taken for granted.

So, take the time to enjoy those few valuable moments with your loved ones. Have a conversation. Ask how their proverbial day went and what they did. In the long run, it will be better for you than tweeting what your last meal was.

Lethargy and Apathy are NOT countries in Eastern Europe…

One of the many pitfalls of Diabetes is that is can often cause sluggishness and lack of energy. Many people tend to see this as laziness, but it is often attributed to out of control blood sugars and the physical tolls it takes on the human body.

Just to clarify, lethargy and apathy are pretty similar. the first means a lack of energy and enthusiasm; the latter means a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two.

People often wonder how to “push through” and get their workouts or exercise done, despite the lack of energy. This takes concentration and the willingness to push beyond what your body is telling you. Don’t get me wrong; it is important to take rest when it is required. Your body will eventually need to recharge and replenish itself. This is why most trainers and health professionals will tell you that you shouldn’t work out seven days a week. Eventually, you start doing more damage than good.

But as a matter of course, it is important to push yourself. When you get those days where you just don’t feel like getting off the couch, those are exactly the days where you should. Yesterday, I skipped a karate class. This is not a common practice for me, but some days one simply can’t find the motivation. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But the throbbing pain in my upper back and right shoulder, coupled with my inability to keep my eyes open, told me that if I didn’t take a rest and allow these muscles to heal, I would likely injure or harm myself further.

So it becomes important to know the difference between required rest and lethargy. It is also important to recognize the difference between the ache of a rigorous workout and the pain of an injury. If you are ever uncertain as to which you are feeling, don’t hesitate to visit your family practitioner, chiropractor, massage therapist, whatever you need. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s always better to err on there side of caution. Your body will thank you.

So, What Comes Next?

One of the curious things that happens when I tell people I study Buddhism, is the apparent need to compare my beliefs to their own. I usually get asked the same batch of questions:

“So, do you believe in God?” (Yes, indeed I do!)

“Do you believe in life after death?” (I do, in fact. This is not discounting the concept of reincarnation that most Buddhists subscribe to)

“Oh, you’re one of those meditating people, right? Do you meditate?” (Yes, in fact I’m meditating right now to get through this conversation!)

All jokes aside, I never shy away from answering questions when someone is curious about a subject I have some knowledge on. But the aspect I want to discuss today is the concept of life after death. Let’s be honest, we have all wondered what happens when we die. At some point, we have wondered and/or hoped about the concept of heaven. Some people completely discount the possibility. Atheist, Humanists and Secularists especially, will have a reasonably firm opinion that there are no pearly gates waiting once we pass away.

However, science has been able to provide some insight, even for those who don’t follow a faith-driven lifestyle. The best explanation I could muster came out of me back in 2013, while speaking with my aunt.

Growing up, I only had one aunt on my father’s side. Although her name was Iris, the whole family always called her Cookie. She lived in the southern part of New Brunswick until her divorce, after which she moved to Alberta. It would be almost twenty years before I would see her again.

Before that came to happen, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It wasn’t until my work brought me out to the Prairies that I was in a position to go visit her. I traveled from South-Central Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta where I spent three wonderful days with Aunt Cookie. Despite her waning health, she was so full of life and smiles. She was the perfect example of a person making the best of the living moment, instead of contemplating what was to come.

On the third day, before I got on the road to travel back to Saskatchewan, we enjoyed a light lunch at a local eatery, where we had the opportunity to discuss life and what Aunt Cookie may or may not believe would be coming. As we discussed, I remembered describing something to her that I would be repeating to others for the years that would follow:

“Most people fall under two categories. Those who believe we go to heaven when we die, and those who don’t! If you live a faith-driven existence, then you should be confident in what your faith has taught you. If you’re right, then you’ll be headed to heaven. Even if you don’t have faith, science has proven that living beings are energy-based. At our very cores, we are composed of energy at the very atomic levels. And science has proven that energy can never be destroyed or cease to exist; it simply transforms. So even if you lead your life without a religious faith, science has proven that once we pass away, our energy will transform or move on to some other level. So, no matter what you believe, you should trust that this is not the end…”

Make of that what you will, but it makes sense, right? And it did make my Aunt Cookie feel better and potentially gave her some peace.

My Aunt Iris, or “Cookie” as the family would call her

My aunt passed away about six months later, but not before getting to meet the woman who would become my wife.

The bottom line is that we have no way of knowing what comes next. At least, not without going there to see for ourselves. And I don’t know about you but I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon. I have WAY too many things I want to get done first. Live life to the fullest and take the time to appreciate the now. Make every minute count.