Martial Arts, One Language, Many Dialects…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Beard or Not To Beard, That Is The Questions… (that nobody asked)

Beards are a hot topic these days. Some find them cool, some find them pretentious… No matter your preference, beards have been around for a LONG time!

According to an article entitled “A Short History of Beard Styles” as posted on History Cooperative (https://historycooperative.org/a-short-history-of-beard-styles/), early humans used beards for warmth and sometimes intimidation. These days, they are often used to show masculinity, royalty, fashion and status.

Now, beards aren’t necessarily ALL good. There’s a widely-argued debate about how much bacteria beards contain and how unsanitary they may be. There was a study performed where a number of beards were swabbed then analyzed by a microbiologist. The results found were said to be as dirty as the average toilet, although they neglected to include clean-shaven men in this study.

A follow-up study was posted in 2014 where 408 men with AND without beards were analyzed and the results were pretty identical. Ironically enough, the results showed that some species of bacteria were actually more likely to appear on a clean-shaven face. The actual WebMD article can be read at https://www.webmd.com/men/news/20160125/is-your-beard-packed-with-germs#1

Throughout my life, I’ve never had the opportunity to grow enough facial hair for it to genuinely be considered a beard. By the time I graduated from high school, most of my jobs required a clean-shaven visage. Recently I have found myself in a position where I no longer needed to shave for work, so I thought I would see what all the fuss is about.

Three weeks worth of beard and hair growth

Now, I generally keep my head shaved, so I allowed some growth to complement the beard. After three weeks, do you know what I discovered? Beards are itchy as hell! Every few minutes or so, I feel the compulsion to scratch the living’ hell out of my face. Therefore, today I gave in and decided to shave everything off! But not before snapping shots of various different styles throughout the shaving process.

Rockin’ the goatee!
Soul patch, yo!
The finished product!

So there you have it! Although a break from shaving is always welcome, sporting a full face of hair is definitely not my thing. plus, I’m not really a fan of how much grey hair I seem to have in my beard.

Before and After

So what do you think? Which look is better on me? I’m not sure why the left side of my face looks swollen, but barring that, leave me a comment about which side you think is best.

Diabetic Macular Edema, Pt. 2

As promised, I’m providing a bit of a step-by-step of the eye appointment I had today. Right from the outset I’m going to warn everyone that I took some photographs of my eyes. I only offer this warning because some people have difficulties handling “eye stuff”.

I arrived in Saskatoon and checked into my hotel that I’d be staying at for the night. I dropped off my bags and got set up in my room before booking the hotel’s guest shuttle to bring me to the hotel. The shuttle drove me and I arrived at Saskatoon City Hospital almost an hour prior to the appointment. I checked in at the admitting counter before starting the process.

The first step was a standard eye exam. I generally always score 20/20 on this, depending on how well-balanced my blood sugar is. On this occasion, I scored perfectly. The nurse then puts drops into both eyes that cause my pupils to dilate. Once this is done, I make my way to waiting room “B” where scans and photographs of my retina will be taken.

My “vampire eyes”, about fifteen minutes after they’ve been dilated.

I waited for quite some time before getting in for my scans. Unfortunately, getting to the hospital early does nothing for you, as the computer check-in places you in the queue based on your appointment time and not when you showed up. This sucks, especially when you happen to be early and people who have arrived after you end up getting ahead.

Once I get in to the “photographer”, he takes a detailed scan of the back of both eyes, as well as a photograph of each eye. This part of the process is simple and painless, despite having my eyes dilated like a vampire on coke, and every pinch of light causes a headache. Then, I made my way to waiting room “C”, which is ultimately where I will get the actual injections.

The medieval torture chair where I will be given my eye injections!

After another wait in the third waiting room, I was brought into an examination room as pictured above. I was strapped into the chair (Totally kidding! She didn’t strap me in!) and more drops were added to my eyes by the nurse. These drops freeze all sensation in the eyes (supposedly) but allow full movement.

The ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) then enters into the room and we look at the scans of my eyes together and compare them to the last appointment’s scans. During this discussion, we consider and decide whether the current injection regiment is still ideal or if it should be increased (my current regiment requires injections every eight weeks). I’ve been going at eight week intervals for almost a year now, with a couple of exceptions where I’ve allowed it to go to nine or ten weeks. This has resulted in worsened vision in the form of blurring, which is why we never push the appointments past the eight week mark.

The surgeon then places a clamp on one of the eyes (think Clockwork Orange) and puts a few drops of Bridine solution onto the white part of the eye. Bridine solution is a topical antiseptic generally used before surgeries. The white part if the eye is where the needle will penetrate the surface of the eye. I then pick a spot on the ceiling and hold fast, as the surgeon pushes the needle through and injects the medication.

Walking out the hospital in pain. Since I could barely see a thing, I’m surprised the photo turned out as well as it did!

As I’m staring at the ceiling and the medication enters the vitreous body, I can see swirls in my vision. It’d be a little bit freaky if one were not focused on the stinging pain ripping through that side of the face!

The needle gets pulled away and the excess is swabbed up by the surgeon. Then, I stagger into the scheduler’s office where she hands me a piece of paper indicating the date and time of my next appointment. She asks me if the appointment is fine, but I take the paper without reading it (because I can’t) and make my way down to the hospital lobby.

Normally, I get the hotel’s shuttle to pick me up and bring me back. On this occasion, the shuttle was tied up bringing guests to the airport so I had to hoof it! It’s about a fifteen minute walk through Rotary Park to reach the hotel. The walk itself would be refreshing and nice, considering it’s 4 degrees today. But since it’s a clear sky with a very bright, Prairie sun, it was torturous.

Right eye. The bright red line starts at the injection site.
The left eye. Notice the bright, red point is more prominent in this one.

Once I got back to my hotel room, I closed all the curtains and turned off the lights before crashing hard. It’s a catch-22! Having my eyes closed keeps the light from hurting me while the dilation wears off, but the rubbing of the eyelids on the eyeballs causes pain as well. Luckily, once I fall asleep I don’t notice this as much.

I’ll be taking it easy for the rest of the evening as my eyes recover then try and get a solid night’s sleep. Once I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll make the trek back to Regina. I’ll have some latent headaches for the next day or two, but it’s a small price to pay to maintain my vision.

So there you have it! I warned you it might be gross. Something I didn’t mention in the previous post is that DME can be caused by bad blood sugar control over a long period of time. Being a Type 1 during my youth was chaotic. My blood sugars ran rampant and I’ve been comatose on more than one occasion. So, it’s very important to maintain your levels and get regular check ups, regardless of how big a pain it is. Because as much as I hate it when someone uses this line on me, it could always be worse!

Diabetic Macular Edema, Pt. 1

So, tomorrow I will be travelling to a neighbouring city to receive treatment for Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). This is a condition that is defined by an accumulation of fluid at the back of the macula, which is the part of the retina that helps to control our vision.

There are a number of causes for DME, but one that applies in my case is simply that I have been a Type 1 Diabetic for an extended period of time (thirty-six years, in fact).

The treatment includes injections into the eyes that help to dry up the fluid in the macula and alleviate the swelling it causes at the back of the eye. The eye is frozen by way of anesthesia drops. This allows for movement of the eye, but it prevents the pain associated with sticking it with a needle! Then, the ophthalmologist places a small needles into the white of the eye and injects a specialized medication into the vitreous body, which is the jelly-like substance that fills the inside of the eye.

Generally, the freezing drops wear off within twenty to thirty minutes and my head becomes a pulsing ball of pain. I can still see, although most of it is simply shapes and bright light, due to the dilated pupils required for the scans prior to the injections. A nap for an hour or two helps to take the edge off (plus, I get to have a nap!) and I can alleviate pain through more traditional methods throughout the evening.

By the next morning, besides the eyes being a little bit dry, I’m back to normal and can head home. It’s a nasty process that I have to repeat every eight weeks. In the beginning, I was receiving treatment every four weeks, but as better control and reduced swelling have been achieved, we’ve managed to taper it off to the eight weeks I’m currently sitting at.

Tomorrow, I will share photographs of the aftermath. Since it involves the eyeballs, it may be a bit much for some people, so be warned. The photographs will show the injection site and resulting irritation to the eyeball that it causes.

For more information on Diabetic macular Edema, you can visit the WebMD site at https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetic-macular-edema#1

Nature Is All Around, Even When you Don’t See It…

Sometimes living in the city gives us the impression that we don’t have many aspects of nature around us. My family and I live in a suburb North of a city. We often see rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks wandering the yard.

A squirrel in the tree adjacent to my yard

This afternoon, my son and I were having a rather spirited snow ball fight in our back yard. Temperatures reached a warm high of 4 degrees, which is a welcome change to the frosty and foggy conditions we’ve had recently. While we were tossing snowballs at each other (with our dog Molly jumping around our legs) we noticed this cheeky squirrel chirping at us and leaping from one branch to the other.

It served as a great reminder that no matter where you live, nature finds a way to join in the fun!

This little guy seemed to be just as curious about us as we were about him! he hung around and chirped loudly at us for the longest time. Of course, maybe we were making too much noise and disturbing him.

With milder weather available, it’s important to get out and stay active. Get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors and everything it has to offer.

Blood, Sweat & Tears…

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

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

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

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

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

Why So Sensitive…?

Have you noticed that the world has changed its point of view significantly in the past ten years? Maybe it’s just me… I remember a time when people would speak with one another before a problem, became prominent, first and foremost, and everyone wasn’t so damned sensitive about everything.

“I identify as…”

“That offends me…”

“You know, SOME people may not appreciate your point of view…”

It seems as though no matter what you do nowadays, you can offend someone with almost anything you do. One of my favourites is how medical professionals have started getting offended when a patient offers up an opinion…“Oh, let me guess! You Googled that, didn’t you? Congratulations, you can searcgh for things online! Maybe you’d like to be the doctor???” Considering how many medical professionals I’ve dealt with due to my Type 1 Diabetes, I’ve had this retort thrown in my face on a number of occasions. I guess that all things considered, I can’t blame them! In my line of work, I’ve had people suggest that they know the law better than I do. Although that hasn’t saved them from getting charged. And with the World Wide Web at everyone’s fingertips, where does a professional draw the line in knowing when a client is simply postulating and not threatening your skills?

The other issue that seems to have changed radically in the past ten years is what I like to call “The Holiday Effect”. Canada is home to diverse cultures and multiple backgrounds. And even though we are living in 2019 and should all be able to just get along, this tends to cause an unmeasurable amount of head-butting! We see a great amount of that during the Christmas holidays. These days, saying “Merry Christmas” seems to have taken the wayside and the preferred greeting is “Happy Holidays”, so as to not offend those who may not celebrate Christmas.

Really? So just because you don’t celebrate Christmas, I can’t wish you a happy one, based on how I was raised? Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be advanced enough in our development by now that we can respect and ACCEPT all beliefs and cultures?

As a Buddhist, I generally tell people that I am a student of all religions and beliefs. I pride myself on being open to anyone’s perspective (at least until I learn that it is realistically harmful to themselves or others, of course). But where do we draw the line at how far we are willing to change ourselves in order to accommodate others? And is it appropriate to do so?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I change my habits to accommodate someone of different background or culture in order to accommodate them. Many would believe that it would be insensitive if I didn’t do so. How far does it go before it starts becoming insensitive to me?

These days, it seems everyone gets to choose the core aspects of themselves: Their name, their gender, EVERYTHING! And people get outright offended when you don’t refer to them based on their chosen lifestyle or perspective. And you know what? It’s okay to choose your own way of life. Maybe it’s not quite okay to get offended, and even angry, if I don’t understand, especially when I don’t know you.

A part of me believes that the advent of social media has made things worse. These issues have plagued the world for decades, but the arrival of information at the world’s fingertips has made it possible for us to hear about these things, even experience them in a much more comprehensive manner than we would of, say ten years ago.

The bottom line is this: No matter what your cultural, religious, racial or ancestral background may be, we can all co-exist. The world is a mighty big place (even at its current population of approximately 7,700,000,000 people (as per the World population Clock at http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/). But despite that fact, there’s room enough for us all to carry our beliefs with us, without disturbing or interfering with anyone else’s. If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas and you don’t celebrate it, no big deal! Just say thank you for the well wishes and move on. I’m certain your respective beliefs teach you to appreciate kindness, and it would be just that! If you identify in a way that may not be clear to other people, don’t get offended or angry; embrace your right to explain it so that people understand. We are all capable of learning, so take the opportunity to teach. If someone offers up a suggestion regarding something related to your professional trade, don’t take it as an insult; simply use it as an opportunity for open dialogue (and remember that YOU are the professional and the opinion is simply that: an opinion).

Let’s find the balance. Let’s learn to co-exist with one another. In a world where every culture is available and visible to the entire globe, it becomes more important than ever for us to learn to get along.

Balance!