Monday, December 31, 2007

The Winter Of ACL Discontent

Although the most pain from an ACL operation occurs in the first few days, I found that my lowest point emotionally came several weeks into recovery.

The analogy I would use is the children of our friend Lisa. A number of years back, when they were very small, they looked forward to the holidays (Hannukah in their case). When New Year's Day rolled around, with snow and ice everywhere, they turned to their mother in perplexity: The holidays are over, where's the springtime?

When I was first recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery, my mental attitude, to the extent I could think through the pain, was the equivalent of uttering some choice Anglo-Saxon words and vowing, "I am NEVER going to do this again!"

But pretty quickly I could see progress, which was so encouraging. The pain didn't end right away, but it decreased, and I could do things with my leg like raise it or make visible quad muscles tighten. I enjoyed going to PT and getting good feedback on my progress. One PT intern told me she would always remember me because I was her first patient who was zipping through ACL recovery.

But then I hit a point three or four weeks after the operation when I was ready, like my friend's kids, for springtime: I wanted things to be back to normal. I had been working so hard, and hurting so much, for weeks, wasn't it time for me to be able to do normal things normally again?

It was at that point when I realized that, yes, as I had read, ACL recovery does take a very long time, and even though I had worked really hard, I had a long time and lots of work left to do. My ACL winter would last a long time, and then it would be spring.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bending The Knee

One of the most confounding things about recovering from ACL surgery is how difficult some very simple actions become.

Take, for instance, jumping and bending the knee.

I anticipated that it would be hard for me to bend my leg in the first few weeks after surgery. (It's shocking how much enthusiasm the physical therapists, who in my clinic all seemed like the girl next door, put into bending my leg to its extremely painful limit!)

However, I didn't anticipate that, a few months later, it would be difficult to support my body weight while bending my knee. Even just a little bit.

One of the first ways you notice this is how difficult it is to descend a stairway in normal, "reciprocal" fashion (right leg goes down a step, then left leg). This is something you feel long after you've begun walking again without a brace.

One of the exercises my physical therapists gave me later in my five months with them was to stand on a step or platform, weight on the recovering leg, and simply bend the knee enough that your other heel touches the ground. It's almost embarrassing how difficult it is to accomplish. As the exercise progresses, the therapist raises the platform higher.

Now, I don't know if this diffculty is unique to having gotten a patellar-tendon graft, rather than an allograft or hamstring graft. But I have a feeling it affects all types of ACL surgeries to some degree.

The most frightening thing my therapists asked me to do is to jump a couple of inches off a platform and land on my recovering leg. (This is clearly an advanced level of PT.) My therapists said it's very common for people to feel afraid about this. For one thing, before surgery, if you jumped and landed on your knee, you would collapse painfully because your knee was unstable. For another, you've just been through the most painful period in your life, centered on this knee--so you're very protective of it. Here again, part of the issue is you need to bend your knee to absorb the shock when you land, and that's hard to do.

I got my surgery in late March, and today I'm walking stairs reciprocally without limping or needing to hold onto a rail. But truth be told--this speaks to Michele's point about it taking up to a year to get your strength back--I still feel a little weaker in my left knee walking down stairs.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Back In The Saddle

Yesterday I went back to core "karate" class, and this afternoon I went to the gym for strength training--push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, dips, squats/lunges.

I thought about running on the elliptical machine for a bit, but passed on it because I'm still feeling the effects of my cold, though it's much improved.

I also did a "multi-planar" exercise my physical therapist gave me--stand with feet shoulder-width apart, keep the weight on the leg that had the ACL reconstruction, reach back with the other leg and twist the body--net effect is you're twisting the knee with the weight on it. (Note, this is NOT an exercise for newly reconstructed ACLs, I didn't start this one until I was fairly advanced in physical therapy.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Martial Music

Finding good psych-up music for martial arts workouts or competitions is tough when you're taste runs to Stevie Wonder and James Taylor.

Much as I enjoy "Carolina In My Mind," I wouldn't say it gets me pumped for combat.

UFC combatants tend to enter the arena accompanied to what I guess is metal music, with shrieked lyrics. One of my not-yet middle-aged classmates favored AC/DC.

Not for me.

Some songs I have found that work with my middle-aged taste for psych-up music include:

Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones)
Lucky Town (Springsteen)
Pride (U2)
Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder)
Mr. Jones (Counting Crows)
The Contender (Theme from the TV show, by Hans Zimmer)
and, of course, Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky, Bill Conti)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Before martial arts, my weight was over 215, pushing 220.

The least I've weighed in middle age was before my tournament and black belt test, when my weight got down to 190 or, I think before the tournament, 188 (at age 48). I'm six-foot two. Interval sprints were a big factor in getting my weight down that low. I now find sprints hard to do because they hurt my knee and my feet.

I gained weight after my ACL operation, even though my left leg was visibly atrophying. When I got back to martial arts classes, I brought my weight down to around 194, where I had been before the operation, though it has fluctuated widely.

This morning I tipped the scales at 202.5. At most, the gunk in my sinuses could account for only a pound or two. (Yeah, gross, I know.)

Now, I have been doing more strength training, with a personal trainer and on my own, and that probably accounts for some of the weight gain--muscle weighs more than fat. But not all of it. At 51, I don't grow muscles like a teenager.

It's the holidays, and I've been eating.

At this point, I don't know what my fighting weight would be. More about fighting weight in a moment.

In terms of weight divisions: At a student competition my school holds, I figure I could easily (when I'm not sick and it's not the holidays) make the 185- to 204-pound division--the same division I was in at 48. (This weight includes equipment, which maybe adds four or five pounds.)

In amateur boxing, I figure I would be a Heavyweight (up to 201 pounds). I don't think I could make it down to light heavyweight at 178 pounds.

In IKF amateur kickboxing, I'd currently be, gulp, a heavyweight, or if I trained hard and got below 195, which I think is definitely possible, a cruiserweight.

In mixed martial arts, I'd be a light heavyweight (185 to 205).

But really the question is not what division I can squeeze into, but what is a good weight for me to be at. And right now the answer seems to be a bit in flux. I'll see what happens to my weight when I'm feeling well, I'm working out more regularly, and I"m not eating my way through the holidays.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas From Aetna

I just opened a bill from my physical therapists. My last session was in August.

It seems Aetna, my insurer, hasn't paid them a dime--the bills were denied. So either they want me to get Aetna to pay them, or I can pay them $3,583.

You can be sure I'll call Aetna today to wish them the very Merriest of Christmases as well.

Addendum: Upon calming down and examining the letter more closely, I saw that the payments weren't made from June 19 through the end of rehab on August 7 (my ACL surgery was March 27, and I started rehab two days later). I called Aetna, which said it sent a check on Dec. 6--three days after my therapists sent me their letter. So this little issue should be resolved--phew!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Key ACL Recovery Suggestions

As I think back on recovering from ACL surgery, some specific suggestions occur to me.

1. Showering: Get a plastic lawn chair, put it in the shower, and shower sitting down. This is really important. If you shower standing up, you risk slipping and wrecking your brand new ACL.

2. Vicodin: People at my work joked that I would be hallucinating on Vicodin. I wasn't; instead, the big side effect was that I was (there's no delicate way to put this) constipated, big time. Every body is different, but what my PTs and doctor suggested, and what worked for me, was drinking prune juice. It tastes awful, and sometimes it takes a couple of doses, but it's worth it. I just threw the prune juice out last week, I hadn't used it since, but for a week or so it was truly my friend!

3. Friends: Put your pride aside and tell your friends you need them to visit. If you attend a religious institution, tell the people there you need visitors--that's one of the things those institutions are set up to do (in my case it was a Unitarian Universalist congregation). When my wife had to go back to work after taking some time off to care for me, friends came by to help me with things like getting into and out of the continuous passive motion machine (which may not be used much anymore, from what I hear, but I did find it helpful), or refilling ice for my knee. And they just talked. It did my spirit so much good to have friends drop by. I still want to hug them every time I see them.

4. Exercise: As a martial athlete, when your body says you can start, begin doing push-ups, crunches and other exercises that won't strain your knee. You'll feel good about yourself when you can start working out again, even on a limited scale. The key phrase is "when your body says you can start."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sick Sick Sick

I was so stuffed up last night I barely slept. It didn't help that a neighbor called at 2 AM looking for a teen who was out past curfew (I understood the concern, but the call woke me from a good sleep). I missed my usual Saturday core class, which is a real drag because next week, between school closings and travel for me, I won't have many opportunities.

I spent the day feeling like my sinuses (see photo) weighed a ton, drinking fluids and watching movies on the tube. I hope I can sleep more tonight.

Friday, December 21, 2007

ACL Recovery, Part II

I wish I could remember more details about the timing of my recovery from ACL surgery--I may have written it down in a paper journal, which I'll try to dig up.

I earlier wrote about some of my recovery. But with some fellow martial artists in recovery from ACL surgery or headed that way, I'm trying to remember more.

I wasn't supposed to put weight on my leg for a week because I also had a meniscus repair. But by the end of the week I was more mobile. In another week or two, if I recall, I was walking without crutches, but because I had to wear a rigid knee brace, I was moving my hip up and down like a peg-leg pirate.

One big step was when the physical therapists allowed a little hinging movement in my knee brace, first when I slept (which, believe it or not, is really nice), and then walking. The weirdest thing is, once they allowed me to walk with a little bit of hinging in the brace, they HAD TO TEACH ME HOW TO WALK AGAIN. I think it was three weeks after surgery, because I remember being amazed that I could forget how to walk in only three weeks.

Who Needs A Gym?

I got my resistance training in at home. I didn't want to go to the gym with my head cold.

I now do five exercises at the strength-training gym: push-ups, dips, crunches, squats and pull-ups. I had to modify things at home because I don't have a pull-up bar or a pull-up/dip machine.

Push-ups, crunches, squats--no problem.

For dips, I did dips using a chair for support. Photo above is from

Pull-ups are the hardest to imitate without the equipment, but I did dumbbell exercises called (I think) bench rows, which work some of the same muscles of the back.

I did three sets for each exercise. I did work up a sweat.

Now, it's back to Christmas shopping. I'll also grab some Airborne, which BBM suggested, though I'm afraid I'm too late in the process of the cold for it to help much now.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sore Throat

I woke up last night with a sore throat. I felt better after a naproxen, but tonight I do feel like I have a cold. I had hoped to attend an extra class tonight, but I stayed at home, drank fluids and watched "I Walk the Line" on the tube.

Observation And Guidance

Our sensei really observes when we drill or spar and gives very specific guidance. Last night, we were working on a slip to the left and then throwing a left hook punch. This slip entailed actually stepping as well as moving the head to the side.

Sensei kept looking at what I was doing, and made three separate suggestions: 1) set my feet during the hook punch--I had acquired the bad habit of pivoting away during the hook punch; 2) rotate my body away from the punch after throwing it, to help me gain distance and protect myself; 3) step towards (or, really, on an angle grazingly past) my opponent, rather than to the side.

It was incredible the difference this advice made in my ability to slip and hook.

I sparred a bit with Larry, but we went at it pretty light to work on this move. I got hit pretty hard in the chin by black belt Brandon, who's about 22 and faster than lightning--I had to ask him to lighten up a bit. I was able to keep a brown belt at the right distance pretty easily--apparently he really relies on kicking and I'm not doing that yet. Gumba Frank posed his usual challenges, though I am more effective than I used to be in sparring him--he's really taught me to keep my right hand up. When sparring with a low belt, I was trying to focus on defense, but when he started headhunting me, I hit back--and probably too hard, I stunned him with a hook. It's so hard finding the right balance in contact sparring. Thanks goodness for headgear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ACL Epidemic

Hack Shaft is a budding martial artist and aspiring middle-agester (below 40, but nearly there) who blew out his ACL recently. His blog is an account of his "journey from defeat in injury to victory in reconstruction," and well worth following. As of this writing, he's 14 hours away (CORRECTION: 14 days) from his surgery.

Black Belt Mama, a widely read blogger whom I mentioned before, just underwent ACL surgery and is recovering now.

Best wishes to both of them, and speedy recoveries!

Aikido v. Judo

Here's a very interesting post from Mokuren Dojo about Aikido v Judo.

Aikido sounds fascinating to me, and sounds like a very ethical form of self defense--you can defend yourself without hurting your opponent if you wish. However, it sounds like it doesn't provide much exercise, which is very important for my physical and mental health, and I don't see how I can take up yet another activity at this point.

Maybe some day.

Jump Rope Aftermath

My body is talking to me today, and it's saying, "Jumping rope is hard on my knees and feet!"

The most painful thing is plantar fasciitis, which has posed a problem for me before. It's an inflammation of soft tissue running the length of the bottom of the foot. In my case, oddly, it's my right foot that's hurting the most, though the left knee is the one that got the ACL operation.

My left knee doesn't hurt a lot, but I want to pay attention to any pain I have there.

I figure that doing half an hour of cardio workout in the morning, and then a core class at night, probably burned off an extra 800 or 900 calories for me yesterday.

But in the spirit of listening to my body, I'm going to work out just once today--no AM cardio workout. I will take kickboxing class tonight, and we'll see what I can learn and how I'll fare in the elite Wednesday class. How can I neutralize Larry's pressure tactics? Can I move well against Gumba Frank the way I learned about a month ago?

Maybe I can go back to two workouts tomorrow. But today, I'll be doing some Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nautical Cruise; Knots In A Jumprope

On Saturday night, about 140 students of my martial arts school and their immediate families went on a dinner cruise. My wife got to meet a lot of the people I train with, or see them again. While she's very supportive of my avocation, she has no interest in doing martial arts herself, beyond maybe Tai Chi.

I realized while introducing her to people how many of my friends in the school are, like me, at the Brown Belt Bottleneck. Many of them, like me, have had setbacks due to injuries.

The boat, on Nautical Cruise Lines, ride stayed close to Long Island and was fun. I think the boat pictured above is the one we were on.

I'm on vacation this week and getting to do some extra training and cross training. Yesterday I went through the push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, dips, squats and elliptical routine my trainer and I worked out. Today I just did cardio, doing the elliptical for 20 minutes and, for the first time since I wrecked my ACL, about 7 minutes of jumprope on a padded mat. The front of my leg below my knee hurt a bit, but not a lot.

I've forgotten a lot about jumping rope, but It was fun to do it again.

Tonight, I'm going to core class.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Words From My Sensei

I was talking with my friends at the Jersey City Fight Club about how much I had enjoyed the kickboxing part of my black belt test (shown in the photo--I'm on the right). Since I passed that part of the test (and in fact passed everything except grappling, because I got injured), I won't go through that again next time I test. I was wondering how I could have an experience like that again.

Suddenly I had an idea: I could volunteer at the black belt test to spar with the brown belts.

I talked to my new sensei about this on Saturday after my core class. I told him I didn't want to go to a tournament because, hey, I'm 51, the risk of injury is higher there--the one tournament I attended, I fought a young tiger so young he could have been my son.

My sensei said he wants me to focus first on getting my black belt, but he said the idea makes sense. At the tournament, head contact isn't allowed, so people go all out hitting the body. At the black belt test, it would be easier to pair me with other "seniors," technically for us 35 and older, and the tests are very closely supervised--they don't want people getting knocked out. (I know of one instance, but that was a young tiger fighting a professional.)

He even thought I could help out with sparring in the second-degree test.

I got nervous about that. I've seen those second degree candidates going at it with each other. I told him I would be worried about getting hit in the head too hard, due to my bad eyes and risk of detaching a retina.

He said they put the "young stallions" together in one group, and I would be there to help testing for the seniors. He commented that the young stallions don't always get the belt because they don't show good style, they're just out to pound on somebody.

He said I wouldn't be first in line to help with the testing. People doing preliminary work for their second-degree black belt get first shot. But he said he would look for places for me to join the kickboxing test where it's appropriate.

We talked about my plan to start grappling, and kicking in kickboxing, in February. He said he wants me to be confident and not afraid for my injured knee before I re-take the test. I'll have a red dot on my knee, indicating that it was injured, so my opponents will be instructed not to do locks that would hurt my knee such as ankle locks. But I have to also show that I won't get caught in such positions. He said he would like to see me work initially in grappling class with my friend Larry, who also had ACL surgery, and understands what it's like to return.

He was glad I was telling him what I enjoy, and he said he could see now I'm eager to get back into full form. He said he was impressed that my sense of proper distance in kickboxing class (I'm just boxing now) had returned very quickly--I felt happy to hear that comment!

Last night the whole school went on a dinner cruise, I'll post on that later.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Guitar Hero Homecoming

This was my last day of commuting to work this year--what a relief. No more three-hour round-trip commute for the next couple of weeks.

My daughter turned 15 today--I'm sitting within earshot and eyeshot of a bunch of loud teens playing Guitar Hero at our house. Her age is why I can't move closer to work. I don't want to take her out of high school and away from her friends. When she goes to college, we can move--my wife is willing--although by then, who knows where my office will be, given that my company was just taken over.

I stood next to a teen boy in our living room whom I don't know earlier tonight. Suddenly he looked at me startled, realizing I had been standing next to him for a few seconds.

"I was joking about that," he said.

I had no idea what he had been talking about. I should have said, "Good." Instead I said, "Don't worry, I didn't hear you." A missed opportunity to intimidate a teen, alas.

I have been more careful this week about when I work out, and I feel much stronger. My schedule:

Tuesday night: Core karate/martial arts
Wednesday afternoon: elliptical cardio and body-resistance training with private trainer
Thursday night: Core karate
Friday afternoon: Jersey City Fight Club
Tomorrow, at noon, I've got another core karate class. I missed sparring this week due to a friend's going away party Wednesday night.

My trainer at the gym downstairs from work came up with a new routine after I told him I was missing cardio training, and that the other workouts were taking too long for me to complete. He responded well. I start with 20 minutes on the elliptical machine. Then I go through a sequence of push-ups, pull-ups (on a machine that offsets some of my weight), crunches, dips (also on the, and squats. Being a personal trainer, he always scrambles things up, but this is something I can do on my own.

I've always since I was a kid wanted to be able to do pull-ups, but I didn't work on them for fear of being embarrassed by not being able to do them. It's good to be working on them--and they'll help muscles that the push-ups don't tap.

This coming week, when I'm off from work and not traveling, I'll be able to do at least two of these routines during the week. I've been too busy at work to do more than the one private training session a week.

I'm not going to be able to afford a private trainer all the time--I only have four lessons left. But I'm learning some cross training from him for my martial arts.

I'm also really enjoying the Jersey City Fight Club. The other "members" are editors, like me, at my job. A couple are true athletes: One's a marathon runner, one's a triathlete. We do through a warmup, push-ps and crunches, shadow boxing, and a bag workout. I'm teaching them punching, moving and, just a little, kicking from kickboxing.

I enjoy it for the workout, but also because I'm making friends. I realized earlier this year that I was too close socially at work to the reporters working for me--I am doling out limited resources, and they will inevitably be disappointed sometimes in what I can do for or give to them. To protect me from the emotional trauma of their disappointment, I realized I need to look to other editors more for my social circle. This is one way of doing that, and it's been a lot of fun. Everybody agrees, too, it's a great emotional release.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Listen to your body, people say. I'm listening, and it says it's exhausted.

Wednesday night: Martial arts (sparring)
Thursday AM: Private training, new routine
Thursday night: Martial arts (core, cardio, strength)
Friday PM: Bag workout (Jersey City Fight Club)
Saturday noon: Core class again

I went to my trainer at the gym near work a week ago and said I wanted to change up the routine. I need my cardio training, and since the time I can put into training is limited, I have to get some in his routine too.

So Thursday I did 20 minutes on an elliptical machine, interval training, with him really pushing me on the high-resistance segments. Then I did a sequence of push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, dips and squats. The push-ups and dips are on a machine in the gym I've never used, which gives you an assist. The upper body stuff was exhausting, I did work to the point of failure.

Usually I don't do martial arts Thursday night, but I had to cancel the Tuesday night session, so I did two workouts in one day.

I think I'm really feeling the lack of a day off anywhere in this stretch. There's so much work I need to do before my Christmas vacation that it's hard to get gym time in at work, which throws my schedule off.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Super Mario

My mind was reeling last Wednesday due to some family stuff that I don't think I can go into yet. Suffice it to say I told my wife before leaving for class Wednesday I would be happy if I just came out of sparring in one piece.

One of my favorite new classmates is a 24-year-old named Mario, whom I faced Wednesday. Henceforth, for reasons that will become clear, he will be known as Super Mario.

Super Mario hit me with a move that I'd seen on TV in mixed-martial-arts bouts, but never faced in sparring: The Superman Punch. The essence is that the attacker fakes a kick with his back leg, but then transitions into a cross punch. The natural reaction of the defender, upon expecting a kick, is to drop the hands--you know you're supposed to keep them up, but the reaction is hard to resist. And then, while your hands are down, the cross punch comes in--boom!--to your face.

Super Mario has good control, so he just sort of tapped me hard to let me know he got me. I should have kept sparring, but I just stopped and congratulated him on totally fooling me. It's going to take training to learn not to drop my hands.

Elsewhere Wednesday, I felt bad because I was sparring with my buddy Ilicia, and twice I "tapped" her in the head when she was moving forward. When you are moving forward into a punch, you effectively double the power--the punch is a LOT harder. She was just great about it, she said it wasn't my fault because she moved into it, but it was jarring for her, and I felt guilty.

Ilicia and Maria, from The Family That Fights Together, had both competed in a tournament the Sunday before. It was Maria's third tournament and Ilicia's first. It takes so much courage to compete, I'm proud of both of them. Ilicia used to be very nervous, so to compete took great courage. Some other students also competed--I heard that Tony, a father in his, 30s, did well but injured his previously-injured toe. I haven't seen him yet.


Life's been busy busy, and I haven't posted in a while. When I do have a little more time, I want to talk about a new training regimen at the gym, and my encounter with Super Mario, among other things.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Thursday night, a "core" class, we ended by doing 110 lunges--step forward, bend the front knee, let the other knee almost touch the floor. Sensei said we would hurt the next day. Friday, I felt okay. But at 12:20 Saturday morning, in bed, I got the most intense cramp in my right hamstring. Ouch.

Class today, Saturday, another core class, was very difficult for me. I'm still worried about hurting my ACL and knee, so my round kicks aren't very pretty. And I was tired from the first push-ups in class. I think maybe I didn't get enough sleep this week.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Jersey City Fight Club

At work, some of the other editors and I have formed the Jersey City Fight Club--Jersey City because that's where we are (viewed from Manhattan in photo above), and it sounds so much better than wimpy names like "Manhattan Fight Club." Occasionally on Friday afternoons, we get together at the gym downstairs, and I lead them through shadow boxing and a bag workout.

The feedback is very clear. Ben, Gen-Y-er who did some boxing for fitness a few years back, said after the first one that he couldn't lift his arms the next day. Linda, my boss's boss, said her arms hurt until the following Tuesday. Alecia started picturing her prior publisher in her mind as she was punching the bag...and shortly afterwards her hands started hurting.

Clearly, I'm doing something right.

Today was supposed to be one of our days, but there was just too much work--I couldn't break away. I ended up working a bit late.

I was disappointed--a bag workout is a great stress reliever--but it's probably good to take a day off.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is It Wednesday Yet? (II)

I hadn't taken class for a week, due to Thanksgiving, travel, struggles to get elderly parents to face up to their eroding independence, work, etc. etc. etc. A sad and somewhat stressful Thanksgiving along with the joy of seeing family.

Tonight, another Wednesday, another sparring class. I was nervous about it ahead of time, so much time off. But I read a little in The Ultimate Boxer, and came up with some moves to work on in sparring, which relieved my anxiety. I hoped my buddy Larry of The Family That Fights Together would be there.

So much fun. I'm still only boxing in sparring, not kicking/being kicked due to my ACL recovery. Larry was my first sparring partner. I sparred really well with him, I was able to anticipate his moves, I moved well, I found openings to hit him.

Another partner was young (20s), strong, fast Mario. I was mostly able to keep him at bay and land some punches, but he did really stun me with a fast three-punch combination--very nice.

I also sparred with a black belt who's a bit older than me. I noticed I could draw out his right hand with my jab, so I would use that info to throw a cross, and I also got a right-hand hook to his head. One time he really got me with a hook to the head. "Did I drop my hand?" I asked. His great answer: "No, I'm really good."

After a few more people, back to Larry. This time, I did terrible. I found myself moving straight back--something you don't want to do. Then I tried holding my ground, and he just pounded on me. I was thinking, maybe I'm too tired to move, maybe I'm thinking too much.

Talked with Larry afterward. He said the first round with him I totally read him--at one point I got him with a really good hook punch to the head (we do use helmets and we don't go all out). He was very frustrated.

So the next round with me he changed his tactics. Instead of boxing, he just went full out to put pressure on me, advancing and punching relentlessly--and it worked. I was so glad he told me, I knew he had changed something but I couldn't figure it out. Instead of moving to the side, I moved back, etc.

So much fun. As I always say, it's like a very primal chess game.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is It Wednesday Yet?

I'm really enjoying the boxing/kickboxing classes on Wednesday. I'm still (until February) only doing boxing, not kickboxing, to allow my knee to continue recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery. But the silver lining is my hand work and body movement really needed much more work than my kicking, so now I get to work on them in spades.

One thing I'm looking for: When I'm facing a banger, I look for him to set, and then I move to the side. I realized it even works a bit against Gumba Frank. He's great at keeping distance, and a fabulous counter-puncher. But when he wants to come in for the attack, he plants himself--and that allows me to move to the side and out of his line of attack.

A couple teens in my class (who are a minority on Wednesday night) have gotten bigger, stronger and better than before I had my ACL injury, which is cool to see. I was boxing a bit with a boy who's in my daughter's Spanish class, he's improved so much, it's wonderful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sleep, Weight

I expected that when I started exercising regularly, my weight would drop back to the 190-pound area where I was when I was in peak condition.

However, my weight has remained steady or, if anything, climbed just a bit. I weighed in this morning at 197.5 pounds. In my school's tournaments, that would put me in the division right below heavyweight, which is 205 pounds and up; in most kickboxing organizations, it would be called "cruiserweight" or "super cruiserweight."

Given that I'm sweating buckets with every martial arts class, I'm hoping that at least part of the weight gain is from new muscle as a result of the private gym sessions, complete with resistance/weight training, I've been getting. I'm not lifting super heavy weights for large muscles, but smaller weights at high repetitions, which I think would be more appropriate for kickboxing. The focus is also to bolster some muscles in my back that aren't getting workouts with things like push-ups.

It's not like I haven't been training. I trained twice a day for a couple of the days I was off from work this week.

One sign, I guess, of hard work is that when I can sleep as late as I want, my sleep time is increasing to nine hours from eight, even when I think I've gotten enough sleep during the week.

I can't, given my schedule, sleep for nine hours work nights. That would mean getting home at about 7, then going to sleep at 9:00--a full two hours at home and awake. I don't think so. And on nights I go to martial arts class, it would mean dropping off to sleep with 15 minutes left in class. Nope.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Last night, at kickboxing, I think I made a mental breakthrough. I wasn't just throwing punches; I was looking for weaknesses in my opponents, and coming up with plans to attack them.

I think this stems directly from my new sensei pointing out a weakness last week in my own sparring--he said that, in sparring (unlike shadow boxing), I wasn't pulling my jab right back to protect my head, I was letting it drop then pulling it back. (I'm not kicking or being kicked in my sparring sessions yet, due to my ACL operation and recovery since March, only boxing.) Indeed, my buddy Larry, of the Family That Fights Together, caught me once because I did dropped my hand after my jab again.

But it occurred to me that, if others could look for openings in my defense, I could look for openings in theirs.

I sparred with a red belt named Jay who I realized had a habit of blocking my jab with his left hand far in front of his face. This left an opening for me to throw my right over his arm as it was extended blocking my jab. So I would either jab and quickly throw the right over his hand, or I would fake the jab and even more quickly throw the right cross. It worked.

When sparring with Larry, I made sure to move a lot--as soon as I saw him set, I'd move to the side. This didn't always work, but sometimes it did leave him swinging in the air. But I also saw that he was carrying his left hand a little low. It wasn't low enough that I could just, say, throw a short cross and catch him--I tried and that didn't work. So I tried something suggested on The Contender by trainer Pepe Correa: double jab to the head, bend the knees a bit to jab to the body, and then from that position throw an overhand right to the head.

It worked perfectly. I was thrilled.

Nonetheless, Larry is quite a tough opponent, and he at one point had me backing up in a straight line (not a good thing to do). Also, moving back in that way puts some pressure on my knee. Larry does have good control and he eases up when necessary.

I want to note here that we're not punching anything near full force, and we wear headgear.

One other maneuver I used: I was sparring with my fellow brown belt Elizabeth, who was throwing body punches. You can't (or I can't, anyway) move out of the way of body punches, so I just clinched, which I don't think she expected. (In my school's kickboxing, you can throw knees, so clinches aren't really that safe, but we weren't using legs.) I think she actually cracked up when I clinched.

Pictured above: Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, Britain's greatest boxers currently. Why do I love these guys? Because (and this photo doesn't really do them full justice) they are every bit as pale skinned as I am. I was wearing shorts in the summer, and my old sensei told me he thought I was wearing long white pants.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Across The Universe

On Saturday, my wife, daughter and I saw "Across the Universe," the movie using Beatles songs to stitch together a narrative about some young people during the tumultuous 60s. It was fabulous. The voices were wonderful; the interpretation of the songs was fresh and eye-opening: "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was done as a song of heartbreak and unrequited love, rather than a song of wooing; "Let It Be" sounded so natural as a Gospel song, with church choir and everything, that you can hardly believe it wasn't written that way. The story in the movie was a bit two-dimensional, but because it was so tied to the music, I really didn't mind.

The soundtrack is the top-downloaded movie music on iTunes.

I've tried to spend a little time outside. I went for a brief walk on the board walk in a nearby town--very cold however!

I also went for a walk with my camera this evening. I realized that so often fall comes and goes, and I suddenly realize I've missed the leaves. I think it's related to the way we spend our time driving, or commuting to work, or working long hours. I didn't get much time outside, it was a bit late in the day to have enough light for photographing the trees. I'll do it again tomorrow, when I have another day off.

A Brief Stretch Of Enough Exercise

I'm taking off three days in the middle of the week, for reasons related to a business trip by my wife, a day off from school by my daughter, and a need to use up vacation time before year end.

One way I'm keeping myself busy is by going to the gym in the morning and martial arts class at night, at least on Tuesday and today, Wednesday.

Yesterday, I found that doing two sets of exercise during the day didn't hurt me--in fact, I found I was more flexible and warmed up more quickly at night in the martial arts class. True, my arms felt the burn from the push-ups a bit earlier, but they kept moving--it was like they were oiled or something. Yesterday I did resistance training at the gym, and today I did a cardio workout.

I wish I could work out this much every day.

Also on my brief break, I'm reading. I read the play "The Persians," by Aeschylus, yesterday (a quick read). I've heard it's the oldest play still preserved in writing, and is a sympathetic portrayal of the Persians who had invaded Greece less than a decade earlier--and against whom Aeschylus himself had fought. Pretty remarkable if you think about it.

I'm now reading Bill Bryson's "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," about the surprises, delights and consternations for him of moving back to America after spending 20 years in England.

Kickboxing class tonight (I'm still focused on boxing or on exercises, no free sparring kickboxing for me yet).

The trees here are turning beautiful colors as the cold grows.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Boxing is, after all, a martial art, and two great martial artists fought Saturday night. Since they were Europeans, it was free on HBO, instead of being a $50 PPV event.

Joe Calzaghe of Wales, on the right in the photo (with the cross tatoo), taken just after the final bell, convincingly won despite an excellent fight by Dane Mikkel Kessler, on the left. Kessler was younger and stronger, and in the fourth round he stunned Calzaghe with a couple of uppercuts. But Calzaghe, who threw more than 1,000 punches in the fight, wore Kessler down, proved too "awkward" (a good thing in boxing, meaning your opponent has a hard time dealing with your movement), and clearly won, getting a unanimous decision. He hurt Kessler with a body hook late in the fight, but otherwise won because he just swarmed him.

An excellent post in Bad Left Hook points out that Calzaghe, among many other things, used his clinches to disrupt Kessler's rhythm. It wasn't disruptive to the enjoyment of the fight--he wasn't hanging on for dear life or anything--but it was an intelligent use of one of the boxer's weapons. He also was superbly conditioned, though Kessler was no slouch in that department either.

One thing to note about Calzaghe is that, at 35, almost 36, he's an honorary middle-aged boxer, even if not technically so (most references seem to place the start of middle age at 40, though the U.S. Census says 35). Kessler's youth, at 28, was thought by some to be an advantage, but in this match, to refashion a cliche, age and skill beat youth and strength.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Return of The Hulk

On Saturday, I finally attended a class with my buddy, The Hulk.

Hulk and I took our black belt test together, and were both injured there. His injury--basically he had some ribs separated from the sternum, if I understood--healed faster than my ACL. So from his perspective, it wasn't the Return of The Hulk, but rather The Return of Clark Kent, as he likes to call me (mild mannered reporter, etc.).

Hulk said I haven't regressed much in my skills. Or, as he put it, "You're just as bad as you were before you got hurt."

Today, Sunday, is turning out to be my rest-from-exercise day, if only because I have too many dang other things I have to get done.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tips from a Champion

Kickboxing tonight. I was late because I had to give my daughter a ride--she couldn't walk past the high school on Halloween, too eggy--but didn't get into trouble.

In drills, we worked on slipping and immediately weaving to the other side of the opponent. Hard to do in drills, harder in sparring.

I'm only doing light boxing during sparring--no kicking or being kicked, so my ACL can continue to recover. Afterwards, I told my new sensei--who's the Muay Thai champion pictured above--that sometimes when I was slipping, expecting a jab, the opponent threw a cross instead--leaving me on his inside instead of his outside. Sensei said not to worry about it, just weave and get back outside.

Then he gave me some tips. From watching me, he said that I have a good jab and I keep my distance well--which was good given how long I've been out of action. But what he noticed is that I drop my arm after throwing the jab--what he would do fighting me would be to sweep down my low left hand with his left and clobber me with his right cross. I said I had been working very hard in shadow boxing to keep my hand up when I jab; he said yeah, but when someone starts throwing punches back at you, your body mechanics get all screwed up.

How cool is that, to have a true champion giving you tips based on what he sees you doing!

The other thing I re-learned was also to keep my right hand up by my head. I gave Gumba Frank a stiff punch in the face (we are wearing headgear) and he walloped me in return with a hook, his favorite punch. And my hand was down. A good reminder!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Traveled to southeastern Virginia over the weekend to attend a second cousin's wedding. As always, my son, now 20, provided some challenges, but I did enjoy the trip, which I made with him and my 14-year-old daughter--my wife was too ill from labyrinthitis to come along. We saw my brother and his partner, and my cousin's family, which were great.

Deep conversation with my wife this evening. Home from work, with a little time before martial arts class. We discussed my feeling uncomfortable at work sometimes about my new job. I left a more prestigious news organization for a job with more money, a more family-friendly and predictable schedule--one more friendly to martial arts training, also--and more autonomy on the job. These are all good reasons.

Still, I often beat myself up for what I imagine is people's perception of my job change--that I wasn't good enough for the other organization. (It doesn't help that my new organization has an inferiority complex in relation to my old one.)

Caring so much about what other people think--or, really, my projection of what other people think--is something I tend to do; it's what my wife calls a character defect. It doesn't affect just me, it also affects the people close to me.

Another way I think about a character defect is that it's a demon.

In the current (January, 2008) issue of The Ring, the great boxing magazine, William Detloff writes about Alfonso Gomez and how any really good professional boxer has some demon driving him. (Above is a photo of Gomez defeating Arturo Gatti recently.) For Gomez, it's not such a bad demon--it's just childhood poverty that he doesn't want to endure again.

I wonder what demon it is that drives me to work so hard at age 51 to be a martial artist, what with injuries and ACL surgery and failing body parts. What drove me into a kickboxing tournament to fight someone less than half my age?

I wonder if it's related to the demon of worrying about what other people think about me. I want to keep thinking about this.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Two Workouts In A Day; Another ACL Injury

Thursday, I went to my private trainer during a break at work for an hour, and then went to the core class at night. My arms felt like they were going to fall off, but I made it through.

Blogger Black Belt Mama suffered a torn ACL; illustration above. BBM is weighing rehab and a knee brace versus, well, surgery, rehab and a knee brace (though I hope one day, since I DID have surgery, I won't need a knee brace).

Anyone who's gone through a torn ACL feels for the newest members of the club.

MRSA me?

I have a skin infection. It's right on top of the scar from my ACL operation.

On Tuesday, when I kneeled during stretching, I noticed a sharp pain in my left knee. Not excruciating, but very noticeable.

On Wednesday during the day, my knee kept hurting. Finally I felt it through my pants leg, and realized there was a bump--a nice, big boil.

Having read all about drug-resistant staph--methicillin-resistant Stapholococcus aureus, or MRSA--being out in the community, and not just in the hospital, I was a little worried. (Say hi to the little buggers in the photo above.) I went to kickboxing class anyway, with antibiotic ointment and a big bandage over the infection. Larry the vet and Maria the nurse both said if it gets better, don't worry. If it gets worse, go quickly to a doctor. I also checked with some journalists covering health in my old job, who MOSTLY said the same thing, though one thought I should go right away.

Fortunately, it's getting better. The size and swelling have gone down.

That leaves a question: Was it MRSA? I don't know. I guess the body can fight off MRSA infections just like others. But apart from its rapidly become large, this one didn't appear too unusual, so maybe it wasn't MRSA after all.

Boxing with Larry

On Wednesday, in my second kickboxing class since before my ACL operation, my partner was my buddy Larry, of The Family That Fights Together. We worked on drills together, trying to build the habit of moving as well as hitting.

Since there were no Level One students that day, Larry and I tried light boxing--no kicking, to avoid hurting my knee. Larry's very much in control, and he also has gone through an ACL operation (right leg for him, left for me; he jokes we can be a three-legged racing team together).

Larry's my size and about 10-pounds of muscle heavier; the biggest difficulty I had was trying to avoid moving backwards when he came at me. When I did move backwards, my knee twinged a bit a couple of times, presumably because all of my weight was on it and perhaps it was at an angle.

The new helmet was great--it protected me well, and it didn't shift or need readjusting after it got hit.

I was glad to get some light sparring in. Some bad habits have set in or remained, and I don't think on my feet as well as I would like; then then, I didn't when I was fully trained either, it's what I want to work on.

Underneath it all

On Tuesday, in core karate class, I re-learned an old lesson: boxer shorts may be more fun, but when you're holding a kicking pad for a good kicker, a jock strap is much more comfortable.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not Enough Time

It's hard finding time for everything.

I spent some time this morning researching pre-college art summer programs for my daughter, who's a sophomore and really gifted as an artist--not that I would be objective, but her teachers just grab me and rave about her.

My wife has labyrinthitis, which is an inner ear problem that affects balance and lasts for weeks. It's really knocking her out--I feel bad for how wiped out she is. And I need to fill in for her on various chores to keep the house running. From taking my daughter to the PSATs at 7:30 AM to doing another load of laundry at 10 PM, I was busy all day yesterday.

My arms in particular are tired this morning. I worked out from Tuesday through yesterday, Saturday: Gym work (per instructions of private trainer) Tuesday, which was largely core and upper body; Kickboxing Wednesday evening; Gym again (including 20 minutes on the elliptical) Thursday; Bag workout Friday; and Core martial arts Saturday. What I haven't done, despite all this: the "card workout" for push-ups my sensei wants me to do; crunches or sit-ups every day; and physical therapy for my knee (though some of the stuff I'm doing otherwise does have that physical therapy benefit).

I sort of want to work out at the gym today, because it's hard to get all my work done if I go to the gym three days from work. If I do make it to the gym today, I could take Monday for a rest day; or I could do card push-ups or physical therapy, with the idea that I'll be out of town Saturday and Sunday, and those will be my rest days this week.

I'll figure it out and muddle through.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Toy

Today I got a new helmet for kickboxing.

My old one--visible in the photo preceding this entry--did a good job of protecting my face from punches. But every time it got hit, the headgear would shift so drastically that I could hardly see, so I would have to take a break from the action and shift it back in place as soon as I had a chance. I could see myself doing that frequently in a video of my black belt test.

The new helmet should be easier to see from, move in--and it won't shift. While it doesn't provide quite as much protection for my nose as the bar-type headgear, it actually does provide more protection to my chin.

My daughter says I look really creepy in it. I only hope my opponents think so.

I love new toys.

Kickboxing Lite

I went back to kickboxing Wednesday night--kickboxing lite, that is.

Because my doctor said I can't do contact martial arts until 2008, I'm not doing free sparring. I'm still recovering from ACL surgery.

But at the suggestion of my sensei, so I can start working on my movement and timing, I started taking kickboxing classes--doing the drills, and then staying with the "level one" students once the sparring begins. In level one, we work on scripted moves, so you know what's coming. I don't torque my left leg yet, and I'm very careful.

Yesterday, I worked with my buddy Ilicia. She's learned so much in the past year. She used to be a bit afraid of pairing up with me (which makes me feel chagrined) because of a couple of times when I kicked her harder than I intended. (Once it was in the nether region, which she in her shy, retiring manner refers to as "the time Bob toe-f***ed me.")

But she's gotten much tougher. She went to a tournament, which I know from experience really means facing up to your fears. Her punches have a lot more of a snap to them now. I have so much to re-learn, and it's great to

It was fun to return to kickboxing, and there's a lot I can learn from my new sensei about moving while sparring--it's the main thing I want to learn now. My knee felt fine afterwards. I plan to make the most of it. And I look forward to when I return to real free sparring.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Contender, and Returning To Kickboxing

I spent much of the day getting caught up on episodes of The Contender, season three.

Last year, I really got into the second season of The Contender. I was just starting to develop an interest in boxing, and it was fascinating to learn about the boxers on the show. I learned eventually that a lot of the TV tricks on the show are pretty standard for reality TV, which I hadn't really been interested in before. But I did enjoy that this show didn't have lame contests like building something out of coconuts or designing a dress out of dead chickens. Each contest boiled down to stepping in the ring and winning a boxing match. Underdog Grady Brewer (in the photo above) won the second season--and, according to, hasn't fought in a bout since then. I wonder why not.

As a bonus, the episodes were for sale on iTunes; instead of staying up late to watch, I could buy them, download them onto my iPod, and watch them on my horrific 90-minute commute home by train, which made the trip a bit less horrific.

Unfortunately, this year, following complaints by hard-core boxing fans, they've cut back on the fighters' stories; interesting that boxing writer William Detloff writes here about how, by caving to the demands of boxing fans, the producers made the show worse. I would agree (adding that I sure wish this season were on iTunes again).

Still, it's fun to watch; and by getting to see more boxing, I get to study a bit more. Since I don't want to stay up late (starts 10 PM, when I go to bed), I caught up today, Sunday, when there were several episodes on the air in the afternoon.

I did some knee exercises today--home physical therapy--and I'm using the deck of cards to do push-ups, though I'm spreading it out over time rather than doing it all at once, just to see how that works.

This week, I'm trying something new in my martial arts classes. At the suggestion of my sensei, I'm going to attend a kickboxing class, do drills, and then work out with the level one students, rather than getting into free sparring. My new sensei says he'll be very careful about my leg, and working with at level one--where each strike is predetermined and done carefully--I shouldn't get hurt. I'll be able to work on my footwork and defense, and I'll start getting my timing back.

This will be the first time for me to attend kickboxing class since before my ACL surgery. I don't want to get hurt, and I won't, but I'm eager to see how it will go.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

If Wishes Were Horse Stances

In the past two days, I've heard two people voice something I've often thought: "I wish I had taken up martial arts when I was younger."

What struck me about these comments was that they were made by a 35-year-old friend from work and a 24-year-old martial-arts classmate.

Remember, I took up martial arts when I was 44.

The 35-year-old wished he had gotten started younger because, he said, men reach the peak in their capacity for muscle mass when they're 35. (I believe it--one of my orthopedic doctors once said to me, "We've passed the magic age of 35, and things are starting to fall apart.")

The 24-year-old, who was so much faster than me in our punching and kicking drills today, first took up martial arts a year ago at a different school that sounds much rougher than the one we both now attend. I'm not really sure why he wishes he started earlier, maybe just that he would be much farther along if he had.

I don't think I could ever have been a champion karateka, I don't think I was enough of a natural athlete. But I do sometimes wonder how much better I could have gotten if I'd started younger.

That said, I'm glad I did start when I did. I've lost weight; gone off cholesterol pills; lost a hernia I was starting to develop; dropped my pulse rate from 74 to 60; made friends, faced up to fears and had a lot of fun, all the while learning how to kick butt.

Speaking of kicking butt, I went with that friend from work to watch some Muay Thai and kickboxing matches in downtown Manhattan last night. It was a blast. It was interesting to look at the matches with an eye to learning something. It was also, as my friend, said, "a total New York scene." It was held in a very ornate old bank--pillars, vaulted ceilings--that has been turned into a restaurant and event venue (no restaurant the night of the fights). There was a couch and table reserved near our seats, and a well-heeled threesome sat down there halfway into the match with their Veuve Clicquot. Most of the people at the event were martial arts practitioners or their rather siliconed dates. I enjoyed seeing a bunch of friends from my school, and my old and new senseis.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Black Belt Test: Kickboxing

I want my black belt, sure.

But in a sense, one part of my test in November last year, five rounds of kickboxing, was a dream come true.

Just to be able to move on to the kickboxing part of the test meant that I had passed all the prior parts of the test, which was great. But the kickboxing itself was the most thrilling and exciting single sports event I've ever participated in.

In the photo above, taken right at the start of one of the kickboxing rounds, I'm the tall guy in the right center, with the brown belt, white pants, black shirt and big helmet. My opponent is on the left, with the red gloves--another brown belt contending for a black belt.

We fought five two-minute rounds. It may not sound like much, but it's tremendously demanding. We didn't have to win all our rounds, but we did have to show we could attack and defend ourselves throughout. We couldn't just survive and expect to pass.

I fought against one tall black belt who's a professional fighter, who was legendary for absolutely hammering a couple of guys from my school in their tests, guys who are far superior to me. I fought the Hulk one round, another brown belt for two rounds, and a black belt far younger than me.

I recall feeling more excitement than fear (though I certainly felt fear, too!). Already having competed in a tournament helped me stay calmer; and I knew that my kickboxing had gotten much better since the tournament. I also had a feeling that the professional fighter--who had complimented me on doing well in the first part of the test when I ran into him in the bathroom--would be taking it easier on middle aged guys than on the rough, tough younger guys.

My first opponent was the young black belt. I had a height advantage, but he had speed, which he used to land a number of kicks and punches. I finally found a combination that worked repeatedly against him--throw a low front-leg round kick to his ankle or shin, and then immediately throw my long stiff jab at his head. Gumba Frank taught me that move, and it works because it's attacking two different levels. The defender has a tendency to loosen his guard of his head when he's kicked low, which allows the jab to come through. It's not a knockout move, but it makes the other fighter keep his distance.

My next fighter was a brown belt from a different school than mine--I would fight him twice. He hit harder than anyone else I was fighting in the test, and to his great credit, he threw lots of varied combination. Again, I had a height advantage. What I did right in fighting this brown belt, both times, was that when he did get inside on me, I immediately clinched his neck and threw a knee kick. Black Belt Terry from my school had repeatedly told me to do that when other fighters get inside my long punches and kicks. This time, by damn, I did it. As soon as you hit somebody with a knee kick to the gut, his will to keep fighting on the inside goes away for a little while. He later complimented me on the power of my cross, so that must have been landing too. I did a little too much moving straight back when he was attacking, I should have moved to the side. But better moving back than getting hit with a spinning back fist after a spinning back kick.

The Hulk and I, who are buddies, landed a few blows, but I wouldn't say we were eager to smash each other up.

Fighting the pro, my wife later said, looked like ballet--we moved back and forth, attacking and defending. It was clear this guy wasn't there to beat me up, which he could have done with ease. Instead, he was there to challenge me and require me to fight to a high level. The best thing I did against him was, for the first time in my life, I used a snapping front kick to block his spinning back kick. The ref in our little area said, "Good block!" as soon as I did it.

My friends at the test said I looked surprisingly relaxed during the kickboxing.

It was challenging and tiring, but it was so much fun. I want to do that something like that sometime again.

I didn't get my ACL destroyed until the next part of the test, grappling.


I haven't worked out this week due to illness. Almost all last week I had a tickle in my throat; Sunday night it kept me from sleeping well, by Monday it turned into a cough, and Tuesday I missed work with a bad head cold. This morning I feel better, but will work from home. I don't think I'll work out until tomorrow.

This illness is frustrating. When I was at my peak in training, I recall going for months and months and months without getting sick. Now I've been sick twice in the course of a month or two.

I feel like when you're starting to train, illness reaches up and tries to drag you back to being unhealthy. Not very scientific, I know.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


I almost forgot--I began very carefully torquing my left knee yesterday in class, throwing a roundhouse kick. This is the movement I'm most concerned about since my ACL surgery.

My knee felt fine during class. In the evening, after a short drive in a car, the back of my leg was a little sore, but it felt better after walking. I'm assuming the soreness was from new muscle use, not from any injury, since it went away.

I'm not going to be throwing hard roundhouse kicks while twisting my left leg anytime soon. But I know my physical therapists said I should do "multi-planar" movements with my knee, and this is definitely one.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


I had a good class today, but by the afternoon, I just hit the wall.

I realized that in a 49 1/2-hour period, I completed four workouts of at least an hour--11:30 Thursday with a trainer at the gym (plus a little home PT and some push-ups in the evening), 2:30 pm Friday a bag workout with friends at the gym, 8:15 pm Friday a martial arts class, noon Saturday another class. I made it through all of them, but I now I'm just wiped out. I did take a bit of a nap, but I still feel like my arms are going to fall off.


Difficult day yesterday, but I had an epiphany near the end.

Work was tough--one particular administrative nightmare that hurts my heart keeps popping up. And I'm still grappling with a sore/ticklish throat I got at the start of the week.

I did have fun when I took two colleagues to do a bag workout in the gym downstairs from work--we called it the Jersey City Fight Club.

But I was concerned that I would be too tired from bag training in the afternoon to do well in martial arts class that night. Well, I made it through the class okay. I even did a little bit of pivoting on my left leg, the first time I've done it since ACL surgery on my knee, and it felt fine.

Toward the end, when we were doing our second round of push-ups (we always do 55 in the beginning of class, and another variable amount at the end), I was starting to slow down and I saw my buddy Larry, from The Family That Fights Together, still cranking them out. Larry's a little younger than me, in his late 40s, but solidly in middle age.

In some other classes, I think I've seen someone doing better than me in push-ups and have said to myself, "I can't do as many as so-and-so, I suck." This time I tried to be gentler on myself, and worked at thinking: "I'm doing fine. And isn't it cool that Larry can do so many push-ups."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rounding Out

Today I had a private training lesson at the gym downstairs from my work. One of the trainers had pointed out some ways to improve my push-ups Monday when I was working on the cards--very helpful pointers about keeping the head in line with the body. So I took him up on his offer of a free private lesson, and signed up for some paid ones.

He wants to work on strengthening my ankle and hip to help my knee; help with the plantar fasciitis; and strengthen some shoulder muscles to counterbalance some tight chest muscles.

I'm game. I need to round out my training.

I can't shake the slight sore throat that I've had all week. I'm so exhausted at the end of the work day, I sleep on the train coming home.

Tonight I do want to do a few of the PT exercises I haven't been doing for my knee, and some sit-ups, and a few cards.

I was asked to go to the martial arts school early to talk about my training a bit. I have a feeling somebody thinks it's time for me to sign up for more classes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Middle-Age Limits

My feet today were very sore from the interval sprints yesterday--even though I was running on a beautiful track, even though I was wearing excellent Mizuno shoes.

Plantar Fasciitis
is such an annoyingly mundane physical limit, and it's one that has only hit me in the past two or three years. But it's real. I do stretches for it, and I wear a splint sometimes at night for my left foot, to keep the fascia from contracting. A friend at work said I should stretch out my calves--which I thought I was doing. I do have tight calves.

I sometimes wish I had started martial arts in earnest in my 20s. I wouldn't have had the speed and strength to become some great champion, but it would be cool to see how much more I could have achieved starting at, say, 24 instead of 44.

However, there are a lot of middle-aged limits that I am getting past. I took a deck of cards to the gym today and did my new sensei's push-up routine--turn over a card, do that many push-ups. One of the trainers at the gym pointed out that when I was getting tired, I was lowering my head, instead of keeping it in a perfect line with the rest of my body, which was limiting my effectiveness (and making injury more likely). Tuck my chin back to keep the head in line, he said. It was a great tip. I ended up doing 177 push-ups, and that's way more than I once thought I could achieve as a middle-aged martial artist.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back To Sprinting

For the first time since my ACL operation in March, I sprinted today. I think it's going to be great for my anaerobic endurance and weight; I can't say I did spectacularly well at sprinting, however.

When I was preparing for my tournament a fews years ago, my old sensei had me do sprints. I went to a track, jogged about half a mile, and then would sprint for 15 seconds, followed by walking for 30.

The difficulty in doing this is measuring time--even with a stopwatch it's tough when you're sprinting.

So I tried a tip from the book The Ultimate Boxer, and decided I would sprint set distances, rather than for a particular time. One set the book recommends is, after a warmup jog, sprinting 8 200-meter intervals (finish within 30 seconds), followed by a 200-meter jog; then something like 10 100-meter sprints, jogging back to the starting line.

Now the standard high-school track is 400 meters, so 200 meters is half the track. The book's recommended interval workout seemed, for me at 51 and recovering from ACL surgery, more like a goal to aspire to than something I can do now. I was right.

After stretching and a 800-meter warm-up jog, my first couple of 200-yard sprints took longer than 30 seconds, with the consequence that they were more of a run than a sprint by the end of them. And I was too bushed to jog in between. I decided to allow myself to sprint for 30 seconds and stop at that point, regardless of whether I had gone 200 meters, and then to walk to where the next 200-meter sprint would start. I got (I think) five of those done, and my knee began to feel a bit sore--not terrible, but not something I wanted to push to the point of being terrible. So I finished with one 100-meter sprint, then a walk around the track.

Besides there being limits to how well I can sprint, there are limits to how often I can do this. Given that I work a nine-hour day Monday through Friday, and I have a three-hour round-trip commute, I can only do interval sprints on the weekend. Ideally I should be running four days a week and doing interval training three days a week. Unless I became a professional athlete--cue laugh track here--I don't have time for that. My hope is that my interval sprinting will complement the anaerobic nature of the core martial arts classes I'm taking, with bursts of punches and kicks.

Interval sprinting really helped me a lot when I was preparing for the tournament--but at that point I was working from home one day a week, and I could go to the track and do my sprints that day, giving me two times a week.

But even once a week, it can't hurt (unless I hurt my knee), and it will probably help. (Actually, what hurts most now isn't my knee, it's the bottom of my foot due to plantar fasciitis.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The photo above is of the goggles I use in martial arts class--gc from nz was asking to see what I use.

The lenses are prescription, allowing me to see what's going on around me--I'm blind as a bat. They also stay on my head, which is an issue even in core class when there's no contact between students.

And importantly, they protect my eyes. My eye doctor is not keen on my doing martial arts--my eyes are so myopic that I'm at high risk for a detached retina. Getting hit in the head is bad enough, and getting hit in the eye would be really bad. So this offers me some protection from a detached retina.

I had another two satisfying classes. On Thursday, I was tired at the end of the day and hot a happy camper from work. When I walked into class, one friend asked me, "Who are YOU mad at?" By the end of class, I was, well, a happy camper. Martial arts has a great anti-depressant effect on me.

My knee hurt a little bit from having torqued it, not in a kick, but in a defensive move--we worked on defending ourselves from a one-armed choke from behind. It wasn't awful pain, just enough to remind me to still be careful.

I attended another class last night because I was going to miss my Saturday class due to a family trip.

I really like my new sensei. He's very focused and a great instructor, and he makes an effort to individualize his instruction, even in a big class. I got a DVD set of his amateur and professional competitions--just basically home-made videos, nothing fancy. He points out in the cover notes that even though he teaches people to master technique, then speed, THEN power, in his early matches his technique is poor! And it improves. For one thing, his punches were kind of like haymakers in the beginning, and then they get more straight.

I know when I was active in kickboxing before my torn ACL, I'd work, work, work on some subtle move in class. Then sparring would begin, and I would drop everything I learned and just try to survive. And it's much more primal in competition than sparring class.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good Class

I enjoyed my Tuesday night class--a great change from a week ago. We were working on slipping after punching and then moving or throwing combinations. This is very interesting stuff to me.

I've begun kicking, another step in recovering from ACL surgery. My leg feels fine. One thing I'm not doing yet--torquing my left leg (i.e., no roundhouse kicks with the right leg).

This weekend, according to my schedule, I should try interval sprints. We'll see, it's a very busy weekend.

My New Sensei asked me to hold hand pads for him to demonstrate punches during class. As minor as that sounds, it communicated to me that he's getting to know me and has confidence in me, which felt great.

As it's Wednesday, I'm taking today as my rest day from working out.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I tried New Sensei's push-up regimen today. I went through 18 cards of a deck, and did about 157 push-ups until I finally couldn't finish the 19th card (the joker). (Only 36 cards to go.) When I moved onto the elliptical machine right afterwards, I was primed--my heart rate was already raised, it was in cardio range in no time.

I did hands-wide push-ups (the easiest for me), shoulder-width push-ups, and a few diamond push-ups. Man, are my arms tired. This is a lot for a middle-aged guy.

I'm going to be surprised if my arms recover enough to give a decent showing in martial-arts class Tuesday night, which will be embarrassing.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aging Martial Artist: A Perspective

There's an interesting essay by Bob Orlando (whom I've never met), who runs a martial arts school in Denver, on a natural progression in types of martial arts to pursue with age. His template is the progression in Taoist Chinese martial arts from xing-yi, a very linear, meet-force-with-force art that sounds like karate, to ba-gua, which introduces more circular-type motions (sounds like aikido, though I don't know for sure) and finally to taijiquan (tai chi chan), see photo.

Orlando says there's no loss of effective self-defense in that progression, and that there are ways to make that progression outside the Taoist Chinese martial arts.

It makes a lot of sense to me. It makes me wonder about taking up, say aikido at some point (though I do worry about the falls aikido requires).

However, the vigor of the hard martial art I'm pursuing is great for my physical condition. And I'm eager to return to sparring. And I do want to get that black belt. So my thought is to continue down this path as long as I'm able, knowing though that if my body won't let me any farther, due to age or injuries, there are alternatives to dropping training entirely.

I'm off the training wagon for the past four days due to illness, a martial-arts-school holiday, and demands on my time today from family and others. Monday's a new day.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I took a spinning back kick to the gut from a virus Thursday--fever, aches, and stomach distress that I won't divulge in detail. I missed work and evening martial arts class, and I worked from home today.

No class on Saturday either. Maybe that's a good day (if I'm close to fully recovered) for starting this deck-of-cards training routine for push-ups.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Tonight was, psychologically, my toughest night since returning to karate classes three weeks ago after ACL surgery. I'm nowhere near the level I want to be at, and it will be so much work to get there. I'm not up to the abilities, physical and in terms of form, of some other people in class, because of my layoff and, frankly, my age. To top it off, work's been tough and that carries over. I was so tired sleeping on the train home I was dreaming.

I made it through the class.

I talked to my new sensei about it afterwards, and he said it was understandable that I would feel badly in comparing myself to other other students, but that I'm not even back a month, I have limitations because of my knee, and that by applying myself 100% to the class it would make an impression on people as well. And for the push-ups, he wants me to take a deck of cards, and on my off days--that is, not my karate class days, when I may do 100 push-ups--to do as many push-ups as cards I turn up in the deck, to the limit that I can do, until I can finally do an entire deck of cards. (Face cards count 11, Aces 12, Jokers 15.)

I don't quite know WHEN I'm going to do that--for instance, tonight I've got a meeting that lasts from when I get home to when I have to go to bed--and I worry about hurting my arms. My new sensei said I do need to be careful about not getting hurt while doing so many push-ups, but I don't know if he realizes how much lower a threshold I may have for injury than he has. (He does two-and-a-half decks of cards.)

I don't know whether a 51-year-old slender guy can do all this. I'm going to try.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cardio and King Lear

That's Sir Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf, Magneto and, in the photo, King Lear) on the left. We'll get to him in a minute.

Today I went to the gym, after missing karate class yesterday to see a contractor about a leaking roof. I did:


Resistance training:
Four sets of 20:
Push-Ups with one hand on a medicine ball
Scissors kicks with legs raised
Bicycle crunches
20 lat pull-downs, 80 pounds (new for me)

Physical therapy for my knee, post ACL surgery:
30 leg presses, 160 pounds
30 single-leg leg presses, 80 pounds
30 calf raises, 80 pounds
30 side-stepping squats, with a resistance band
30 front and back lunges, with a resistance band
30 knee bends with my right leg on a Swiss ball
6 across the room fast defensive-stance gallops

Cardio and knee:
Ran 1.5 miles on the treadmill, plus two minutes warming up and two cooling down.

Tomorrow my plan is to go to the gym downstairs from my work for crunches and cardio.

Funny, this afternoon I planned to watch the new Contender TV show, but I ended up watching a DVD of King Lear instead. I had read about Ian McKellen in the role now in New York (no tickets left); the NY Times loved him, the WS Journal less so. So I watched the Ian Holm (aka Bilbo Baggins) Lear from 1999.

Last year, I was able to watch the Contender episodes on my long commute on my iPod. Alas, this year, ESPN isn't putting the episodes for sale on the iTunes store, to my disappointment. They're on too late during the week for me to watch; I guess I won't see 'em. My real boxing buddies didn't like the show, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Push-ups are the pride and bane of my existence.

Well, actually my kids rank higher on both the pride and bane scales. But push-ups are pretty high up there.

They're a source of pride because people's eyes tend to bug out when they hear that I do, say, 80 or 90 push-ups in the course of a karate class.

They're a bane because they're hard and painful to do.

To get a black belt, my school requires people to do a set number of push-ups and sit-ups, in excellent form and quickly. Good form means, among other things, your body needs to be straight--you can't stick your butt in the air--and you need to get down low enough.

The number depends on your sex and age. For push-ups, adult men need to do 75, women 35. However, "senior" men and women, 50 and over, do fewer--50 for men, 25 for women.

The push-up requirement was introduced after I had already been in the school for a while, I think I was a green belt (my school goes white, blue, yellow, green, red, brown, black). And until that point, we hadn't emphasized push-ups in class. I was NOT good at them, and it was a lot of work to build up to the right level.

I'm not Mr. Upper Body. Some of my buddies in the school, including Hulk and Gumba Frank, as their names suggest, are blessed with lots of upper body strength. They can crank out the push-ups. I tend more to the model of the lean, mean fighting machine--Terry, a former black belt at our school (now in another state) used to say I had go-go-gadget legs, they could kick so far. But I have really had to work on the push-ups.

At one point, my Old Sensei--more of a mesomorph than an ectomorph like me--was trying to get me to do 200 to 300 push-ups a day, in sets--increasing the number of push-ups I could do in sets. He said when I could do 200 push-ups in five sets of 40, I would be able to do 75 for the test. "Your arms will be so big, you'll have a wife AND a mistress," he said. "But then you'll have issues." I tried, and I did boost the number of push-ups I could do. But my shoulder was beginning to hurt something ferocious, interfering with the push-ups. Once I did 75 push-ups in good form and without stopping, but that was a peak I never attained again. Instead, I turned 50, and needed to do only 50 for the test.

I have typically put my hands pretty wide for push-ups, rather than right next to my body. They're just easier that way for me--I am not sure what different parts of my body these wide push-ups engage, but I think they work the shoulders more and the triceps and chest somewhat less. Lately, I've been trying to do more tight-in-hands push-ups, and doing other exercises to strengthen my triceps. No surprise, my triceps have hurt since my last class Thursday.

I have been treating push-ups like weight lifting--I give myself a day off in between. Now that I'm back in core karate class again, and now that we do even more push-ups than we used to, I use those classes (three a week) for my push-up workouts.

Before, in physical therapy, the therapists suggested push-up variations, like putting a medicine ball under one hand and then switching, or putting my legs up on a bit Swiss Ball. I did find a little variety made the push-ups more bearable.

I'm missing karate class today because a contractor is coming out to look at our leaky roof--something that has to get fixed. I may see if another location in my program has Sunday hours I could attend, or else I'll make it to the Tuesday class.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Buddy Night

It's "Bring a Friend to Martial Arts Class" week. Tuesday night, I brought my buddy Steve, who was more of an athlete than I was in our youth (we met as adults). He's a bit younger than me, though firmly in middle age. I thought he might enjoy punching something for stress relief.

Steve's visit helped me realize how far I've come. He said the class was a lot more physical effort than he expected. In two hours of tennis, he thinks he burns only 75% of the calories he burned in an hour of core karate class.

Starting off (after stretches) with 55 push-ups and a minute of sit-ups was tough. Then the punching and kicking drills, both shadow boxing and hitting mits, began to wear him out.

We were paired up to work together. Halfway through the class, he told me, "You're trying to kill me, I can tell." I told him, "Yeah, your wife put me up to it," and he got a long laugh out of that. (Or else he used it as an excuse to rest a bit.) I kept urging him to slow down, but he mostly wouldn't. Later, he said he was afraid he was going to throw up a few times.

After working on some close-range defensive moves, we finished with more sit-ups, and with those leg drills where you lie on your back, point your legs up to the ceiling, and your partner shoves your legs down to the floor.

When I drove him home, before he got out of the car, he shook my hand and said, "Thanks for inviting me. I'm never going to do this again."

Then after exiting the car with some difficulty, he spotted his teenage son and cried out, "Help me into the house!"