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!"

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Old Sensei

Yesterday I had a class with my Old Sensei.

When I say Old Sensei, I don't mean he's Mr. Miyagi's age. He's actually in his early thirties, I would guess. I just mean he was my sensei when I joined the school in early 2001, and he is transitioning out of the school--another sensei is taking over, New Sensei, who I would guess is also in his early 30s.

It was good to take a class from Old Sensei. I've always thought of him as the world's strongest rubber band--he's so incredibly flexible--and he has beautiful form. I actually did a few kicks with my left leg by mistake, I was so caught up in the class.

"It's good to sweat again, isn't it?" he asked me after class. He also joked with me about my lack of a suntan--I was wearing shorts, and he said he thought I was wearing white pants. I mostly say out of the sun because I had skin cancer once on my ankle, which was actually one of my motivations for taking up martial arts in middle age.

Today I worked on physical therapy for my knee at home, and plan to do some crunches and sit-ups and slow karate kicks before bed.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why Do Martial Arts?

One of my college friends, Rob the Comic Lawyer, wrote me an email with this to say about my martial arts endeavors:

Nice to hear from you, but clearly you are too old for this shit. Go back to chess. Take up sailing, like me, where there is some exercise hopping around the boat and pulling on ropes, but most of the time I get to sit on my fat ass and look at girls in swimsuits.

Another college buddy, Joe-Bobbie, Rust Vendor, had similar concerns about my sanity in a phone conversation.

So: Why do this?

First, apart from the occasional (only once, I hope!) ACL surgery, muscle pull or bruised toe, it's good for my health. Even after gaining weight during recovery, I weigh a good 20 pounds less now than when I first joined karate. I no longer need cholesterol pills, and a hernia I was starting to develop in my belly button is gone.

Why not just go to the gym? As yesterday's entry shows, it's often harder to make it to the gym than to karate class. Class is more fun; you feel an obligation to attend because your friends and sensei expect you there, which gets you in the door; somebody is up in front of you pushing you to do your best.

It's thrilling. There's such great stress relief hitting or kicking a pad.

So far, we're talking just about core classes, where you don't hit or get hit by other people. But what about contact--kickboxing, grappling--the kind of thing that did get me hurt?

I'm sure I will return to those classes in February with some fear. But I also eagerly look forward to my return because it's empowering and thrilling to be in controlled but strenuous physical combat with another person. It's like a very primal chess game, where you can learn, and improve, and see how well you can defend yourself.

My friend Larry, of The Family That Fights Together, talks about how we sit at our desks, we have to be nice to all sorts of rude people. How often are we given the chance to literally face up to our fear and do something physical about it?

As my friend Wendy once wrote about taking up boxing:

As I progressed, Tony finally hinted that he wanted me to spar. At first I demurred. What was the point? I asked. Deep down I worried I wasn't good enough. But one cold Saturday morning Tony stuck a mouthpiece in my jaw and strapped headgear on me. "Let's just move, kid," he said. To my surprise, when he hit, I hit back.

I'd never been struck so hard by another person. And there was something about it that made me feel terribly alive.

The confidence the I can defend myself--and the related knowledge that, for instance, in a room where a bunch of paunchy bosses are criticizing my work, I know I could knock any one of them to the floor, even though I'd never do that--is very calming.

I'm sure this has much to do with having been a geeky kid who felt like he could never defend himself. I wish I had taken this up years and years ago, before middle age. But I'm so glad that I finally found it.

I don't get those feelings of empowerment from a gym. I get them from martial arts.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Life Interferes

I really, really planned to hit the elliptical machine in the gym today.

I packed a gym bag, almost making myself miss the morning train. I was going to go in the late morning, but the stock market was choppy, and, as an editor at a financial news service, I needed to stick around. Then I was going to hit the gym after 4, but some of my reporters' stories and story ideas needed a lot of input; then a former colleague called, needing help on a project; and on and on.

Even though I didn't get to the gym, I was still late getting home, I had so much to do (and the subways conspired against me). Home at 7:45 P.M., eat, greet my wife and daughter...and I'm exhausted. I'm heading to bed.

Tomorrow, I have another "core" karate class at noon; now my plan is to fit a cardio workout in on Sunday--sometime between church and a friend's surprise birthday party the next state over--and do a home or gym physical therapy session for my knee on Monday.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Don't Compare

My Old Sensei always used to say, "Don't compare." I need to remember that tonight.

We were doing a lot of kicks tonight. I was substituting gentle knee kicks, which ironically don't hurt my knee, for all other kicks with my left leg--or any roundhouse kick. I felt slow and awkward in my combinations. My knee brace was alright, but slipping a bit by the end of class.

I was paired up tonight with another brown belt, one I haven't met before. He looks to also be middle aged, but younger than me. He was quite smooth and fast in the kicking combinations.

I was able to do "spinning" back kicks, but with me it was more a "stepping back kick," I don't want to spin on my knee.

Then we worked on defenses against the single-hand choke--something I haven't done in six or seven months, since before my ACL operation--and of course I was awkward.

At the end, we did extra crunches and push-ups--I don't know how many, because my New Sensei was drawing cards from a deck and calling them out numbers. If the numbers were below 6, he doubled them. As we were getting close to the end, my form in the push-ups was awful.

As I was on the way out, New Sensei asked me how it was going. I said well, but I felt slow. He said to consider my classes now simply stepping stones, and to take it at my own pace. In other words: Don't compare.


I'm not accustomed yet to working out so vigorously in the evening, so it was hard falling asleep after my return to karate class, and I had trouble falling and staying asleep. So yesterday, the day after my return, I was exhausted. I think I'll adjust with time and be able to fall asleep quicly and well--I did in the past.

One of the good changes about class is that we do more push-ups and more sit-ups/crunches than before--I had been thinking about staying after class to do more, but it's part of the routine now. So in total, we did 75 push-ups--55 at the start of class, in the pattern of 10 push-ups, followed by a rest while counting to 10, then nine push-ups, followed by a nine count, etc.--then two sets of 10 slowly at the end of class. I did the initial 55 with my arms wide, and the final 10 with my arms close to my sides.

And after doing as many sit-ups (feet and bent legs held down by a partner) as possible in 60 seconds (52 for me), we did I think 40 crunches at the end of class, working on both middle and oblique muscles.

So I may be able to get a pretty full resistance training workout by adding tricep raises on a chair and (this will be new to me) pull-ups after class. Maybe some neck work too, though we do some calisthenics related to the neck at the start of class.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Return of the Brown Belt

Tonight I returned to martial arts class, and my friends.

This was my first class since a couple of months before my March 27 ACL operation. It was a non-contact core class, basically karate, and I wasn't kicking with my left leg. But I was able to substitute non-snapping leg motions, and I kept up with the class. The only thing I wasn't great at was scooting around an adversary following a combination (he was holding Muay Thai pads). But, hey, I was never that good at scooting agility anyway!

The best news is I didn't get hurt; and the brace felt very comfortable, though it did slip a little by the end of class.

My New Sensei, whom I have only met once before, didn't initially remember who I was, because he was asking me to kick with my left leg. But I started to pull up my gi pants leg to show him the brace, and he remembered, suggesting some substitute motions for my leg.

One of the reasons I love this school is the social aspect. My friends were very welcoming to me. But the classes are much bigger than they used to be, and there are many people in the class who don't know me yet. And I missed a little bit that "everybody knows your name" feeling. It'll feel like Cheers again some day.

I'm planning to go to three of these core classes each week, and keep up with cross training two or three days a week (including home physical therapy).

It's good to be back!