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.