Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Renewed ACL Woes In The Blogosphere

Life has been very busy lately, and I haven't been keeping up with blogs (mine or others') lately. As I tell people, quoting a favorite old boss of mine, I've been busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest.

Now, however, I'm on vacation. I kick back, read a few posts--and find that everybody is falling apart.

Hack Shaft, an energetic tae kwan do student, in November (on election night) got a second ACL injury. He's already gone through his operation. He's still got a great attitude, but I can't believe he's going through ACL reconstruction again.

And witty blogger Black Belt Mama is going to have, in effect, her ACL repair repaired in January. She's got a protruding sheath from the prior ACL surgery that needs fixing.

I feel for both of them--I was groaning out loud as I was getting caught up on their blogs. And it's a reminder that, while athletics and martial arts will help preserve our minds, bodies and spirits in the long run, we are running risks in the short run.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Return of the Black Belt Candidate

I've gotten my sensei's permission, so I'm returning to the black belt test on Jan. 21.

It was a bit more than two years ago that I tore my ACL in the final moments of my black belt test, and between ACL diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and work/life overload, I haven't tested since then.

Two years ago I got hurt in the final minutes of the test. I had passed everything except grappling (a bit more on why grappling is part of the test later). My sensei says he's seeking to have my organization grandfather me on all parts of the test except the grappling, but it's been so long I might have to re-test on everything. Best to prepare for the worst case, he says.

I'm off work for two weeks, and I'm going to use this time, as much as I can, to sharpen my skills and improve my endurance. I'm going this morning to the local gym chain, which I had dropped out of earlier this year, so I can run on an elliptical machine on days when I don't have martial arts class (or in the morning before the evening classes). With no work, I can make lots of classes this week as well.

I was most worried about pushups on the pre-test I took Saturday. Pushups, as I've said, are the bane of my existence; to get in the door of the test, I have to do 50. My sensei wanted me to do 75 in the pretest. I did 74 good pushups, one bad pushup, and hit the ground--good enough to pass the pretest. I need to work on my situps, however (50 in a minute at the test), I wasn't getting down far enough.

If I do have to test for everything, there's a lot I need to memorize. Some of the self defense moves have changed a bit since I took my test.

While my school started out as a Shotokan karate school, it has become more of a mixed martial arts organization (no, we don't ground and pound each other in class), but it has retained elements of karate like the black belt test. The complete test for a 52-year-old is:

Do 50 pushups in good form without dropping to the ground
Do 50 situps in a minute
Show good form on punches and kicks using punching mits, kick pads and Muay Thai pads
Show good, quick execution of (I think) 8 self-defense moves
Kickbox five opponents in two minute rounds with only a few moments between rounds
Grapple two opponents in four-minute rounds.

I'll find out early next year whether I just need to do pushups, situps and grappling, or whether I need to do everything.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mind Over Genes

There's an article in the NY Times this morning about a company offering a test claiming to help determine what kind of athletics would best suit a child - speed/power or endurance. It has to do with a variant of a gene that makes a protein found in fast-twitch muscles.

The article is full of caveats - there is an Olympic long-jumper from Spain who has the "wrong" gene variant for his sport, for instance, and hundreds of genes are probably involved in setting the foundations for successful athletes. And there are lots of cautionary quotes in the story about narrowing down a child's options for sports.

But I'm sure the website of the testing company, atlasgene.com, will get a million hits today.

In a way, I'd be curious to know if, by taking up martial arts late in life, I "wasted" a lot of potential - or whether, by contrast, I would have always run into pretty severe limitations.

But I also think it might undermine me psychologically to find out that, say, I don't really have the right gene variants for top fast-twitch muscles. Maybe it would make me work less hard on push-ups, for instance, making it easier to say, "Oh, I'll never be able to do enough."

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I am trying out a new schedule for martial arts. After a stretch where crises at work and home really ate into my time for training, I'm now going four hours a week--an hour Tuesday night, two hours Friday night, and an hour on Saturday.

Last night, I had an hour of intermediate-advance grappling (a new thing for me and my school) and an hour of sparring.

The grappling was fun; I learned a new move, the Darse (Darce? Maybe Steve knows) choke, in which you can use someone's locked arms around your neck against them from side control (I know this is gibberish to traditional martial artists, apologies).

And in sparring, I had an important lesson.

Brandon, a second-degree black belt in my school, is my nemesis. I don't mean that phrase as in he's mean or out to get me or evil or anything. I like Brandon, he's a polite young man in his 20s. He's a great athlete, V-shaped torso, all that. He's really fast, and strong, and he's really, really a challenge for me in sparring.

(A digression: Once I was writing to my friend Wendy about how Brandon was just kicking my tail in an effort to prepare me for a tournament some years back. Her response was classic: "This is great. It's so much more important to get beaten up by a 20-year-old with a V-shaped torso than by paunchy middle-aged men in a meeting at work.")

So anyway, Friday night, Brandon several times would slip my jab, move in and throw a flurry of punches. While he's not throwing as hard as he can, the punches do hurt.

My quite natural reaction was to move - walk - backwards, lean away, do anything to get away from the punches.

What my sensei pointed out to me--and to all the other people in class who had the same reaction to his flurries--that we were just opening ourselves up for even more punishment by moving backwards. We were placing ourselves at the far end of his punches, where they have the most power. We were loosening our bodies instead of tightening them. We were opening up and making ourselves more vulnerable.

You can try to do other things, like move to the side. But what he told us to do was grab the mat with our feet, stand our ground, tuck our chin down, protect our head and torso with our arms, and keep our eyes open. When he's in close, his punches won't have as much power. Our bodies and defenses will be closed and tight. And we will be able to look for an opening. A single return punch, even if it doesn't land well, will tend to stop the flurry and make him instinctually move backwards, giving the defender a chance to breathe again. Also, standing your ground can allow you to lock up the person's arms so he can't keep punching.

This is great theory, it all makes sense. What it takes to put into practice is courage.

The characters above are, according to japanese.about.com, kanji for courage.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I had a good sparring session Friday night--it was fun, I learned stuff, and I did well.

I had two opponents who particularly posed challenges. Anthony is maybe an inch taller than me at 6'3.5"; usually I have a reach advantage against opponents. I'd say he's late 30s or early 40s.

Mitch, a brown belt in his 40s, is a southpaw, very fast, technically very good, and has usually posed real difficulty for me in sparring. His punches and kicks seem to be coming from the wrong direction to me since he's mirroring my stance.

With both, I was trying to move my head while I threw my punches, which helps avoid getting dinged at the same time that you punch somebody. I do remember at least a couple of times when an opponent's punch sailed past my ear while my punch landed, which was a thrill.

With tall Anthony, I was trying to get inside at times. I would throw a jab while moving my head to the right, and step inside. Often at that point he would clinch me, but I worked on continuing to throw punches from the inside, or working to get a knee kick. Honestly, one of the things that helped me was that he was very tired, he was on his third hour of working out.

Sensei was showing Mitch and me that, as a righty-lefty pair, our power sides (right for me, left for him) were very open to attack, requiring us to be SURE to move our heads when throwing a power punch; and that we should try to position our front feet outside our opponent's front foot (which can lead to an interesting dance when you're both moving in the same direction).

It occurs to me that this is probably all too technical for people who pursue very different martial arts, but I guess one function of this post is to remind me to do these things in the future.

I was able to keep Mitch, who's a bit shorter than me, at the outside of my range with my punches and kicks; sensei mentioned this to me afterwards and I felt like a million bucks.

One thing I really need to work on is keeping my hands up, which can get tiring when you're wearing 16-ounce gloves. Often I hold my hands about at chin level when I'm sparring, which in our school (where you can punch to the head, though in class we do take it easy) is too low. I don't know why I do that, because in drills I do keep my hands up higher. A bad old habit, I guess, but one that I now know I need to work on.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Black Belt Blues (apologies to the similarly named blog)

(You should know that Black Belt Blues is the name of a blog by a recoveree from ACL reconstruction, and an excellent place to visit.)

It's been a busy fall so far for me. Last weekend was the first time in six weeks that I haven't worked on a Sunday--but I did go to Virginia to take care of my parents. A tree had fallen on their porch--and on my Dad's beloved 20-year-old pickup truck. The pickup was crushed, the porch was heavily damaged.

So my Dad, at 88, went out to try and clean things up. Instead, he fell, impaled his arm on some wreckage, and got a nasty, nasty puncture wound.

So I went down to spend the weekend. He needed more stitches, and he needed reminders to take his antibiotics every day.

Between work, family and the trip to Virginia, I am pretty sure that last week was the first time since recovering from my ACL injury that I didn't attend a single martial arts class (apart from vacation weeks spent out of town). That's how busy it's been.

When I got back, I went to class on Tuesday--and found that two of my contemporaries, Warren and Larry, both 51, had gone to the black belt test on Sunday and had gotten their black belts. I was thrilled for them, and they were so happy.

I would be less than totally honest if I didn't also say I was feeling a bit blue that I wasn't there to get my belt with them. They both said I should have been there to get the belt also. Between work, hurting my shoulder and just not having time to train, I knew I wouldn't be able to test this past Sunday. With everything still going on, I do wonder when I'll be able to test.

Tonight, I go to sparring class. We'll see how much of a hindrance my lack of consistent conditioning poses.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Shoulder Improving; Dance As Exercise

After my doctor visit, resulting in the torn labrum diagnosis, I spoke with some friends from my martial arts school who said this particular doctor is something of an alarmist. So I have been planning to visit another orthopedic doctor, but haven't had time to see one yet--the financial crisis is having me working six days a week and long hours each day. (My own view is that we're going to see what the Great Depression would have been like had regulators back then known more and acted faster.)

Due to this work demand, and due to my desire to also spend time with family despite all this work, I also haven't been able to make many of my classes. And in class, I've been mostly avoiding using my left shoulder whenever possible--not doing two-handed push-ups, for instance.

The good news is that the shoulder is getting better, whether due to this benign neglect or in spite of it. I actually recently started doing two-handed push-ups again, and my shoulder didn't hurt. I'm not going nuts and doing tons of push-ups, I don't want to push the envelope. I stopped Saturday at 50.

If things continue this way, I may not need that second doctor visit (or a $300 co-pay for an MRI) at all.

This past week I was only at two hour-long martial arts classes. The week before, only three hours. That's not enough to improve, and not enough to maintain a very high state of cardio, but It's enough, I hope to keep the rust off me.

And some of my off day time with family involves fun, moderate exercise.

On a couple of Wednesday nights, for instance, my wife and I have gone to dance class. The first 45 minutes we work on salsa--which really gets your feet moving--and then next 45 we work on a different dance--tango one night, waltz the other. According to this interesting calorie calculator, half an hour of salsa would burn (at my weight) 210 calories, and half an hour of waltz or tango would burn 140 calories. (I'm not calculating the whole 45 minutes because of instruction time.)

While this is only moderate exercise, there's a lot of evidence that moderate exercise leads to huge health gains--indeed, this article in Science Daily says there are huge health benefits to regular moderate exercise. I wouldn't use dancing to prepare for a tournament or black belt test, but if your goal is to be healthy, regular moderate exercise, from what I read, is really great.

Plus, dancing is fun.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Torn Labrum

My shoulder has continued hurting, so I finally got in to see a sports doctor. His diagnosis: I have a torn labrum. The labrum is shoulder cartilage, in the socket part of the joint.

I wondered how it could be a shoulder injury, when, in fact, the pain is in the upper arm, sort of where the arm and shoulder meet. That's because it's "referred pain," he said--it's being referred to that part of the body by nerves from the actual injury. And sure enough, when he presses on the part of my arm where I feel the pain, it doesn't hurt. It only hurts when I move my shoulder the wrong way.

I will need an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. More medical dollars spent--I think my health plan charges me $300 for MRIs.

I might be able to fix it with physical therapy, the doctor said, and I should try that first. But I may need it "scoped," he said.

What a drag.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is falling apart and I'm too busy covering it. Worked last Sunday, will need to work this weekend also, and it feels impossible--it IS impossible--to do as good a job on it as I'd like.

And I'm having heartbreaking problems with a family member. So it's been a tough week.

I did enjoy, though, my two classes this week (had to miss the others). Friday night sensei had us work on footwork in sparring class--there were six students, and we didn't work at all on free sparring. Today I went to a "core" class and got an excellent workout then as well. What would I do without this outlet.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sparring With Sensei

Last night, a Friday night, I was the only student in my sparring class, so I got to spar with sensei.

My sensei is a Muay Thai champion.

When Caryn at the front desk told me my sole classmate would be sensei, I said, "You know, I think I have something really important to do at home...."

"Too late," sensei said.

I didn't suspect that he would injure me. He is totally in control. I'm safer sparring with him than with most of my classmates, in terms of risking injury.

I was very aware, however, of how futile my response to him would be on the mat. This has to do with his skill level compared to mind, but it doesn't help that he's 32 and I'm 52.

After warming up, we started off with drills--he would use his jab only, for instance, and I would block with the same-side hand. Since I knew it was coming, I could generally block it. But even in the drills, I was getting tired from the constant motion around the mat.

We would trade roles in the drills, then we started counterpunching--each time knowing what the other would do since the type of punch or kick was limited.

Eventually we got around to free sparring, two-minute rounds, 30 seconds off.

I have sparred with people much better than me. I usually manage to defend myself and land some punches and kicks, even if the other person is clearly better.

With my sensei, trying to block his punches was like trying to block lightning. And he moved so constantly that I usually couldn't come close to landing a punch. He didn't wear head gear or a mouth guard, because he didn't need them.

At first we only used hands. He urged me to keep moving; use my reach with my jab; to not cross my legs when moving backwards; to cover up if he came in too quickly for me to evade, but to keep looking for opportunities to counterpunch, and to get out of there when I could. I was totally, totally overmastered. My jabs kept sailing around or over his head as he moved. I was afraid of using much besides the jab for fear of exposing myself to counterpunches. He would set up his punches perfectly--getting me to, say move my hands together in defense in front of my body so he could throw a hook punch unblocked. And I was getting exhausted.

I did a little better when I could kick. He later said that my kicks are fast for a big guy. But as I tired further, it got harder to kick. At one point, he faked a round kick with one leg, I brought my leg up to block, he then kicked with his other leg after my block went down. I need to try that on somebody sometime!

On top of all this, I got stomach cramps toward the end. First thing I did when I got home was head to the bathroom.

He explained a lot about what he was doing, what I should be doing, that evening and the next day when I came to class again. I asked if I was telegraphing the punches or just slow--he said he could read my punches but I wasn't telegraphing too badly, he's just able to see them coming. He said that when someone shorter than me comes in bobbing and weaving low, I should jab down at him, maybe even hold him briefly, and use uppercuts to bring him up.

There will be more classmates in future Friday night classes, but I do think I will learn a lot from sparring with sensei. I hope I don't get too frustrated in the process.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Life, Training

I spent a three day weekend with my 80-something parents in another city. I went there to help my father after he got an operation, but he was recovering fine. Instead, I was helping them with other crises, health and otherwise. It was a good weekend for me to be there--and I was happy I could give a break to my brother, who lives nearby and who bears the brunt of the care for them.

I've missed three martial arts classes in the past week, due largely to my trip. First things first.

It's just killing me that my shoulder hasn't healed yet--I'm going to see a doctor about it.

In the one class I made this week, when I told my sensei I couldn't do pushups because of my hurt shoulder, he had a real kick-ass alternative: "Do one-armed pushups," he said, and promptly showed how easily HE could do them.

One of my friends in class said, "You should have told him you have TWO hurt shoulders."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Time to Heal

I'm going to take some days off from my martial arts classes to allow my shoulder to heal. It's been three weeks and it still hurts. It will start to feel better, but then I'll go to class and do pushups and jabs ... and it hurts again.

Above is a photo of the Hulk and me wrestling at last Sunday's day at the beach. Hulk's the guy without a shirt on.

Look at the arms on that guy--can you believe he's almost 60?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

End of Vacation

Tonight's the last evening of my two week vacation. We had some good times visiting friends and going to the Adirondacks.

This morning I joined my martial arts school at a local beach for volleyball, swimming and hanging out. It was fun, and I think I mostly avoided sunburn. My left shoulder is still bothering me, however, and I think I'm going to have to see an orthopedist, it's not healing as quickly as I would like--I'm on my third week.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yesterday, at my wife's suggestion, I tried swimming as a non-impact form of cardio cross training. It may be something for me to pursue.

I'm not a person who loves being in the water, though I've been a swimmer since I was a kid. My swimming was complicated by my continuing shoulder pain--doing the Australian crawl was impossible, so I did the breast stroke, though that was also a bit of a strain. The thought occurred to me today I could even just get a half-board and kick to do my laps until my shoulder is healed.

I wasn't able to do lots and lots of laps, but I was able to do enough to suggest that eventually this could be a great form of cross training that could build my endurance. One thing I'll also have to build is the muscular endurance required to swim, not just cardio endurance.

The biggest limitation on swimming is getting to a pool. But it would be less expensive than a gym membership.

I'm thinking I might be able to swim once on a weekday and then again on the weekend--probably Sunday, given my martial arts classes on Saturday. Twice a week wouldn't make me an Olympic candidate--nothing would--but it would be a good addition to my training. And it would be easier on my middle-aged joints, feet, etc.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eye Opener: Job v. Life

I'm realizing on vacation the toll my new job has taken on me, mentally and physically. I'm not taking care of myself the way I want.

One key insight was realizing how much my legs ached after running only two miles. It's been months since I've been able to do any regular cross training, such as running or sprinting, or working on the elliptical machines at the gym. I've even had to cut back on the number of martial arts classes I take. My legs are aching because of that lack of training.

It's not just aches. I have seen during free sparring how quickly I get tired; and my weight, while not a huge problem, has been creeping up.

For work, I've been getting up at 5:45 AM, and I'm so busy I'm eating lunch at my desk. I haven't had time to do any cross training at the gym--my membership is on hold at the moment. I can't see getting up any earlier to run, since I need 8 hours of sleep to function well, and I have difficulty making it to bed before 10 as it is; I can't see running at lunch, in part because running on pavement isn't good for my feet or legs.

Complicating matters is that I've got some increased financial commitments, and it's been helpful not spending the money on the gym.

I think it's time to push back at the job a little, to see if I can do this job and still do what I need for myself.

My wife, bless her, said she would make inquiries about putting in more hours at her part-time job, which would let me feel less constrained by money spent on the gym. Since I often don't leave work until 5:30 anyway, I could head to the gym at 4 PM, or at lunch on days that aren't busy. The benefit of going to the gym during work hours, as opposed to going to more martial arts classes at night, is gym time won't come out of family time. With my long commute, family time already feels so limited.

Early next year, my office is moving to a new location, which will afford me a shorter commute, and I hear there's an inexpensive gym at the new location. So that move could definitely help the picture. But I need to start taking care of things now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dojo Dream Tour

One of these days, I would love to do a real-world tour of some of the folks and dojos I've met in the blogosphere. It would be a great way to learn about other martial arts, and meet some people face to face. Of course, I don't know when I could do something like that, and I do think people need to be very careful about real-life encounters with people they met on the Internet. So for now it's just a daydream.

One of the reasons I'm curious is I know that one of these days my body won't be able to keep up with the full- or near-full contact stuff I do, and I'm curious about alternatives. My concerns about point sparring are that 1) it's so quick I can't even see what's happening, let alone try to do it, and 2) some of the body movement is so extreme it seems as much a risk of injury as full contact stuff. But I probably shouldn't judge by watching videos of national competitions, maybe more routine sparring would look more do-able.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Retina Check--So Far, So Good

Yesterday, I went for a full retina check, something I'm told I should now do every year. I'm very nearsighted, or myopic, which is a big risk of retinal detachment--it means my eyeball is a long oval instead of being round. My father had a detached retina in his early 80s.

The fact that I get hit in the head in sparring--ideally, not super hard, but mistakes happen--and that in grappling I'm straining my muscles, adds to the risk.

The doctor said my retinas look fine for now, but that I should beware of any warning signs of detachment--loss of peripheral vision, floaters, showers of sparks in my vision--and in that case call him immediately. He said he thinks it's okay for me to continue my martial arts as a quality of life thing. If I had lost vision in one eye, he'd say I shouldn't.

My eyes were still way dilated a few hours later when I went to sparring class. (It was very freaky looking.) Moreover, I've still got a strained shoulder and groin muscle.

So once drills were through, I didn't participate in free sparring, I went over to a heavy bag and worked on combinations.

Yesterday, I bought a 100-pound heavy bag and hung it from a rafter in the basement. This morning, I went out for a two-mile run at the high school track (much easier on the feet than pavement).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sparring, Worry, Joy, ACL, Decisions

From a letter to a friend:

I recently told my sensei that I'm not going to test for the black belt this fall. I took on a very tough assignment in March, the kind of demanding assignment I avoided for years because I had to save energy for dealing with my son. He is actually back in the house now, and doing extremely well--in part because he's learned, in part we think because we've gotten back in touch with his birth mother (which is a real healing thing for him), and in part because he's just older. The job just has not left me with energy to prepare for a black belt test AND devote energy to my family. I would have to put in 48 hours of class in six weeks to prepare, and I just can't do that now. (What I have to figure out eventually is whether I will ever enjoy this demanding job that is running me ragged. I'm at the start of two weeks of vacation now.)

Stepping back from the test has allowed me to enjoy my classes more. I also returned to sparring class, which I left after I had a slight re-injury of my knee in the early spring. My thinking had been, I don't need kickboxing for the test, I already passed that part, and I didn't want to put my repaired ACL at risk.

But the primal chess game of kickboxing with people is what I enjoy the most about martial arts, and I've now been to two classes. I've got some ring rust, but I still can see sometimes when people are making mistakes I can exploit. And as my friend Larry told me, "You've still got your front kick," which was my signature move before I tore my ACL.

Part of the fun of the class too is that our sensei is an amazing kickboxer, and he studies you and gives you tips. He wants me to work on throwing my jab while I'm backing up in good form--keeping people at the end of the jab and frustrating them as they advance, instead of standing in place and jabbing while they get close enough to hit me. He's shorter than me, and keeps talking about what an advantage my reach is. I know I would trade my reach for his lightning speed and strength any day, but it's good to work with what you have.

I do wish I had taken all this up at 19 instead of 52. I do wonder how good I could have been--I don't think I would have been a great athlete, but surely I could have a higher level of skill. Would I feel the corrosive worry I now feel about so many things? (Probably so, just different things!)

But I also think about what I have gained--my health has vastly improved. I no longer have to take cholesterol medicine, and I've lost something like 20 pounds despite adding muscle. A nascent hernia in my bellybutton has vanished. I have new friends, and I love the feeling of physical motion again.

19 and 52, Continued

It's not just the body that's 52, it's also the mind.

I don't think I absorb new ideas as fast now as I used to. Grappling is very conceptual, in a way, there are so many things to learn, and you then have to think of applying them. I find that even though I have learned a new technique, I need to be reminded while grappling to use it--"he's letting you have his right arm, go for the choke." It's hard to see the tactical opportunities sometimes, especially in grappling.

On the other hand, I do think I often see the bigger picture more clearly now than when I was young and, say, playing basketball (I wasn't a martial arts student until I was 44, basically). For instance, in sparring: "Frank has a great left hook, so I should do the unusual and circle towards his right, even though he's right-handed."

My pulled groin muscle is improving, I can walk upstairs at a normal pace. I'm skipping grappling class tonight because I'm going out of town, but that's just as well, I need a bit more healing.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

19-Year-Old Athlete In 52-Year-Old Body

Last week it was my shoulder; today it's my groin muscle that got pulled. I hurt it toward the end of class, and isn't intensely painful, but I did stop grappling, it hurts a bit going up stairs or trying to move fast. I'm icing it.

Somebody at work said to me, on hearing I had pulled a muscle in my shoulder, "The problem is, you're a 19-year-old athlete in a 52-year-old body." I got a laugh out of that, but she had a point.

It's good that I'm not going to test for the black belt in the fall; if I were, this groin pull would be a serious setback. But now it's just an annoyance. I imagine I'll be close to full speed in a week.

Grappling is so dependent on knowledge. When I grapple with somebody who knows less than I do, it's usually easy. When I grapple with someone who knows more, I have to tap out constantly. I do feel sometimes like it is harder to absorb and learn the moves now than it might have been a couple of decades ago.

But then again, a couple of decades ago, I wasn't doing anything athletic, so I have no real point of comparison.

Fortunately, my knee is doing just fine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This Explains Many Things

From Steve's BJJ blog; I just love these four categories:

But now that he's broken in my blue belt, I think I'm ready to figure out what I need to learn next. If I think about it too much, it's a little overwhelming. There's a learning model very commonly used in business that distinguishes competence into four categories: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. I am now, I believe, consciously incompetent. What that means is that I understand how little I really know and am ready to learn more.

Worn Out

One of the things about being a middle-aged martial artist is that your body doesn't hold up the way the youngsters' bodies do.

Take yesterday, for example.

Yesterday I had two hours of classes. The first hour was grappling, which isn't my best art--I don't know as many techniques as some of my contemporaries. My shoulder still hurts from some dang thing Larry did to me, something that took me by surprise because I'd never seen it before.

Then I had an hour of black-belt-prep class, which I'm still taking though I'm not testing this fall.

We start each class with 55 push-ups (in 10 sets, starting with 10, pausing for 10 counts, then 9, pausing for 9, etc.). By the second class, between exhaustion and my shoulder hurting, I probably did about 40 and held myself in position for those I didn't do. I hadn't skipped any push--ups for a long time.

Then at the end of the black-belt-prep class, I was askd to do 100 pushups in as few sets as possible. I was totally wiped out by that point. I did 40, then three sets of 20.

I was so worn out, I slept for an hour before dinner.

According to one website, doing more than 31 pushups at my age before quiting from exhaustion is "excellent." To enlist in the army, men 37 to 41 need to be able to do at least 24 pushups.

I'm 52. So I feel like, given my age, I'm doing very well on pushups. I'm being asked to do more. I hope my body holds up.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Lots of News

There's lots of news here, starting with martial arts news:

1. I told my sensei I don't want to test for the black belt this fall. Work has been so demanding of my time and energy--and I need time with family as well--that this just isn't the time to test. Simply putting in the time required by my school to test--48 hours of classes in the six weeks before the test--is more than I can do now.
I had been feeling like attending class was more a chore than a joy, because it was something I had to do to prepare for a test that seemed too demanding on my life now. I didn't like that feeling.
My sensei was fine with my decision, which I should have expected but I was relieved to see.

2. Related to my decision not to test, I've returned to kickboxing/sparring classes. I had not taken them because I already passed that part of the test, and friends counseled me not to put my ACL-repaired knee at risk in those classes since it wasn't necessary for the test. However, the standup part of martial arts is the part I enjoy the most--I thrill to the primal chess game of it. (Apologies to Steve and others, I do realize the ground game is also a chess match--maybe even more so--but I like standup better.)
My return to kickboxing class, on Wednesday, had me a little nervous about "ring rust" and my knee, and it was quite challenging, but it was so much fun. I'm happy to be back.

3. On the home front, we're meeting my son's birthmother on Sunday. It's a very emotional and big thing. My son has been home for the past couple of months, after spending quite a long time living elsewhere, and I'm happy to say it's been very good to have him here.

4. Due to a lack of time and a decision to commit funds elsewhere, I am going to drop my gym membership (not my martial arts school, but a gym I used for cross training). The biggest downside is that I no longer will be able to lead the Jersey City Fight Club. However, our little group is moribund anyway at the moment since I haven't had the spare time at work to go down to the gym. We're moving to a new office in Manhattan early next year, with an inexpensive on-site gym, and I'm hoping we can revive the club then.

5. I broke down and began renting a DVR from our TV company, and my first show to tape was Contender Asia, a reality show about 16 Muay Thai fighters, filmed in Singapore. The artistry of the show isn't as high as I thought it was for the U.S. boxing-focused Contender show, especially the second season. But watching Naruepol, a Thai-born fighter, in the ring was a revelation. His kicks were amazing, fast and powerful. I didn't see him feint much with his punches, but lots with his kicks.

That's enough news for now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Don't Compare--Chapter 17

I had a talk with my sensei Monday night because I was feeling discouraged about my grappling--and I need my grappling to get my black belt.

Besides feeling tired from my new job, I just don't feel I'm doing well compared to some others in my class.

He said:

1) Don't compare myself with others, who by definition are in different situations. (I'm re-re-relearning this lesson.)

2) He can see what I've overcome my fears about my knee getting reinjured--I had to do that before I could move on.

3) The new job is also draining me mentally, which affects what you can learn in grappling and how fast you can react.

He said to focus not on everything, but on two or three submissions from the guard and from side control, and to take a private lesson or two, which I'm going to do.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


This poor-quality photo is important to me. It's a picture from 14 years ago of my daughter and my father enjoying a moment together, around the time of her first birthday.

It's pretty easy to tell they're of different races. My daughter is Asian, born in Korea, and adopted by us. She was a happy baby, eager to laugh (as you can see from the photo). She's now a beautiful young lady in high school who is very skilled in photography--she would have taken a much higher-quality photo than this.

My father, who was 74 when the photo was taken, is white; he grew up during the Great Depression and was in the Army Air Force in Africa and Italy in World War II. Now he's 88, and while he and my mother are still living independently (with lots of help from my brother), it's very clear that age is taking its toll on them mentally and physically. I'm trying to see them (in another state) more often because I know the clock is ticking.

However, and this is surprising to me because I've seen other people grow bitter as they age, as they grow older they both express an incredible sweetness, and a love of connection with the people in their lives.

You can see that connection in this photo, between an older man born in America in the Depression and a Korean girl who came across the ocean to join a family.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Attaboy from Sensei

Thursday night, after a "core" class, I was putting on my shoes and my sensei was standing nearby. He asked me how I was feeling out on the floor.

I honestly told him that work has been just relentlessly tiring, and that I'm exhausted every time I step onto the mat.

"But the key is, you're still getting on the mat," he said.

It was just a little comment, but it felt so encouraging.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Turns out Brooke's doctor did evaluate her and decided her growth plate has stopped growing, so she is old enough for traditional ACL surgery (see prior post and the comments on an older post as well). I'm relieved to hear it.

I hope everybody had a fun, relaxing Fourth of July. Just a few less-famous lines from the Declaration of Independence:

...all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Teens and ACL Surgery--A Risk

Brooke, a 14-year-old reader who hurt her ACL, has made comments on an earlier post of mine about her fear of ACL surgery.

My concern is that she may be too young for traditional adult ACL surgery. A New York Times article earlier this year talked about the risks. Two passages:

The standard and effective treatment for such an injury in adults is surgery. But the operation poses a greater risk for children and adolescents who have not finished growing because it involves drilling into a growth plate, an area of still-developing tissue at the end of the leg bone.

And here's the scary part for growing teens:

But the standard A.C.L. repair operation, with its drilling into the growth plate, may cause permanent damage to the still-growing bones of young children. After drilling, surgeons replace the torn ligament with a tendon taken from elsewhere in the body, like the hamstring, or from a cadaver. But if the drilling damages a child’s growth plate, the leg bone will not develop normally.

That happened recently to a 14-year-old boy who was referred to Dr. Freddie H. Fu, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh. A year after the operation, Dr. Fu said, the leg with the repair was bowed 20 degrees on one side and was shorter than the other leg.

“I had to go in on the other side and stop the growth,” Dr. Fu said. “Now, about six months later, the leg is still crooked. There still is a two-inch difference in length which I have to fix.” The boy, he said, “will be a little bit shorter” as a result, although both legs will be the same length.

I'm not a doctor, but I'm encouraging Brooke to show the article to her parents.

For us adult ACL recoverees, we can nod our heads along with this passage from the article (boldface added by me):

Every orthopedist is familiar with A.C.L. tears, but in adults. It is “the most common and most dreaded injury in professional sports,” Dr. Kocher said. The well-established operation to repair it often results in a full return to function. And doctors often recommend that adults have the operation because without the ligament the knee is not stable.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Paula, among many others, talks about spirituality and martial arts. This may not be the spiritual aspect she means, but certainly martial arts teach humility when you come up against a compatriot who can do something so much better than you.

For me, in grappling, it's my buddy Larry. Larry by his own admission gets nervous at the black belt test, and so hasn't done well on defense moves that are memorized. But he knows so much about grappling--he knows so many moves I've never seen, and remembers more of the ones we've both been taught--that it's a real exercise in humility grappling with him. I can't blame an age or size difference, he's maybe two or three years younger than me, and the same size basically. He even had ACL reconstruction before I did.

Moreover, he does his excellent work with a modest and unassuming attitude, which itself is a commendable spiritual discipline.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

There Is Just No Time...

... to post anything much. It's read my friends' blogs or post, and right now reading is more enjoyable....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A 60th Anniversary; A Black Belt Test (Neither Were Mine)

Wow, it's been a while, and there have been a couple of milestones.

On June 14, I was in Virginia for my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, a real achievement. They were tired--heck, they're 88 and 89--so we just had a quiet dinner out. Their faculties are in decline--things like short-term memory and staying on task are difficult--but they're living on their own (with lots of help from my brother, who lives near them), they're enjoying life despite some ailments, and it was great to celebrate their big day with them.

Today I attended the black belt test of two of my friends. Neither passed. They were both disappointed of course.

A brief explanation may be necessary here. My school (a large one in several eastern U.S. states) once was a Shotokan karate school, but it has since morphed into a mixed martial arts school. I just learned this week the school is actually dropping the gi top (there will still be a uniform, but the top won't be a gi). It has retained some elements of karate, such as belts and a big test for the black belt. We're tested for strength (men 50 and older must do 50 pushups in good form, and 50 situps in a minute); for form and power on punches and kicks; for knowledge, form and speed in self-defense moves from various grabs; for kickboxing skill, and grappling skill.

My friend the Hulk was being tested for grappling. Hulk is, as you might guess by the name, incredibly strong; he's in his late 50s and in amazing shape. From what I understand, he didn't pass grappling because he relied on his strength, and didn't demonstrate enough knowledge of grappling technique. He was pretty blue about it.

My friend Larry of the family that fights together, in his late 40s (he gets to do even more pushups and situps in the test) did well on the punches and kicks, but he said was so focused on form in his self-defense routines that he wasn't fast enough, according to the senseis judging him.

It's always easier to see as an outsider that a set-back can be a learning experience; it's much harder to feel that optimistic when the set-back happened to you. Still, I have confidence my friends will join me in September, when I hope to test again.

I have tested twice; what I have left is the pushups and situps (you always have those) and grappling, the test in which I got hurt.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Eye

In grappling Monday night, my buddy Larry, while very careful about my reconstructed ACL, was less careful about my eye, dragging it across his shoulder (I know, it's kind of hard to picture how it happened). Result: My first eye injury, mild as it is, in martial arts: See the abrasion below my eye in the photo.

I haven't gotten a black eye previously in kickboxing, thanks mostly to protective gear and the reach advantage I have over many of my opponents. I've gotten lots of bruises and abrasions on my skin in grappling, but not in the eye until now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Wednesday, I'm 52

Tomorrow (as I write this) I will turn 52. I'm still alive, I'm still kicking. I will return for that black belt in my 52nd year.

I was so stressed out today, from work and from dealing with a stressful person outside work, I thought I was going to fall over. But I survived.

I have to travel on my birthday for work, ugh. But my wife and daughter will join me a day later and we will take a mini vacation in Florida. With luck, the new alarm system will keep our home intruder-free while we're away. On Monday, I'll be back in grappling class.

I thought life would get easier as I got older. It hasn't. But I've got my family, I've got my health, I've got two titanium screws in my leg bones that I didn't have before, plus an ACL that is probably stronger than I give it credit for.

Osu, all you fellow martial artists.

Hang in there, all you fellow ACL folks.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grappling With 20-Somethings

I'm really enjoying grappling. I'm signed up to take it twice a week, though for the next few weeks some travel will interfere with that plan.

What I enjoy most is when I get paired up with a young guy--late teens or 20s--who doesn't have grappling down yet. He's totally trying to use his strength, instead of technique, so he gets exhausted. I'm waiting for him to make a mistake and then I move into a good position. It's just so much fun to be grappling with a 20-something and have him gassed before me.

Of course, when I encounter a 20-something who knows grappling, or was a wrestler, I'm totally out of luck. I know some things well about grappling, but there's a lot I need to learn, and of course an athletic 20-something is stronger and better conditioned than me.

For now I'm still staying away from kickboxing. It's the riskiest thing for my knee to kickbox, and I passed that part of my black belt test anyway. My sensei is fine with that for now.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yogi Berra On ACL Recovery

Black Belt Mama, another ACL recoveree, is scheduled to head back to class in two weeks, if she doesn't die first from poison ivy. As with all ACL-reconstructed martial artists, she's nervous about getting back onto the mat.

Michele, who teaches Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo, has had her own worries about her reconstructed ACL.

I personally think my knee, overall, will never be the same; however, I also think my ACL itself is strong and fairly risk free. But there is doubt in my mind as well.

I've decided that, as with so many things, Yogi Berra (would have) said it best: Getting back on the mat after ACL surgery "is 90% mental -- the other half is physical."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Swamped But Training

Work and home have remained busy, but I did get to three classes this past week (no classes over the Memorial Day weekend). This morning, I did a self-directed physical therapy session for my knee--push-ups (one hand on a ball for some extra work), sit-ups, then lunges with a resistance band, knee leg lifts, etc.

In class, I'm trying to concentrate on grappling, and core class for cardio and strength. While I really love sparring, I don't need that for my black belt, and it's where I re-injured my knee, so I'm taking my time about going back to it.

I put my gym membership on hold. I joined so I could get some cross training during working hours (allowing me more time at home with family), but with my new job I just can't get to the gym.

Hack Shaft is just about to return to his American Karate class after ACL surgery and rehab--we're all looking forward to his report of his return.

I spent a lot of time painting--nothing pink, only blue.

Later this week we're having a home alarm system involved. One of the things preoccupying me after our trip to Philadelphia is we did have a break-in by a confused and troubled person, so we're installing an alarm.

Happy Memorial Day, everybody.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Between work and home, I've been swamped. I only trained twice this week, and didn't work out separately at all. I've taken a new assignment at work that's is a step up, and I'm alternating between being excited, terrified, and having to work very hard to master it.

Life outside work has been demanding as well--some discouraging issues, some positive ones.

We did have a happy Mother's Day this morning for my wife, with some presents very beautifully wrapped by our daughter, and a pancake breakfast including some M&Ms in a few pancakes.

I did try my first grappling class since the bone bruise on my ACL-repaired leg several weeks ago. I took it easy, "rolling" instead of truly grappling--that is, going through the moves to learn them rather than trying to submit my opponent. (At least that's what I think rolling means--BJJ practitioners like Steve could say for sure.)

I'm concerned that the leg still hurts when I voluntarily hyperextend it, and that it doesn't feel quite right when I torque it (even gently as a test). I may go back to the orthopod to see what he suggests--probably physical therapy, though when I'll be able to fit that in, I don't know.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Karate from Young Perspectives

Paula is a blogger who's re-starting karate in her 20s and has had a knee injury (though thankfully, it doesn't sound like it's the ACL... let's hope not). She has an interesting story. Welcome, Paula.

Black Belt Blues is a classic ambitious ACL recoveree and karateka. We all need those PT fixes, Chad!

Will Our Knees Be The Same?

Michele of Just A Thought has a thought-provoking post as she's approaching one year after ACL reconstruction surgery.

For me, her bittersweet post--her knee may never be the same, but her karate has become "a search for deeper understanding"--made me think (as I commented) on the thankfulness and regret that are my experience as I grow older and doors close.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


My wife, daughter and I will be taking a mini vacation starting today, traveling to Philadelphia to see Ansel Adams photos (Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park above) and Frida Kahlo paintings at the Philadelphia Museum, run up the steps of the museum and hold up our hands like Rocky, and do other things tourists do in Philadelphia. So no martial arts class this weekend.

I went to two "core" classes in the past two days. One day I parked in front of a nearby Lucille Roberts gym. As I was getting out of the car, a young woman came out of the gym on crutches. I wondered, of course, if she was yet another ACL recoveree.

She was missing a lot more than her ACL, it turns out. She was missing her entire right leg.

I felt so impressed that she was going to the gym--she looked like she was in good shape--and seeing her helped me put into perspective an ACL operation a year ago and a bone bruise a few weeks back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Exercise, Socialize

I've fallen off on my training a bit, not only because of my bruised femur, but also because I've been having more of a social life lately, which isn't such a bad thing. Work has also been very busy, which again, isn't so bad in the grand scheme of things.

One corollary to having a little more social life is the occasional drink. My impression is that some people, in intense training, don't drink. One very quick Google of alcohol and exercise yields this quote: Consuming alcohol the night before an activity can hinder your performance by causing dehydration and loss of minerals and electrolytes. I think even one drink affects my athletic performance the next day. And yet a glass of red wine a day is supposed to be good for the heart. I guess, for those of us able to use moderation, it comes down to how intensely are you training. If it's intense, I probably won't drink at all.

Today I did half an hour on the elliptical machine in the afternoon, and in the evening did some leg PT, sit-ups and push-ups. Tomorrow, one of our "core" classes--shadow boxing, hitting and kicking pads, a little self defense, and LOTS of push-ups and sit-ups/crunches.

Finally, the Calzaghe-Hopkins fight Saturday night was a GREAT boxing match because it was about two minds contesting. Hopkins, the amazing 43-year-old (on the left in the photo above), had studied Calzaghe and come up with a plan, a way to fight him, a way to nullify the 36-year-old Welshman's incredible speed. After about four rounds, Calzaghe figured out how to combat Hopkins' clever plan. And Hopkins couldn't readjust, leading Calzaghe to the win.

Monday, April 14, 2008


3:30 PM Today: Phone call from doctor's office: There's a problem with the X-ray machine that has to be fixed, so the doctor is seeing patients at a different building.
Me: A problem with the X-ray machine? Like radiation?
DO: No, it's not a radiation problem, it just needs to be fixed.

3:40: Leave house for different office.

3:45: Return home to retrieve MRI images; try again.

4:00: Arrive at doctor's office. Find seat in packed waiting room.

5:02: Still in packed waiting room.

5:09: Speculate that people seem to be going into the doctor's offices but not coming out. Maye they're being turned into Soylent Green.

5:31: Called to exam room.

5:45: Doc comes in. Bends my leg, it bends and straightens better. Reads report, MRI place says ACL is fine, slight bone bruise on femur (upper leg bone). Doc shows me MRI, the ACL looks great, the meniscus looks okay for having been operated on, there a little blood inside the bone (bone bruise) of the femur where it's at my knee, as a result of my injury.

Doc says to take it easy for a month. Work on quads and hamstrings, and stretch hamstring. No sparring or grappling for a month; no torquing the leg for a month, but I can attend core classes (non-contact) if I don't torque the leg. If it still hurts in a month, come back. I ask about why my brace didn't prevent the injury, and he suggests having it adjusted by the brace maker.

It's a relief that nothing serious is damaged, though I would rather be able to plunge back into things.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Pursuit of What?

My wife and I had a serious talk this morning. I wanted to talk about her comment to me that she's "concerned about this pursuit of health that leads to injuries."

I said that for me, health is a wonderful byproduct of the martial arts, but not the reason I do them.

I tried to figure out, and to explain, why I like an injury-prone activity like sparring. I think some of it is hard-wired--as Sam Sheridan says in A Fighter's Heart, you can make the evolutionary argument that in a world of conflict and risk, the strongest father benefited his family/tribe/group.

I also enjoy the self-testing of physical combat. Will I be brave? Will I cower? That's also a topic in A Fighter's Heart.

And I enjoy the technical and mental challenges to improve. Can I stay calm and see where my opponent is leaving openings? How can I set up openings with feints? Can I execute that triangle choke?

My wife said she understood it's my decision to pursue this path. But when I walked into the house after sparring two Wednesdays ago, and said I had hurt my knee, she felt both empathy for my pain, but also anger that I had gone willingly into a situation where I've gotten badly hurt before. And she said, with some trepidation, that she doesn't want to see me try to get the black belt again. It was too painful for her to see me hurt the last time.

I told her I understood that feeling. I wouldn't want to see someone I love get hurt.

I said that one reason I did martial arts was to impress my woman; that when she (and my daughter) offer me encouragement when I'm, say, doing push-ups at home, or when she talks about how I've gotten into good shape, it's very encouraging to me.

She said she understood I wanted to impress her, but felt I should factor into my thinking that she strongly doesn't want me to get hurt.

We discussed how she might need to make use of a concept we call "letting go with love," a kind of Buddhist effort not to try to let go of a situation where you're concerned about someone you love, but aren't in control.

Now I have to sign off, because we're going out for dinner and a movie.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Waiting for Godoctor

I got my MRI last night, last patient of the evening, at about 8:40. Only my legs went in the big ring. The hardest thing about the scan was not wiggling my goes during or between scans--if you ask my wife, she'll tell you, my toes wiggle all the time. It took all my martial arts discipline to keep them still, they felt so awkward.

I got a set of photos that I can't interpret in the slightest.

I'll see the doctor on Monday to find out what the story is.

On the positive side, my knee is improving, I do much better at flattening it, etc. The soft brace I'm wearing during the day helps a lot.

On the negative, it does still hurt, especially when I flex or extend it. And I worry about the psychological damage--will I always favor it?

Today, after not having worked out since I hurt the knee last Wednesday, I went to the gym downstairs from my office after work and had a boxing workout. I was very careful with the knee. I worked timed rounds on the speed bag (BUH-duh-duh, BUH-duh-duh, bloop....), in shadow boxing, on the heavy bag--jabbing, short and full cross, box-and-move. I also did four 30-second "shoeshine" rounds on the heavy bag, hitting as fast as I could for the full round, then resting a minute, in order to build up that anaerobic endurance I need. I did 120 crunches and 50 pushups. It was good to work out, and a good stress relief to hit the bag.

I'm reading a fascinating, well-written book, "A Fighter's Heart," which I'll try to address at some other time. NYT bestseller.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Knee Improving

My knee has been improving--most significantly, it feels easier to straighten the leg out. I'm going to get the MRI anyway Monday night, but I'm very hopeful that the improvements so far suggest this was just a temporary setback.

I won't know until Monday, April 14, when I can next see the doctor to hear what the MRI said. I don't relish waiting that long. I also wonder how to work out in the meantime.

Even if my injury is just temporary, I have to think about how to prevent such setbacks in the future. Perhaps it means being selective about sparring partners. Perhaps it would mean curbing some of my competitive spirit during sparring, which would be disappointing to me and perhaps hard to do.

I'm in Virginia, visiting my parents for a quick weekend visit. Traveling by plane was fine. My son, however, who is with me, came down with a fever this morning.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Waiting for an MRI

I saw an orthopedic doc today. The good news is the leg is still stable, meaning the ACL held up.

The bad news, he said, is that I can't straighten my leg out flat--fully extend it, so that if I were sitting on the floor, I would be pressing the back of the knee against the floor.

I told him the reason I can't straighten out my leg is because it hurts! But he's worried something might have gotten knocked loose and be interfering with the mechanics. That would NOT be a good thing, even if it's far less extreme than an ACL injury.

I'm thinking it may just be the fluid and swelling from the injury that is keeping me from fully extending my leg.

I'll get an MRI Monday night, and a few days later I'll get see this doctor again.

My wife said to me this morning that she's concerned about "this pursuit of health that leads to injuries."

In my mind was the Bob Dylan line, "You're gonna make me give myself a good talking to." I need to find out how serious this injury is. But it does make me think about changes like declining to spar with teens who are nimble enough to kick me in the head. And it also makes me wonder about taking up fitness boxing, where you don't have as much impact, twisting and other stress on the legs.


Meanwhile, my old Cryo-cuff, from my ACL operation, is on, backwards, cooling off the back of my knee.

I'll just have to wait for a week to see what the doctor says, and then consider what to do next. I hope it's not serious.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I Hurt My Knee

My knee hyperextended tonight in sparring.

We were only sparring to the body, no head punches, which leads to a very close, high-intensity battle. I was sparring with a tall, fellow brown belt in his mid to late teens. We were both clinching for knee kicks, if I recall; he stepped back, and I put my weight on my recovering left leg and hyperextended it. I went down right away. I got hurt even though I was wearing my brace, which primarily prevents the knee from going sideways.

My ACL is fine, but I pulled something behind and on the side of my knee. If I try to straighten out my knee, it hurts. I am walking very carefully and will probably work from home tomorrow. I've been icing my knee, I took a naproxen, and I had a couple sips of red wine to boot.

It was heart-warming how quickly classmates and my sensei came to my aid when I fell. Everybody was worried I had re-injured my knee. Nothing popped, but it sure is sore.

My wife and daughter got me ice and cleared off the couch. I can see they're worried.

Friday, March 28, 2008

ACL Survives; New Haircut Needed, Though

Wednesday night, I had a really fun sparring class. I was able to move well, kick as well as punch, and my new ACL made it through its first serious challenge.

I had a great three-minute round with my buddy Larry. I was really tired from the prior exercises and just sleep deprivation during a busy work week. But I realized it was more tiring standing still and getting hit by Larry, who's quite strong, than moving around. So I moved, and I was right--it was much less tiring. We each did very well.

At one point, I was throwing a round kick, with my weight on my left, repaired leg, and Larry knocked me down. I was wearing my knee brace. My leg twisted a little, but it was fine. Hurray!

I also sparred with a younger guy who was at his first sparring class. Normally a new student would not do free sparring, but our sensei was out--he went to compete in a WCL match--we had a visiting instructor who didn't know he was new, and this young man wanted to try it out. He did very well for the first time, and I was careful and tried to be instructive. It did, however, make my middle-aged heart swell with vanity to see him stop after about two minutes of sparring because he was exhausted and needed a break.

After class was over, I went to the local Panera and picked up a soup for my daughter. I got home with it. She was happy to see me and get her soup. But then she said, "Did you go to Panera with your hair like that?"

I looked in the mirror, and yes, my hair, stiff with dried perspiration, was standing straight up, something like Bello Nock, the clown.

Well, not quite that extreme, but you get the idea.

"Yes," I told my 15-year-old daughter as she began to laugh, "I looked like a complete buffoon when I went into Panera."

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sunday, I rested.

Monday, I took a private lesson (my penultimate) at the gym where I work--some interval cardio on the elliptical machine, and resistance training.

Tuesday, I attended the 8:15 PM "core" class at my martial arts school.

Wednesday, I attended the 8:15 sparring class at my school. To help some students prepare for an upcoming student, we weren't allowed to hit to the head, mimicking tournament rules.

Today, I wanted to go to the gym for another cardio-and-resistance session...but I was working nonstop, and couldn't get away. When I got home, I thought I'd go to the local gym (same chain), but my daughter really, really wanted to play cards with me, and I did that instead.

On Good Friday, tomorrow, I had planned on getting the Jersey City Fight Club together at work. But nobody else could make it. I left my gym bag at my desk, so I'll go to the gym and, depending on my mood, either do a bag workout (fun) or resistance training (not so fun, but it would be good to do it twice in a week). That evening my wife and I are going to see Aretha Franklin!

Saturday, while also helping my wife prepare the house for Easter dinner, I want to attend two hours of my martial arts class--one hour of core, one of grappling.

Sunday, Easter, I'll be consuming calories instead of burning them.

While this is a decent schedule, I still feel a bit like I wish I could do more. No wonder my wife thinks I'm a health nut.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spitzer And The Mysterious Phone Call

On Monday, when the news about that N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes was on everybody's mind, a female reporter in my group at work tried to reach me on my cell phone as I was commuting home. She wanted to ask me something related to work. She called my home by mistake.

The reporter never said who she was. Here was the brief but hilarious conversation that ensued:

Reporter: "Is this Bob M-----'s number?"

My Wife: "Yes, but he's not here."

Reporter: "Oh, I forgot, I'm not supposed to call this number!" CLICK

My wife and daughter had a good laugh, and when my wife told me about it, she was laughing and said, "I'm onto you, Bob!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Needed: Sleep

With exquisite timing, I started getting up half an hour earlier to go to work this week--at the same time we set the clocks forward an hour for daylight saving time. So effectively I've been getting up an hour and a half earlier each morning.

Tonight, at sparring, I was exhausted. I was also feeling very defensive, at least when facing black belts, due to my stunning encounter with a right cross last week. I did fine against some of my opponents, but against a couple of experienced black belts and a brown belt, I was making real rookie mistakes--things I thought I'd fixed a long time ago.

I'm going to bed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Resistance Training

I signed up a while back for 10 sessions with a private trainer at the gym downstairs from where I work. I'm nearing the end--it was interrupted for a number of weeks when neither the trainer nor I could make appointments.

Historically, I've relied on martial arts, some running (nowadays elliptical machines) and some body-weight resistance training--push-ups, squats, etc.--to get into shape.

My trainer says that running alone can eat into muscle, and that you need resistance training--weights, Nautilus-type machines--to get into the best shape (along with cardio work like running).

One of my favorite exercise books, The Ultimate Boxer, says that weight training is beneficial for those martial artists known as boxers--but that if you're limited in time, you can get great benefit from push-ups, crunches, etc. instead.

I wonder, to really get into and stay in shape, what do you add to martial arts? Running? Sprints? Calisthenics-style resistance training? Weights?

Don't tell my plyometrics, my knees and feet can't take those!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Triangle Choke

Today I went to two hours of martial arts, with my buddy The Hulk in attendance also. Hulk is in his late 50s, and is incredibly strong. His knees are going, that's really his only limitation. He and I both got hurt within seconds of each other at the black belt test--he broke a couple of ribs and popped them off his sternum, and I got my ACL wrecked.

The first hour was core class, a great cardio workout. The second was grappling. We focused on the triangle choke, something I want to improve because, with my long legs, it should be an important move for me. We also worked on posturing up to get out of the triangle choke.

Friday, March 7, 2008


My buddy Tracy Hutt is an impish tomboy with a grin you've got to love.

Even though she's a little thing, she's very strong, and loves combat sports. I remember her kickboxing with Terry, a really skilled guy who can put pressure on you. He was in there, trading blows with Tracy, and she started laughing she was having so much fun. (Believe me, I never laughed when I was sparring with Terry.) She has a shirt with the motto, "Fighting Solves Everything," which she says she can't wear to her job as a phys ed teacher in school.

She turned to boxing a few years ago, had a good amateur record and made the finals in the Golden Gloves at least twice.

Wednesday night, she had her pro debut, at the Manhattan Center in New York City. No more headgear. The tickets I could afford sold out ahead of time, so I didn't attend.

The next morning, I discovered I could watch the bout on the GoFightLive.TV website. I started the video, saw her walking into the ring with a nervous grin and her hair braided on her head.

Since it was a workday, I went downstairs to fix breakfast and iron a shirt, but before I left I made time to look at the end of the fight.

It was pretty upsetting to watch.

It was round four, and it looked like it had been a tough fight. Tracy's opponent had blood on her face. Tracy was really attacking, but in her attack she left herself open. Tracy took two right hands from her opponent, and went down hard.

Tracy fought to get up before the count was over, but she couldn't do it--she fell over again, went halfway through the ropes, and had to be prevented from falling out of the ring. Her exhausted opponent looked surprised at her sudden victory; Tracy looked groggy and in pain, physical and psychological, and her corner was working on her nose.

I give her all the credit in the world for stepping into that ring.

Tracy's young and indomitable, she'll bounce back. I read that she already challenged the other young woman to a rematch.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lesson, the Hard Way

Michele of the "Just A Thought" blog has an interesting post on how people learn. She talks about making the effort to teach karate in different ways, since people learn in different ways.

I learned the hard way tonight about moving my head.

As my sensei explained to me later, John (the school manager) and I both threw cross punches at the same moment. I'm much taller than John. But my punch missed him because he moved his head to the left as he threw his right cross. Since I DIDN'T move my head to the left, my face came into his punch. I had a helmet on, but it was a stunner. And my pride was hurt because I felt that, with my height advantage, I should be able to hit him without being hit back.

My sensei stopped to see if I was okay, and then explained what had happened. Suddenly things were much clearer to me.

You'd better believe I was moving my head when I was throwing cross punches after that.

Now, why is it that I could be told to move my head time and time again--and often move my head when I'm just shadow boxing--but I only learned to move it the hard way?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

New Middle-Aged Hero:

Bernard Hopkins, move over: Reuters reports that a 44-year-old Japanese mother of two has gotten a boxing license.

Kazumi Izaki, mother of 21- and 14-year-old daughters, is also the oldest boxer in Japan. She turns 45 next week.

She looks pretty fit from the photograph!

It's extremely rare for boxers to be successful at ages much beyond 35 or so. Bernard Hopkins, 43 now, is the current amazing exception. He's currently the light heavyweight champ of the world, and he's beaten some incredibly good boxers, including Winky Wright. He apparently keeps himself constantly in top shape--Ricky Hatton, in contrast, is referred to as "Ricky Fatton" when he's not training--and he is also arguably the smartest boxer out there in terms of tactics and strategy in his bouts. He always fights the right fight for each opponent, and it changes with each opponent.

Hopkins is supposed to fight super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe--like Hopkins, considered one of the very top pound-for-pound boxers in the world--this year, I believe. Hopkins is said to be pushing the boundary of age himself--at 36 years old.

In the world of mixed martial arts, there's the amazing Randy Couture, 44, who beat a much-younger Tim Sylvia in a UFC title match.

These folks are exceptions.

Evander Holyfield, a former heavyweight champion, is 45 and still fighting--not nearly as well as he used to. People are worried he'll be hurt in the ring. (He's most famous outside boxing circles as the fighter who got part of his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson.)

Most boxers and mixed martial artists in their 40s--and any, if they exist, in their 50s--are around to pad younger fighters' records.

I've heard variously that men's potential for muscle mass peaks in the 20s, at 30 and 35 years old (I don't know the equivalent age for women); moreover as an orthopedic doctor once told me, at 35 the body "starts falling apart." It takes longer to repair injuries, and more of them occur.

I'll try to find out how Super Mom fares in her Japanese bouts.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I learned this week that some months back, a friend of mine in martial arts class got (my wife can stop reading here) a concussion. She hadn't told me before, and hadn't made a big deal out of it. Unfortunately, she didn't make enough of a big deal about it at the time, a very risky course to take.

For privacy reasons, I won't go into all the details, but this friend did get knocked out in class, and didn't go to a doctor (I wasn't there to see this happen; I presume people advised that she should see a doctor). She didn't recognize signs that she had received a concussion in the next couple of days. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when she passed out and then went to a hospital, that some tests showed she had gotten a concussion.

I'm very happy that she then took time off from sparring. I'm very concerned that she didn't take care of her injury immediately.

The Mayo Clinic has a discussion of concussions. It notes:
The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not appear immediately. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or longer.

The two most common concussion symptoms are confusion and amnesia. The amnesia, which may or may not be preceded by a loss of consciousness, almost always involves the loss of memory of the impact that caused the concussion.

Other immediate signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

* Headache
* Dizziness
* Ringing in the ears
* Nausea or vomiting
* Slurred speech

Some symptoms of concussions don't appear until hours or days later. They include:

* Mood and cognitive disturbances
* Sensitivity to light and noise
* Sleep disturbances

In my callow youth, I adeptly knocked myself out by flipping over someone's back on a basketball court--I presume I received a concussion, but it was the last day of basketball camp, it was the 1970s, and I didn't see a doctor. I also saw a friend knocked to the ground in a college softball game, and he lost all short-term memory for about six hours--a very weird experience, and presumably a concussion.

Note that you don't have to be knocked unconscious to get a concussion.

Do me a favor: Go see a doctor if you have any suspicion you might have gotten a concussion.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Conference With My Sensei

I spent last weekend working out of town--at a meeting with editors from around the globe for my news organization. I missed my family, it was so good to get home, though difficult to have to go right back to work. To keep up the cardio, I did do some workouts in the tiny fitness center of the inn the event was at.

Last night, I had a conference with my sensei. (As I've said, while this school no longer calls itself a karate school--and few karateka would call it that either--it has retained a lot of the form of karate.) The meeting followed a kickboxing/sparring class--one of my first involving kicking since my ACL injury and operation. I was pretty disappointed with my sparring--I was facing another brown belt, a left-hander, whom I haven't sparred with before (he used to attend another school in the same organization). I haven't sparred with too many lefties, and I know they're supposed to be difficult for righties, but I thought ... I would do better.

My sensei said I should take things a step at a time, focus on feeling comfortable with my knee, and once that happens, we can talk about training and testing for the black belt.

He said it looked like I felt comfortable with the basics in grappling, though I will need work on the more advanced moves.

Best of all, he said that my hands looked terrific in sparring. He said I could probably rely mostly on my hands and just do a few simple kicks--roundhouse kick, front push kick, and occasionally a front-leg round kick to the opponent's leg, which is mostly to see if they'll drop their hands.

I was really pleased to hear his assessment--after all, he's a Muay Thai champion. But I pointed out that I felt like I hadn't sparred well that night. After years of work, I'm still dropping my hands, for instance.

He said I have to remember that I'm coming back after a severe injury and long layoff, and that in any case, it's really hard for righties to fight lefties--they encounter them so rarely, and their punches seem to come from the wrong angles.

It was interesting to hear him suggest relying mostly on my hands. Before my injury, I was more reliant on my kicking than most people in my school, and I felt my hands were a weakness.

But in my recovery from ACL injury, I did lots of shadow boxing and bag workouts, and I studied boxing. (Photo above, from Million Dollar Baby, with the fabulous Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Cool movie, very tough ending though.) It's nice to hear all that work improved my hand work. I want to also keep up the defensive movement I have begun to learn in the past few months.

It was a reassuring message from my sensei.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Special Risks: ACL Injuries In Kids

The New York Times online has a story about rising diagnoses of ACL injuries in kids. Doctors didn't used to think kids could get torn ACLs, but they can--the injuries can be seen in MRI scans. The increase in diagnosis may also be from kids participating in more competitive sports year round.

You can't just drill into the knee of kids to reconstruct an ACL, as you do with adults, because the kids' knees are still growing, and drilling into the growth plate damages the knee, as the article describes in one disturbing anecdote. There are some new surgical solutions for kids that don't damage the growth plate, but the long-term results are unknown.

As for adult ACL injury, the article says:
It is “the most common and most dreaded injury in professional sports,” Dr. Kocher said. The well-established operation to repair it often results in a full return to function. And doctors often recommend that adults have the operation because without the ligament the knee is not stable.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Important Lesson

I had a great class Friday night because I learned something crucial.

It was my first sparring class since ACL surgery in which I wasn't just boxing, I was kickboxing. We only did a little kicking, we were mostly working on boxing and moving, and the kicking my partner Larry did was very gentle. But as he predicted, my knee was sore this morning.

As my sensei was watching my defense, he pointed out that I wasn't backing up by shuffling, leading with my rear foot. Instead, I was leading with my front foot--which meant I crossed my legs stepping backwards.

You don't want to cross your legs in stand-up fighting.

Suddenly I realized why I sometimes feel so awkward in retreating--and why, prior to ACL surgery, my leg once buckled when I was moving backward: I was unknowingly moving my front, left, leg and putting my weight on it.

By shuffling backwards, you are in a position to counterstrike, and you maintain your balance better.

It might seem incredible that I would be unaware of what my own legs were doing. But usually it's a very stressful moment when you have to move back, and I just didn't realize I was doing it wrong.

Today, despite being a bit tired and sore, I went to two classes--a core class (punches, kicks, movement but no contact), and then a grappling class. I was so tired after the core class that I almost didn't go to grappling, but I stayed and I was glad I did. A couple of times the front of my left knee (which is minus the middle third of my patellar tendon, and hence pretty tender still) hit the floor when I was rolling, and that wasn't fun. But I am gradually picking up the body knowledge of grappling again.

Oh, and I went without my knee brace in the core class, which is a big step. I figure the knee brace will protect me from a blow to the knee, but core class is non-contact. I'm still favoring that leg and being careful in round kicks, but I'm working on losing that self consciousness.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Grappling Owies

Grappling takes some getting used to.

It's great cross training from striking arts because it's such a different workout.

But the body has to get accustomed to all sorts of traumas, ranging from the the very serious (e.g. ACL destruction) to, more frequently, the tiny and annoying. (My wife, who doesn't like hearing about this stuff, can stop right here!)

Since my body has become unaccustomed, I came out of my return to grappling with at least one little bruise on my arm (I never know how or when I get these), an abrasion on my shoulder from rotating on the mat underneath a guy weighing a lot more than me, and a couple of toenail slices on the top of my right foot. They're kind of like paper cuts, only from a toenail.

Three cheers, incidentally, for BJJ Steve, who recently went to a tournament as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and won all three of his matches. He even has videos of his matches on his site.

I'm still trying to figure out a new martial arts schedule that will include "core," kickboxing, grappling, and still leave lots of time for things like family and sleep after my long work day and three-hour round-trip commute. But I think I'm going to another grappling class Monday night.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Came, I Grappled, I Survived

I re-entered grappling and lived to blog about it!

I went to my first grappling class today since November, 2006, when my ACL got destroyed in grappling at my black belt test. It was somewhat uncomfortable kneeling on my knee, but I didn't twist my leg in any weird way and it was fine.

I did wear my knee brace--with a pad on top of it, to protect my grappling partner should he bang into the carbon-composite-and-titanium thing, which is really hard.

My buddy Larry, who went through ACL surgery before I did (for connoiseurs of ACL surgery: he had an allograft), wasn't at the class. So I was grappling with a young guy named Kareem, who weighs more than me, is a former wrestler, and is really, really strong. So it was kind of like grappling with a force of nature. He could just toss me off him when I was in the mount position, and about all I could hope to do when he was in the mount was to get him into my guard (and I couldn't always do that).

But he was solicitous of my knee's well being, and he didn't twist it or anything.

I was able to re-acquaint myself with a few grappling moves, and it was an excellent workout.

It seems that the Saturday grappling class is very small, so I may have to adjust my schedule a bit. We'll see.

But hey, I'm back.

Next week: kicking and being kicked in kickboxing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Here are a few more shots of Hawaii. The attractive woman holding up the palm tree is my wife of 25 years; the sea cliff is one of the southernmost points in the U.S.; and the 444-foot waterfall is Akaka Falls, in a rain forest.

We also did some snorkeling. We saw the pretty Hawaiian state fish, a little colorful thing called a humuhumunukunukuapua'a. It only attacks people when it's protecting eggs (and it just pecks at them, we heard).

I went back to a core karate class last night, it felt great after a bit of a break. Saturday I'm taking up grappling again. We'll see how the reconstructed ACL does....

Monday, February 4, 2008

Back From Hawaii

Our trip to Hawaii was great--very restorative, a real chance for my wife and me to reconnect.

The photo above is taken at a black-sand beach on the big island of Hawaii. I'm eyeing one of the big green (endangered) sea turtles resting on the beach there. (They don't look green in the air; for some reason, they look green underwater!)

I've added a link to yet another martial artist who's undergone ACL surgery, and in my absence I've gotten comments from others who have undergone or are undergoing the surgery. I know we've got a self-selecting group here, but it does feel like ACL damage is epidemic in the martial arts!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Knee Pain

ACL recoverees, you might not want to read this post just yet.

I'm finally starting to say to friends, "My knee will never be the same."

Thank goodness I had ACL surgery. My knee is stable now, and it wasn't before. I'm not collapsing in a heap when I put my weight on my leg, as I was before the surgery. It was worth the pain of ACL surgery and the long recovery to be able to rejoin martial arts, to not worry about things like dashing down the street or walking on a wet floor.

But I do have continued low-grade pain in my knee at times. I feel my knee in a way I never did before when I do something as simple as walking down the stairs. Just doing drills Wednesday night in martial arts class, blocking very mild low kicks with my shin, made it hurt more.

In February, I return to kicking and being kicked during sparring, and to grappling (how I tore my ACL in the first place). I wonder how those activities will feel. I'm going to take it really easy, and ask my classmates to do the same--I'm going to try to team up with Larry, who also went through ACL surgery.

I'm nervous about it.

One step at a time.

Wednesday night, my entire goal was not to re-injure my knee. On Saturday, my wife and I fly to Hawaii for our delayed 25th anniversary trip--delayed, that is, by my ACL surgery and recovery in the spring. I succeeded in my goal.

We're going to the Big Island, and one of the things we want to visit is a very rare green beach (see photo), which is, I think, due to a volcanic rock called olivine.

This is the perfect time to be going to Hawaii. I can't wait.