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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shadow Boxing

Today, while my wife and daughter were at a hair appointment, I went to the gym and after warming up simply worked on shadow boxing. Instead of just working on punches, I tried to imagine opponents standing in front of me, and worked on defense and offense--slipping and weaving into position for a hook punch, slipping and changing angles, etc. I think this kind of mind-and-body work is tremendously helpful for sparring, but I seldom take the time to do it.

It's interesting to imagine opponents you know because what might work with one person probably won't with another, so it's helpful to think about variations for different opponents in advance.

I was working on speeding up my bobbing and weaving. Larry says that when us middle-aged guys bob and weave, it's like waiting for an elevator to come back up, which kind of defeats most of the purpose of the defensive move.

When I return from Hawaii in early February, I'll return to kicking in kickboxing (I've just been boxing during free sparring). I wonder to what extent the boxing moves and skills I've focused on will still be viable when my opponent can kick as well. I think they should, but I'll just have to find out. (One thing I haven't worked on--frequently I see boxers bend at the waist when the duck--this doesn't work at all when your opponent can kick or knee you in the head. I've worked on ducking by bending at the legs.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Not Golfer's Elbow

Yesterday I tried to do a personal training session at the gym, but my trainer stopped it early because I was feeling pain on the muscles inside my elbow. I just ran on the elliptical machine instead.

I did a very brief check online of pain on the inside of the elbow, and saw something called "golfer's elbow," but the illustration doesn't look like where I was hurting. Then I saw tendonitis of the biceps, which makes sense to me--the pain seems to be where the biceps connect to the inside of the elbow. Many of the references were about the connection to the shoulder, but there were some referring to the elbow, too.

There's also an article about "distal biceps tendon rupture," which, according to the article:

is usually an injury that occurs with heavy lifting or sports in middle-aged men. Most patients with a distal biceps rupture will have surgery to repair the torn tendon.

It's times like this that I hate the Internet.

I don't think I have a dbp, I didn't hear anything snap. Whatever it is, the likely cause is the insane push-up session we went through Thursday night at martial arts class. It's what you get when a 20-something athlete of a black belt stands in to run the class.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why We Fight (And Watch Fights)

The headline on this article in Science Daily doesn't quite get it right.

It's not that "Aggression [is] As Rewarding As Sex, Food And Drugs, New Research Shows." But--from what I read in the article--it is that aggression seems to use the same reward pathway in the brain as sex, food and drugs.

At least it does in mice. So it probably does in people.

Tough Sparring

I haven't been going to sparring consistently because of things like birthdays, holidays, etc. I'm going about once every two weeks instead of weekly.

One of the things that holds me back in sparring is that, to try new things, I have to be willing to look bad or screw up. Tonight I was determined to try to work on some things I don't do enough.

Tonight I was sparring exclusively with my buddy Larry. We're about the same age, about the same height, have the same reach.

Tonight I was working on defense, moving, and not backing up. It's hard not to back up against Larry because he's strong and relentless--he just keeps coming. He's also starting to move his head much better than he used to.

How do you not back up when somebody's coming at you and won't stop just because you hit him? 1) Move to the side. 2) Cover up so his punches don't have the same effect. 3) Clinch.

I worked on all those things, and I should feel good because I was trying to improve my skills. But it still felt like a difficult evening of sparring. There's the level of skill you aspire to, and the level you're at, and the contrast can be disheartening.

I also, toward the end of the evening, worked on forcing myself to throw combinations of three or more punches--real combinations, not just pawing at the opponent.

Combinations are easy to throw in drills. They're easy to throw when you outclass the opponent. They're hard to throw in contact sparring when your opponent is good because, whenever you're throwing a punch, you're open. The tendency is to just throw one or two punches to limit your vulnerability. There was one instance where I did throw the classic jab-cross-hook and the hook really landed well--just like everybody says.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

How Long?

There's a very interesting post from John Vesia that, among other things, addresses the question, "how long will it take to get a black belt?" I love the opening anecdote, which I'm reprinting here, and which lets you know his perspective:

Recently an adult student at our school announced at the end of his very first class he wouldn't quit until he received a black belt. Immediately, the chief instructor removed his tattered obi and handed it to him. "Here you go, it was nice knowing you", he chided. I think the new guy got the point.

It's a good reminder for me that it's the journey that counts. I've been a brown belt now for more than three years.

Juno and Family; Work and Martial Arts

We're shorthanded at work, and I've agreed to help with some editing and supervision of another six reporters while the right person for that job is found. Like adding another child to a family, my additional charges have generated jealousy among some of my existing reporters. I felt that it wouldn't be good to say no to the (temporary) responsibilities. It will be good to be learning about other parts of my (still new-ish) organization, but I am going to be hammered for time--and one of the reasons I took this job was that the time demands were discrete, not endless. I worry a bit that my time for martial arts will suffer, but I will do my best--I was able to put aside time in my prior job, so I should still be able to do it.

My wife, daughter and I saw the movie Juno Friday night (see photo). Juno, a girl with a spunky attitude and an amazing scriptwriter, gets pregnant in high school. Since we formed our family be adoption, the plights of a quirky but good, unmarried 16-year-old girl and a family trying to adopt made it an especially sweet and moving film for us, while also being very funny.

This week, I went to core class Thursday and Saturday, and we had a quick meeting of the Jersey City Fight Club Friday. I'm hoping to make it to the gym today. It's turning out that Monday is typically my day off now.

In two weeks, I'll be in Hawaii with my wife on the 25th anniversary trip that got delayed by my ACL surgery. I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


I skipped sparring to take my wife out to dinner for her birthday. We went with our 15-year-old daughter to a nice Italian restaurant in town--my wife told us she really enjoyed it.

Earlier in the day I gave her two tickets to see Aretha Franklin at Radio City Music Hall in March. Sock it to me!

Monday, January 7, 2008


After working out at the gym Sunday afternoon--cardio and strength training--in the evening I fell victim to an intestinal bug that's been going around. I got into work fine today, but I felt like I was driving at 40 in a 55 mph zone.

No exercise or martial arts today. I've had a lot of water, I'm going to bed good and early tonight.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Point and Contact

I'd like to learn from point-sparring martial artists what that experience is like.

I'm a little hesitant to open up this discussion because, like the "kata or no kata" discussion, I anticipate a discussion of point and contact sparring turns into a discussion or point versus contact sparring, which then turns into a contest of slinging insults at each camp.

That's not what I want.

I do contact sparring, and I enjoy it tremendously. But I understand fully why some people wouldn't want to do it.

What I want to know is, not what point sparrers think is bad about contact sparring, but what they enjoy about point sparring.

I've never done point sparring. I've seen it a little, but not a lot.

I imagine it emphasizes speed, movement, flexibility and precision. You also probably have to learn how to control the strikes so they don't become contact sparring.

I'd love to learn more about it from practitioners. I don't even know what the rules are. When I see videos and photos, it does look like people get knocked down on occasion, so there's definitely some contact.

(I have a DVD Hulk's wife made of contact sparring at the black belt test; since we were testing in the same area, I'm visible about 80% of the time. I can't get the video from the DVD onto the computer, however; I guess I would need to use his actual movie camera.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hack Shaft Beats ACL; Pavlik Beats Taylor

Good news on several fronts tonight.

Paul ("Hack Shaft") is making a terrific recovering from ACL so far, it appears. He even watched his operation. Tough dude.

Meanwhile, Black Belt Mama is continuing her strong recovery from ACL surgery.

I did 26 minutes on the elliptical machine today (why 26? I was too bored for 30 minutes) and am skipping my core martial arts class tonight, to rest my arms from the private trainer's hellacious workout yesterday. I'll take a core class tomorrow.

Meanwhile, tonight at 8 PM (EST) I'm watching on HBO the tape of the Taylor-Pavlik boxing match (see image above, as Pavlik won). Pavlik took Taylor's middleweight title. It was reportedly one heck of a match--Pavlik almost got knocked out in an early round, but returned full force to knock out Taylor in the end. But I had declined to pay extra for PPV to see it. I'm glad I can see it tonight--if I can wrest control of a TV from family members.

Why should martial artists be interested in boxing, despite its many scandals, risk of injuring participants, etc.? My argument: 1) it's a martial art; 2) it requires discipline, courage and timing, just like any other martial art; 3) it requires real tactical insight and clear thinking because, unlike, say, MMA, it lasts round after round, and boxers have to adjust their game.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sparring And Music

I had my first sparring class in two weeks. I was drenched at the end of class. One of my classmates looked at me when my helmet was off and said, "Well, you got a good workout!" When I got home, my wife said, "You should see your hair!" (Time for a haircut.)

I gave one of the younger guys a bloody nose. I didn't realize it at first. Usually I feel like I can barely touch this guy, he's so fast, but tonight I was reaching him. He was fine about it; I feel uncomfortable, and perplexed, because I don't feel like I was hitting very hard. I'm just not sure what happened.

As usual, I was boxing during the free sparring, not kickboxing. When we did drills, I did some kicking; my kicking strength has faded, and will need to be built back up again.

There are a number of ways that sparring is like music--both activities involve tempo, rhythm, timing. But another similarity is one my high school band teacher said about music: There's always somebody better than you.

I do a few things well in sparring. I keep my distance well, which is good for somebody with a long reach. I'm beginning to read my opponents and adjust my actions to take advantage of weaknesses. Tonight I think I did a good job of covering up when my opponents got inside and threw lots of punches--in the old days, I would just panic and squirm.

But there is an infinite number of levels of skill in sparring. As I move from one person to the next in free sparring, I see how much difference there is. I go from easily being able to spar with someone, to being clearly inferior. And of course, each person may be at a different level each night.

One interesting opponent tonight was a black belt named Suzanne; her husband (another black belt) is a tall guy, and she's pretty tall, too, though I'm taller. She moved really well, and wasn't afraid of taking a hit or two to get inside and hit me. What she showed was that to spar well, you need not only technique and conditioning, but also heart, aggressiveness, a will to win.