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.