Saturday, December 26, 2009

Making the Most of the Midlife Crisis

I've told people over the years that martial arts was my midlife crisis.

Martial arts, which I started in my 40s, changed my life. So I like this description of the "midlife crisis" in a Wall Street Journal article from this past week:
A growing number of researchers are defining middle age more broadly and in positive terms, as a good time to reassess life goals and chart a new course. "Midlife is your best and last chance to become the real you," declared an article on the topic last year in the Harvard Business Review, which drew thousands of emails in response, says co-author Carlo Strenger, an associate professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University in Israel and a researcher and consultant on midlife change.
This week I'll be taking a lot of classes to make up for holiday feasting.

Friday, December 25, 2009

ACL Peace

Merry Christmas! You know your children are growing up when you wake up on Christmas morning before they do.

I started this blog when I was recovering from ACL surgery. I've been very lucky so far (knock on wood) because my ACL has been okay.

Last night, at my wife's family's huge, fun Christmas Eve gathering--we rent a hall, there are so many people--I saw my teenage niece Gina, who one week ago had her second ACL replacement surgery. This time, she got a piece of her quad muscle removed and used as the ACL replacement--I hadn't heard of that procedure much, she said her doctor avows it's stronger than even a patellar tendon ACL. Gina's a real athlete--I think her first ACL surgery was following a basketball injury, and this one was in conditioning camp preparing for lacrosse. Poor baby.

Meanwhile, Black Belt Mama has been having recurring problems with her knee where she had ACL surgery, and they've been interfering with her karate training, and she feels very frustrated.

Unknown at this point for me are the statuses of Hack Shaft, who's had two ACL tears, and Black Belt Blues.

Here are Christmas wishes for healthy ACLs all over the martial blogosphere, and beyond.

And, yeah, peace on earth would be nice, too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Work V. Life

Aaarrrgh! Missed my MMA class tonight because work popped up right as I was heading for the door. Grrrr.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Non-Quitting Spirit at 6 AM and 22 Degrees Fahrenheit

I've lately been following a martial arts blog called Indomitable Spirit, and my school urges people to have a non-quitting spirit; I tapped some of that spirit at 6 AM today.

Yesterday's snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow on my town on Long Island. I got up at 5 AM this morning to head to the gym before going to work. As I suspected, a snow plow had piled up snow around my car after I cleared it yesterday, so it took a lot of work to get the car out on the road.

Once on the road, I eventually heard a "thump thump thump": The telltale sign of a flat tire.

It was about 22 degrees outside (below freezing, for people accustomed to the sensible centigrade thermometer). First official day of winter.

I considered my options--drive to the mechanic's on a flat? Call for a tow? And realized that just changing the tire was my best option. I was a little worried somebody would slide into me on the icy road, but it was so early (about 6 AM) that only one car drove by.

Would I have had the spirit to change the tire, and the strength to loosen those lug nuts, if I weren't studying martial arts? I don't know; but I did get the tire changed, drove to the station and got on the train to work.

It's got to get easier from here on this winter.


Friday, December 18, 2009


I went to sparring class Wednesday night. Now, while I was taking a three month break from my school, I did spar at another school, but in a very different style, so in some ways it was like going back to sparring after a three month layoff.

Indeed, we were doing things in sparring I hadn't done before--practicing ducking under punches and going for a takedown, MMA style.

Most of the class was drills. But I kept wondering how I would feel, and how my classmates would react, when it came time at the end of class for free sparring and (per my discussion with my sensei) I wouldn't start sparring with the other black belts but go into the beginner area and work on drills. Would my pride be able to stand it?

My sensei found an out for me that saved face. He asked me to spar with three women in my class, a red belt and two blues (one at a time of course). They needed a fourth person to even out the numbers, and we just rotated partners. I encouraged them to throw combinations and I worked primarily on defense. I would jab lightly to the head if they dropped their hands.

Even just doing that light sparring, I realized afterwards that I do need to move more. And I realized that too much of my drilling with pads is stationary. Of course, if I drill in one place, I will spar without moving also. So I need to build that movement into my pad practice.

When I was leaving, however, I heard a very strong 30-something brown belt say to one of the 20-something black belts--with a bit of pride in his voice--"Hey, I still have a headache from sparring with you last night." That was discouraging--I'm looking for challenging sparring and a good workout, but not headaches from sparring an unbeatably fast and strong 24-year-old black belt.

I didn't have to see how that would fare on Wednesday night. One of these days I will.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I don't know about my friends, but I think one reason I am drawn to martial arts is I want to be a hero, or at least have the ability to be one. It's not something I generally think about, but I do think it's buried in my psyche.

I recently learned about my daughter's memory of a sad event when she was little. A relative was in the hospital, when my daughter was in early elementary school. Although it was hard for my daughter to understand what was going on, she understood the tension and sadness in the family.

While we were visiting at the hospital, she and I were separated when a fire alarm went off and a door between us automatically closed and locked. We could see each other through the door's window.

As soon as the alarm was over, I pushed open the door and went to her, I remember. But her (metaphorical) memory of the event was that I "ran like a hero through the flames and took my hand and saved me."

I do hope I can get back to sparring. This week I had a frank talk with the sensei at my old school about how at-risk I was starting to feel in our sparring classes when I took a break from the school three months ago. He listened attentively, we talked about what he's been trying to do to rein in the hot-heads, and we worked out a plan for me to start getting accustomed to my school's style of sparring again, a step at a time.

But it's deeply satisfying to know, whether sparring works out or not, I'm already a hero in somebody's eyes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dark Season

I recently heard the idea of treating Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, as a dark time. The bright lights wait for Christmas.

This idea makes emotional sense to me.

Now is a time of increasing darkness; shopping and seasonal preparation are hectic, which I don't enjoy. I'm still working, and it's not until Christmas that I'll have time off. With my parents' difficult straits, and my son's struggles, it doesn't feel joyful right now--this is probably one of the issues of middle age. This weekend, I'm skipping a party on an evening my wife is out of town, and I'm planning just to read.

On Christmas Eve, I will attend a joyful Christmas Eve service of singing at my church, and then join my wife's family at a huge party bringing together relatives from all over. That, to me, is when the season of light begins.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Return of the Black Belt

I wore my black belt today for the first time in three months, because I returned to my old school for the first time in three months.

It was cool to put on the black belt and black pants again. It was great to see some old friends at the school. It was a good workout--what we used to call a "core" class, without sparring.

I'm going to have a talk with my sensei on Thursday to, in his words, "find out where you are, and where we're going."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tough Day

Beat up at work.

Beat up in sparring.

Learned things both places.

In sparring: jab and pivot inside or out; in close, try fake jab, pivot inside, hook and cross.

Jab while moving to get out of tight spot.

Hand moves first in jab.

Don't use up energy with useless stressed out movements in tight quarters getting hit.

To bump: Pivot to weak spot, bump, punch.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Watching Dad Grow Frail

I've spent much of the past two weeks in Virginia, helping my family after my 89-year-old father fell and broke his arm. I took four days off work the first week, then returned, with my wife and daughter, for a few days around Thanksgiving.

One of the defining experiences for many of us in middle age is seeing our parents grow old, frail and ill. It rattles me to the core because my Dad was such a strong provider and protector of the family while I was growing up.

Both my parents are suffering from early dementia or Alzheimer's, which is evident in the disappearance of their short-term memory, and their inability to really follow through on any task out of the ordinary. But they still love seeing their children and grandchildren, know who we are, and reminisce about the past.

Dad's fall, and the cascading problems that have ensued from that, have finally allowed us to force on my parents 24-hour home health aides, who are being accepted by my folks. It's a great relief for my brother and me; my brother lives near my parents and has devoted a huge amount of time to helping out, which has me concerned for his own health and well being. Unless my Dad shows lots of improvement, which often doesn't happen at his age, we will need to find a facility that can care for them both--the 24-hour help at their house is great but in the long run unaffordable.

On the way back home, we swung by one of the art colleges my daughter is considering attending, Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore. My son spent Thanksgiving on the west coast, visiting with his biological family (both my kids were adopted). I'm glad my son is in touch with his biological family, I think it is good for him; we also can see how some of the volatility that bedevils our son is also very inherent in his birth siblings as well. (My daughter, born in Korea, doesn't know who her birth family is.)

Needless to say, I haven't had much time to train or work out. Seeing my Dad's growing frailty really reinforced for me the importance of staying in shape, to keep the quality of life as high as possible for as long as possible.

My three month stint at my new school is about over. I'm now seriously considering going back to my original martial arts school, where I still have a lot of classes paid for. I've learned a lot at the new school, particularly in the weekly private lessons. And the sparring is very much in control, which as a resident of the late middle ages I appreciate. It's a lot less expensive than my old school as well.

However, it's mostly me and a bunch of teenagers in class; they're nice, but not my friends--I have many friends at my old school. The workout isn't as intense as I used to get at my old school. And I can't wear the black belt I earned at the old school at the new one.

I'm planning (and we know not all plans work out) to continue getting up early and hitting the inexpensive and convenient gym at my office before the day starts, four days a week, for cardio and weight lifting. Then I'll attend martial arts classes two or three times a week. If I feel comfortable sparring at my old school, I'll do that; if not, I may continue to spar at the new school, and go to the old school for the exercise and camaraderie (and maybe for grappling).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Operation B-Flop

Well, Operation B-Hop has been a disaster.

The hopping (more formally, plyometric) exercises I enthusiastically embraced have caused a painful flare-up of my plantar fasciitis. I am hobbling around in pain. And, from a printout one of the trainers in my corporate gym gave me, some exercises that I previously thought were harmless, like the elliptical machine or stationary bike, can actually worsen it.

So on Wednesday morning, I did a bag workout at the gym. On Tuesday and today, Thursday, I lifted weights.

But no martial arts classes this week; no hopping, no elliptical machine since Monday, when the pain really flared up.

My wife says she's angry that I started hopping again, despite past evidence that it brings on plantar fasciitis.

For now, I'm just trying to find ways to keep myself in shape while letting my feet (particularly my right foot) heal.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Operation B-Hop

At my weekly private lesson Thursday, Mike, my instructor, was showing me some hopping exercises that he said would be key for me to improve my sparring. He said I tend not to move much, which allows me to to defend well using my reach when attacked, but poses a problem when I need to get to my target.

So, at the age of 53, I'm considering a radical change to my exercise regimen to try and raise the bar one more time in my sparring.

I'm going to (with the help of the clock change this week) start getting up about 40 minutes earlier, get to work early, go straight to the gym there.

Three mornings a week, I will start by working on these plyometric, hopping exercises. I hope my feet and knees can stand them. I'll start easy. Then I'll climb onto a feet/joint-friendly bike or elliptical machine for, I hope, about 40 minutes of cardio.

The two other mornings I"ll do some weight lifting, which the people running the gym say is good at my age due to the tendency to start losing muscle mass. I've been trying to get to the gym twice a week at lunchtime but failing because of the press of work. My job increasingly is becoming 24/7.

If this new push can help me improve my sparring, without putting too much strain on feet and knees, I think I will move to the next level.

If not, I'll try something else... that lets me sleep later.

I'm calling it operation B-Hop for two reasons: 1) Bob is hopping, and 2) B-Hop is a nickname for boxer Bernard Hopkins, who, at the antique age of 44, is still one of the greatest boxers around.

Wish me luck getting through the adjustment and the new regime!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Today, after a group class, I asked one of the instructors I've sparred with several times what I need to work on the most.

"Relax," he said. I'm getting better, he told me, but I'm still too nervous/anxious in sparring.

Technically, he also said I sometimes over commit--my shoulder may be actually farther out than my foot on a punch. Then it takes a moment for me to recover--and in that time, my opponent can move away, counter strike, etc.

But mostly, he said, relax. "We're not going to break you in half," he said.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Learning New Things

I had a very good private lesson Thursday. The style of this school encourages a very wide stance, and a very tight hook punch; I worked on both in the class. I will need to practice both.

My trainer, Mike, is very focused on teaching, which is great.

Yesterday, I went very late to lift weights at work, then rushed home without taking a shower so I could catch a train. It is often very hard in the heat of the action during the workday to get to the gym. I'm going to keep trying; if I can't, I might come in early, but even in my commute, I'm very busy via Blackberry. If it weren't for exercise, the stress would just be completely overwhelming.

Also, because I was rushing out, I didn't get the protein immediately after lifting that is recommended. I don't know how critical it is to eat/drink protein right after lifting, it's not a world I'm accustomed to.

I've got a group class today. I want to keep more control over my sparring, and hence my partners'. My left leg still hurts a bit from a roundhouse kick to the thigh; one issue, I think, is that my partner didn't have on shin pads, so I got hit with a very hard shin. It doesn't have to be a very hard kick to hurt with a shin, I now see.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Continuous Life

My stomach has been bothering me all day, and I'm skipping class tonight.

So, for something completely different, here is a wonderful poem about being a parent and a human being; I suppose it is also about middle age, since that's generally when you're raising children. It has absolutely nothing to do with martial arts.

I discovered this poem inscribed on a children's fountain in Manhattan a number of years back when I was having a terrible day and went for a walk.

The author is Mark Strand; the book it appears in has the same title as the poem, "The Continuous Life."

Here's a link to the Amazon page with the book:

And here's the poem, from

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows, tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost — a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

"The Continuous Life (Poem Text)." Notes on Poetry. Answers Corporation, 2006. 17 Sep. 2009.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Discouraging Pursuit Of Perfection

I finished the first week of my new martial arts/health regime with a 20-minute jog at a school track, followed by eight wind sprints of roughly 50 meters.

My weekly plan is to attend two group martial arts classes, one private lesson, two weight lifting sessions and one run/sprint. I missed one weight lifting session at the gym at work because I left my packed gym bag at home. Otherwise, I did all the training I planned.

After seeing an instructor named Mike at my new school for two private lessons and one group class, I attended a group class on Saturday with two other instructors. One, named Derrick, is a professional kickboxer.

As before, the group class was very different from my old classes, but an intense workout. At the end, I sparred with Derrick and Justin, the other trainer. They said they understood I did leg kicks and light head contact; I said yes, because that's what I'm used to.

I finished the class feeling a bit discouraged, and a little banged up.

I was hearing from the two instructors many of the same things I had heard before at my other school; my combinations pretty soon become predictable, and therefore easy to anticipate and counter; I back straight up instead of moving to the side; etc.

Why this should be depressing to me, I'm not sure. I certainly couldn't expect that those problems would disappear just from trying out a new school. I'm there to learn and improve. Still, I did feel discouraged.

Once I got hit pretty hard to the head; I was told it was after I had hit my sparring partner pretty hard to the head myself. It's hard for me to know when I'm hitting hard sometimes; I will feel better myself if I don't hit too hard, inviting an escalation from the other side.

I also got a dead leg from a perfectly placed roundhouse kick to my thigh. It still is sore a day later. Perhaps I should try, like most of the other students, only contact below the neck and above the belt (no head contact or kicks to the legs). But that would feel like I'm moving backwards.

One thought an instructor had was that the goggles I wear--to protect my eyes and to see better--interfere with peripheral vision; and it is true that I often don't see what's happening when people get angles on me. In any case, once I put on my headgear, I can't see out of the goggles because they fog up. Maybe I will try sparring without them, the headgear should provide my eyes with some protection.

Derrick did tell me I used my jab very well, making it difficult for him to get inside, and I threw a couple of good round kicks to his leg; I did slip a jab from the other instructor to begin an attack once, which he complimented.

It sounds simple, but I need to keep reminding myself: I'm here to learn, so don't expect to be perfect. It's a difficult lesson for me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Plan

I am trying some new things.

I've started attending a new martial arts school. I'm adding some basic weight training to my exercise regime. I want to see how these changes affect my health and my skills and enjoyment in martial arts.

My old school is terrific; it got me into excellent shape, taught me a lot, introduced me to new friends, and provided a path to get my black belt. I still have classes I paid for there that I will use.

After eight-and-a-half years of training at my old school, I now want to see what I can learn at another school, and see how I like a different approach to health.

My new school is also a mixed martial arts school; I have entered as a non-belt student (the school also teaches a more traditional martial art, complete with belt rankings; I'm not doing that). At the moment, I'm focusing on standup/striking, the part of martial arts I have usually liked most.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, publishes suggestions for physical activity; based on those, I'm trying to get 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, and also do weight training muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week. I'm doing the weight training at the inexpensive and convenient gym at my workplace twice a week; it provides a nice break to the stressful day at the office.

The weekly aerobic activity I'm trying to get through my new school and, one weekend day a week, a jog, run and/or sprint session. This schedule would allow me one day of rest a week (probably Mondays).

At the moment, I'm going to two one-hour group classes a week at the new school. The classes are quite vigorous, as my prior school's group classes were, though there are of course lots of differences in how the classes are vigorous.

Also, my new school offers a half-hour private lesson each week as part of its curriculum. I'm hoping that these private lessons will be a way for me to learn quickly.

There's a lot to learn. This new school approaches things differently, starting even with how you place your feet in the basic stance. We train in orthodox and southpaw stances, which is so new to me I was laughing at how awkward I felt in the southpaw stance. The school places more emphasis on wheel kicks, hook kicks and side kicks than I'm accustomed to; it has different ways to place the hands defensively than I'm accustomed to.

And all this I've noticed in only a week.

Whether I can, at 53, learn how to DO all these new things is another question--I'm not sure I have the flexibility to do all these new kicks well, for instance. And in my darker moments I wonder if, even with private lessons, I just can't learn how to move properly in stand-up sparring at this age.

My hope, however, is that, with the private lessons, I can reach new levels of skill and knowledge, while also finding new friends--without losing or forgetting the old friends.

Wish me luck!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The 50-Plus Martial Artist: "Older, Wiser, Slower"

A fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal last week was called, "Older, Wiser, Slower: After 50, Avid Athletes Find That to Stay Healthy, They Must Let Go of the Need to Win." (Note, this may be a subscription website.)

I felt relief from some unrealistic expectations after reading it.

The gist of the article is encapsulated in this quote from a 51-year-old famous triathlete: "If you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy."

It goes on to argue there are satisfactions and thrills to athletics in one's 50s that don't require more than an aging body can give.

These messages don't get a lot of air time in some corners of athletic culture. What I've heard more often is: "Age is only a number."

I find that, while I feel as competitive spirited as ever, I can't match the speed of a well-trained, athletic 20- or 30-something in sparring. It also takes me longer to recover my breath after sparring a round.

And if I make myself injured, frustrated and miserable trying to match that level of performance, I'm eventually going to give up something that has brought me health, friendship and joy.

I truly think I can continue learning in martial arts, and finding ways to improve what I do, for years to come. But I believe that to do so, I need to take the wise route of recognizing limitations, and striving for achievable goals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Martial Arts and Fitness in Middle Age

I know it's obvious that martial arts promote fitness, but there are a lot of counterexamples. I've met black belts who came equipped with dangerous-looking beer bellies--dangerous to their own health, that is.

I recently signed up with the gym at my workplace, which costs the incredibly low sum of $7 a week. I got an evaluation coming into it, which gave me a quick reading on how I'm doing in terms of fitness. Martial arts are my primary way of exercising.

The results: My cardio signs were excellent--resting pulse of 57, recovery pulse of 80 per minute after three minutes of a timed stepping exercise. Disturbingly, the tester said about half the people he tests can't finish the 3-minute step test.

He told me, whatever I'm doing in terms of cardio, keep it up. Interesting that it's a very anaerobic workout, not typically aerobic (i.e. my classes involve bursts of high activity, and then rest, rather than steady activity like jogging or an aerobics class).

For strength testing, I did 30 military-style pushups; the tester was looking for 11 to 16. I did 100 crunches, he was looking for something like 20 or 25.

I do have some stiffness, particularly in the hamstrings, quads and rotator cuff, the tester said. And my body fat percentage (calculated with calipers) is high--24%, which to me sounds horrible, like I'm a stuffed Christmas turkey or something. The top of the recommended range was 23%, the tester said. Online, I've seen all sorts of ranges suggested.

(My wife thought it was hilarious that I got stressed out because my body fat was one percentage point high.)

The gym manager suggested a half-hour weight program twice a week, and stretching the quads and hamstring twice a day when I'm warm (one AM option--stretch in the shower). I've never consistently lifted weights, so I'm enthused about trying that out, especially since a half-hour workout is all I can spare at the office. And it doesn't take time away from home.

One argument I've often heard is that when you build muscle, you burn fat. Maybe weight lifting (and a little more discipline in eating) will reduce that body fat percentage.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflections on a Journey of Many Years

The blogger's dilemma is that the busier life is, the more things you have to say, and the less time to say them.

I've been busy lately.

Last night, I threw a party at my house to celebrate getting my black belt back in May. When I throw one of my infrequent parties, I enjoy inviting people from very different aspects of my life and watching them interact; this party included people who have been at my martial arts school for a long time like me, a few old friends from outside martial arts, neighborhood friends, friends from church, and family. I got my wife's cousin to cater the event; in keeping with the martial arts theme, there was an Asian flavor to the food.

It was fun, and it was nice to celebrate once again all the blood, sweat and tears that went into getting the belt.

Lately I've been reflecting on my own journey in the martial arts.

I've been thinking about modern v traditional martial arts--I attend a school that 8 1/2 years ago, when I joined, was called a karate school, and now is mixed martial arts. A lot of the bloggers I follow practice traditional martial arts. I envy the cultural exploration they get to do.

But as my wife recently reminded me, my own journey in the martial arts has also been an extraordinary path. I've discovered things about myself: physical strength; joy of movement; mental discipline; an inner warrior I had no idea existed. On many occasions, including recovering from ACL surgery, I've had to face my fears to get to a new goal.

Re-entering martial arts in 2001 also was an effort to gain control over one sliver of my life at a time when life felt wildly, disturbingly out of control, as a person I love increasingly fell into the grip of mental illness.

On the invitation I sent out for my party, I put a photo of Mr. Miyagi, the instructor in The Karate Kid played by the late actor Pat Morita. Dave Berry once hilariously said that karate is a martial art where, after years and years of effort and discipline, and using only their hands and feet, people have made some of the worst movies in history. But I'm not embarrassed to say that it was The Karate Kid that got me to first go to a Tae Kwan Do school in Queens for six months. And if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have returned to martial arts in 2001.

What I was searching for (beyond better health) was a Mr. Miyagi, a strict but patient instructor who would affirm my worth while teaching me new things.

Occasionally, like this morning, I glimpse that the real Mr. Miyagi is within.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cake vs. Training

As I write this, I'm eating a birthday cake instead of attending a very interesting martial arts class at my school. On the whole, I'm disappointed. :-)

On Saturdays, my school now offers a special class where 1) brown belts get intensive training for the black belt test, and 2) black belts get advanced/refined/different training. Today, I would be learning to work with weapons--nunchuks in particular--something my school no longer teaches in the ordinary course of things. I was looking forward to taking the class.

Instead, I'm watching over the birthday party my daughter is throwing for one of her best friends; my wife is out attending to our son. I'm pleased that I could help out my daughter. She had a few teary moments before the party, and she's happy now. And family comes first.

But I do feel like I'm missing a rare opportunity. I have to remember it will come round again.

Life has gotten in the way of training and also of this blog in the past weeks. There was the mild food poisoning the night of sparring this week. Last week, I was in the Berkshires, planning to do some running at least--and I caught a cold on vacation. Work has spilled over so late some days I was unable to make class or, in one instance where I showed up nearly 10 minutes late, I was fairly distracted during training. One of the consequences of the recession and cutbacks is everyone at work is trying to do more things.

I did get to class on Tuesday and Friday nights this week, and I felt refreshed physically and mentally the next day.

I'm sure one of the reasons I felt so refreshed by my classes was that I hadn't had much training previously; funny how training and not training can go hand in hand.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nothing More Tiring

I had two hours of class today. In the second hour, among many other things, I went three rounds boxing with my sensei. It's like trying to block lightning. He has full control of his punches, but you feel them.

My wife said I looked miserable when I got home. I told her I was very, very tired.

"There is nothing more tiring," I told my wife, "than getting hit."

Eyebrow raised, she said, "I have no idea why you enjoy this."

I said, "I'm not sure I would if every time were like this."

I did learn a lot, however. In grappling, I was reminded of the D'Arce choke, which I'd forgotten how to do even though I'd mentioned it before; I also learned a way of flipping an opponent who has me in side control by grapevining his leg.

And in the black belt class, we worked on two ways of setting up the uppercut; 1) Draw the opponent's right hand to the side of his head by throwing two open hand hooks, then go into position to throw a very hard hook--but throw a front-hand uppercut to the head, followed by a cross; or 2) slip the jab, take a stop towards the opponent, then throw the backhand uppercut followed by the front hook (then move away).

Finally, sensei told me I was dropping my hand BEFORE throwing my jab, which was allowing him to come over the top with his cross. And I need to keep my hands up even when a speedster like him is out of reach, because he can move in and hit my head so quickly.

Very tiring.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


My first role model in standup sparring was a black belt named Terry from my school. I learned a lot of things from Terry, but one thing I shouldn't have emulated was how close he got to his opponents in sparring. Terry would get in close and use tight hook punches.

That suited his size and style, but not mine.

There's a boxer I sometimes now think of in sparring named Paul Williams (in the photo above he's punching Winky Wright). Williams has the reach of a heavyweight but has fought at weights as low as 147 pounds. What I've noticed about him--it's somewhat visible in this photo---is that when he is throwing a flurry of punches, including hooks or uppercuts, he's using his reach still. (Also notice how he's keeping his left hand in position, protecting his face, as he punches with his right!)

Punching at the outside of your range makes for more power. It prevents opponents with less reach from clinching and ending your advantage. And of course it makes it harder for the opponent to reach you if he has less reach.

Oh, and Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009


My man Steve, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner, has a post about breathing while sparring, and how important it is to make yourself breathe.

I recently had a couple of interesting experiences with breathing while sparring.

1. Gumba Frank, a fellow black belt and classmate, is always a challenge in standup sparring. Frank is not only tremendously strong, he also has amazing hand speed (even more amazing that he's around 52 years old) and he is a very skilled counterpuncher. He also, surprisingly for someone in an orthodox stance, relies almost exclusively on his left, front, hand. My best strategy against him is to use my reach and to circle to my left, his right--the opposite of what I would normally do against a right hander. I want to steer clear of his left hook.

I realized a few weeks ago while sparring with him that I felt so anxious (when he hits, it hurts) that my breathing was speeding up and becoming shallow, which was tiring me out. And getting tired is a problem because I do best with him when I constantly move. I had to consciously slow down my rate of breathing and deepen the individual breaths. It helped. I was surprised that I hadn't been aware of that pattern before.

2. Last Saturday, I was grappling and got another 50-something black belt, Warren, in an arm triangle. That's a type of choke where I'm using one of his arms against his neck to help finish him off. Warren is a bit of a street fighter, and he came up with a creative solution: He took his free hand, pinched my nose shut, and covered my mouth with his hand, cutting off MY breath. Nobody had ever done this to me before. Eventually, I had to loosen my grip on him to pry his hand from my mouth, but that allowed him to get free from the arm triangle. People did point out to him later that it was an illegal move, but I was laughing about it, I certainly didn't expect it!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Osu, Black Belt Mama

Congrats to Black Belt Mama, who now truly IS a black belt mama, having just gotten her belt after persisting through ACL surgery and recovery. She's an inspiration.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I was going to run this AM but it's raining, and I don't want to hurt my knee slipping while sprinting.

So I had a leisurely morning. Slept until 8:30, which is really, really late for me. My 16-year-old daughter made a delicious breakfast of waffles with blueberries and egg-white omelets with chives. And my wife is holding her annual grill for the dads BBQ today.

I was able to sprint Saturday and Sunday last week without injury, and I feel my sprinting is helping my endurance and cutting my weight. This weekend I haven't sprinted, but I plan to on Tuesday, when I'm taking a day off to take care of some stressful personal business. Perhaps if the weather clears up today before it's too late I'll go to the track as well.

My right leg (the one with the original ACL) is a little sore today from grappling. I spent effectively two hours grappling yesterday. In the second hour I was paired up with Vinny, a teenaged black belt who's as tall as I am. I got him to tap out once from an arm triangle choke; he got me to tap out from a leg lock, hence the sore right leg.

We haven't been doing standup sparring for the past couple of weeks because we've been working on leg drills. Sensei doesn't think we move enough in standup (I know I don't).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sprinting: Easy Does It

After my knee hurt following sprinting last week, I postponed my plans for sprints on Saturday and Sunday. That's still my goal, however.

This weekend, I only sprinted on Sunday. I jogged at the high school track a mile and a quarter to warm up, then I did 50-yard sprints--turning around and walking back to the starting line and immediately sprinting again.

This time, I was in a moderate sprint, rather than running like I was trying to win the Olympics. It seemed to be better on my knee; also, I didn't try to stop my self quickly after passing the 50-yard mark, figuring a quick stop puts stress on the knees as well.

My knee felt fine, but I started to feel a little pain in my left quad, where I think I had a small, small muscle tear last week. So I stopped after nine sprints, rather than going to all 10.

My hope is that 1) as the muscles build up, I won't get these pains as often, and I'll be able to start sprinting twice a week (Saturday and Sunday); 2) the sprinting will give me greater leg strength and endurance in sparring; 3) I'll be able to move constantly during sparring the way my sensei is urging us, making me competitive with the young black belts in class and leading me to become the world's greatest 53-year-old kickboxer.

Hey, a guy can dream, right? :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

How Nervous Was I?

A fellow student asked me how nervous I was when I tested and finally got my black belt in May. A little background is necessary, because this was my third test.

The first time I tested, I was so nervous that I went to the ATM the day before, and left the cash in the ATM machine. Fortunately the ATM sucked the money back before somebody else came along. However, a Joshu at our school heard about it, and at the test was telling me how he had a free trip to the test because he "went up to the ATM, and some idiot had left $100 in it." He was joking with me because he was trying to get me relaxed. I went to that test with my friend the Hulk, and we both had the classic signs of nervousness--cotton mouth, multiple trips to the bthroom, etc. I passed self defense moves at the test, but didn't get all the way to the kickboxing and grappling.

The next time I tested, in November 2007, I was definitely nervous, but doing much better than the previous time. Although, I think the day before, I went to the ATM, took the money...and left my card in the machine. It also got sucked back in, so nobody drained my bank account.

It was at that November test that my ACL got destroyed, and I had to quit with about three minutes left. The afore-metioned Joshu, who's a real card, was telling me he wasn't surprised I didn't pass, because my wife "told him" that I "never lasted four minutes between the legs with anybody." This time he was trying to cheer me up.

I was enjoying the test up until I got hurt--in particular, I enjoyed the stand-up kickboxing part of the test. I think because I had been to one tournament previously, I was less nervous about it.

When I went for my third time last month, I looked, on the surface, fairly calm, I think. But I was nervous underneath. The day before the test, I showed up to meet someone an hour earlier than I was supposed to and left in confusion.

On the day of the test, my knee was a bit sore, and I didn't really know whether it was because I hurt it a bit training for the test, or whether my knee was "nervous" about returning to the scene of its injury. The hardest part of the test was waiting while the other candidates went through all the parts I had previously passed. I definitely had "fight or flight" syndrome. Once I got on the mat for grappling, it was a relief--and at that point, I started having fun.

I guess the pattern is, the anticipation is terrifying, but the test itself is often fun.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When I'm 53

I turned 53 today. I went to work, and came home to a tasty home-cooked meal of roast chicken and dressing by my wife and daughter. I celebrated my birthday by doing 53 push-ups and 53 sit-ups.

I'm taking the day off tomorrow to take care of some things I just can never get to while I'm at work. Tomorrow I'll make up the martial arts class I missed tonight.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


It's Tuesday, and I haven't called my doctor yet because my knee keeps feeling better.

There's a little discomfort when I bend my right knee a lot, but it has improved. I'm hoping, as blackbeltblues suggested, it's just tendonitis or something.

I do hope I will eventually be able to sprint regularly--it does seem like the best way for me to cross train for conditioning and leg strength. But it's good that for now it doesn't seem like a serious injury.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

An Old Familiar Feeling

There's good news and bad news today.

The good news is that I feel my conditioning and grappling are getting better and better, even after my successful completion of the black belt test two weeks ago.

The bad news is that my right knee--the "good" one--is giving me pain and stiffness with normal bending. It's definitely not an ACL tear, thank goodness, because the knee is strong and stable.

But when I tore my ACL two and a half years ago, I also tore my meniscus, which gave me pain and stiffness when bending my leg--similar to what I'm feeling now. In recovery terms, it was a sideshow to the ACL.

I'm probably going to call the doctor who did my ACL surgery to have him look at it.

I don't recall a moment when I hurt my knee recently. I figure it was in the run-up to the test or the test itself. I recall telling my friend Larry that my knee was hurting a bit the week after the test, and he said, yeah, sometimes you get hurt at the test but don't realize it because of all the adrenaline.

The running, specifically sprinting, I've been doing has been good for my cardio. On Saturday, I sprinted early in the morning, then took two hours of classes beginning at noon. My quads were sore, and my right knee; but I held up fine through the classes. In grappling I twice got the back of Warren, one of the sampais my age, who was exhausted, and I got him to tap out once. Usually Warren gives me a really hard time in grappling.

But today, Sunday, I changed my plans and I'm not sprinting. I'm worried that it will make my knee worse.

There does seem to be a cycle, particularly in middle age, where you get near the peak of your condition, and some injury forces you to start over again.

We'll see what happens this time. At the least, a meniscus tear (if that's what it is) isn't nearly as big a problem as an ACL.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Unexpected Responses from Sensei

Last night, I talked with my sensei about what's next after getting my black belt.

I started off by telling him I wished he had seen me grappling at the black belt test (he was judging students in a different ring). I wanted him to see because I enjoyed it and did well... and because I had a feeling he wasn't very confident in my grappling abilities before the test.

His response: He had been more confident in my grappling skill than I was.

I was very surprised. But given how hard I can be on myself--and how nervous I was about grappling before the test--it made sense. After all, he wouldn't have sent me to the test if he didn't expect me to pass.

I told him I want to cut back a bit on training for a stretch to give more time to my family, and he said, that's fine, I earned it.

But I want to continue to learn. What's next?

Next is the second degree. But he said not to rush. In our school, there is a deliberate process that has to be followed to earn higher degrees to the black belt, and it can easily take two or three years. I expressed concern at how tough the ring is where candidates for higher degrees compete at the test; he said I would have the skills for it by the time I went.

We talked about my interest in sprinting for conditioning and leg strength. He said it's a great idea, but I should ideally do it at least a couple of times a week.

I said I could only picture one day a week to sprint, Sunday, because during the week I rise at 5:45 AM for work, and return home about 7 PM. And on Saturday, I take a couple of hours of martial arts classes, so I clearly can't sprint that day.

His response: Why not sprint early on Saturday? Just leave several hours between sprinting and martial arts class.

He said that in preparation for tournaments, he would work out, run or train three times daily, day after day.

Hmm, I thought. Well, I'm 52 and he's not.

But I won't be doing it every day, and I won't be doing three workouts in a day. I can try a double workout once a week and see how it goes. As Hack Shaft says, eventually the muscles adjust.

Tomorrow is Saturday, the first Saturday of the rest of my life, and I'll give it a try.

One sign that I've taken the black belt as a beginning, not an end: I expected that after the test, my weight would rise somewhat. Instead, it's continuing a slow decline.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Running and Legs

My sensei has been talking about the benefits of running and, specifically, sprinting, for conditioning and to build leg strength. On the Memorial Day weekend, after doing some sprints following a warmup run on Saturday, my hamstrings were very tight. On Monday, instead of sprinting, I went for a somewhat leisurely run, with the idea that this would loosen the muscles and be better for my legs.

Man, are my legs sore today.

Blogger Black Belt Mama has a funny set of guidelines for how you know you've overdone it at the gym on leg exercises: It is completely appropriate for me today.

The leg pain (muscular--my knee is okay) is a surprise to me because, at various times in recent years, I've gone to gyms and done elliptical work for an equivalent distance without my legs being so sore. It may be that the sprinting is what did it.

I can't for now figure out how I could do a couple of sprinting sessions each week; my only time available is Sunday (I'm not sprinting on Saturday, when I have two martial arts classes). But I still figure--rightly?--that it's good cross training even if I do it once a week. With time, I hope, my legs will adapt.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's Next

Last week, I took it a bit easy. On Monday and Wednesday nights, my wife was working, so I stayed home to do chores that hadn't gotten done in the busy run-up to the test, and to keep my daughter company.

I missed class those nights.

Instead, I was doing things like mowing the lawn and going shopping. There wasn't time for anything last week except training and working. I do want to cut back on training for a stretch so my family and I can reconnect.

On Thursday, I took two classes, which meant I didn't get enough sleep for Friday. But I knew there wouldn't be classes Friday or over the weekend. It was great walking into the school--everybody greeted me with a smile and a cheer, it felt like I got the belt for everybody, not just myself.

Yesterday, with no class, I went to the high school track (softer than the pavement on my knees and feet), and after a warm-up jog did some 50-yard sprints for conditioning.

Next week, I'm hoping to have a chat with my sensei to talk about what's next. I want to continue training and learning; I want to start bringing a notebook (I just bought a little one today) to take notes after class on things I learned I want to retain.

I don't know whether that means going eventually for a second degree or not at age 53 or 54. But I do want to keep growing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sempai BobSpar

I'm sore, I'm tired, but I'm elated--I got my black belt today.

It's been almost two and a half years since I last tested. That was when my ACL got snapped in two.

I felt like my mind was somewhat calm (if worried) coming into the test, but my body was very anxious. And while my mind was worried about things like failing in front of people, my body was anxious about my knee. My left knee was hurting walking down the steps of the terraced parking lot to the test site, at a college in suburban New Jersey.

I was in what we called the "geriatric ring," a station for people 35 and older. I'm not entirely certain, but I believe that, at 52, I was the oldest candidate in the group. Most of the candidates seemed to be in their 40s, and maybe a few were late 30s.

I flew through the pushups; the situps were tougher because I was told I needed to get down lower, touching more of my lower back to the mat.

Then I waited, and waited, and waited. All the other candidates had to go through all the parts of the test I passed before. While waiting, I struggled with the "fight or flight" reaction--I had to keep telling myself, you've done this before, you've been grappling hard, you've learned a lot, go in there when it's time and go for it.

The following is very technical about grappling, sorry! If you wish to skip the detail, please go to the final two paragraphs.

When it was time for grappling--before which I stretched and did pushups to get my body warm--I was initially paired with the person I thought was the weakest opponent. I told myself, don't assume he's not tough. But I did feel that if I didn't do well against him, it would be troubling to me and the judges.

All the work in recent weeks I've put into grappling paid off. There were so many things I did that I only learned while in my training for this test in the past two or three months. I went in, as Steve suggested, with a plan for what to do in each position, and I executed it. With this first opponent, I ended up getting him to tap out twice--once in a chicken wing from when I had him in my guard, and once with an L-lock when I had swept him and mounted him. (Addendum: In retrospect, I think I tapped him out a third time in a guillotine.)

My confidence soared--I was off to a good start.

Then came the second four-minute match. This opponent, another brown belt, was much tougher--very strong in the standup part. I got a bruise below my left eye that I didn't notice until someone pointed out afterward, but I'm sure it was from his head.

But I did pull him into my guard, and got him in a chicken wing. He fought it pretty well, but finally had to tap out. I felt terrific.

We stood up, went at it again. He started to grab my leg, and I pulled him into the guard again. I think what happened (amazing how much you can forget) is that I swept him, got him in a mount, and when he turned to his side to protect his arm, I went for an arm bar.

Unfortunately, I gave him enough room to slip out of it and go for an arm bar against me, which he got. I tapped quickly once he got it in tight--I had no interest in dropping out because my arm was broken.

Once more, standing up, he was more wary about me, but I pulled him into the guard again, and got him in a kimura lock again (which can lead to the chicken wing). He fought it well, and we ran out of time.

I was elated to hear that I (and everyone who had made it that far) got our belts. There were a few people from my local school there who congratulated me. I called my wife and daughter (my wife was too traumatized from seeing me hurt the last time to attend this one, though she provided ample moral support).

I was far from perfect. Sempai Chance, who had given me a lesson Friday, said I was trying to sit straight up from my guard to do the sweep, rather than turning to my side first. I lost putting my second opponent into an arm bar because I gave him room to get out.

I have so much left to learn. And that's one definition of a black belt--a serious martial arts student.

But I attacked and defended well enough to show that I knew what I was doing well enough to pass.

I'm grateful to all the people (including readers of this blog) who encouraged me on the way. I am grateful to my sensei; at the end of the day, I asked him to honor me by putting my belt on for the first time, which he was happy to do.

It's been a long road since that awful moment when my ACL ripped on the grappling mat. I wouldn't say that the black belt or ACL recovery are the most difficult things I've ever done, tough as they are. Trying to be a good father and husband in this imperfect and disruptive world is harder and far more important. But it's encouraging and thrilling to be able to say that, just days short of my 53rd birthday, having recovered from ACL surgery two years earlier, I got my black belt.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tomorrow Is The Day

I'm resting on this rainy Saturday. For the first time in what feels like months, I'm not taking two hours of classes. I need the rest; Last Saturday I had two classes, Sunday I ran 2.5 miles on the track (and I'm not a runner), Monday through Wednesday I had an hour of class each evening, Thursday I had two hours, Friday I got up for work without enough sleep and then had an hour-long session with Sempai Chance working on my grappling plan.

I'm a little nervous, but feel like I've done what I wanted to do in terms of training. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Black Belt Worries

My black belt test is less than two weeks away, and I'm concerned.

I basically have to do three things: 1) 50 pushups in excellent form. 2) 50 situps in a minute. 3) Show I can attack and defend in two 4-minute grappling matches.

I'm worried about the standards I will face for pushups and grappling.

I can do 50 pushups. But I do them with my hands wider than my shoulders. If the standard is to get my chest down to the floor--some judges want that, some don't--I probably won't pass. My shoulders don't move that way. If I had spent several years doing pushups with my hands right next to my torso, it would be easier to get my chest down to the floor, but that's not how I've been training.

I am not a natural grappler. I can't bend my knees as much as I need to really sit on my heels in the guard; I have difficulty remembering and instantly putting into action all the various moves, or even enough of the various moves. I just don't think like a grappler. I'm a much better grappler, I believe, than when I tested two and a half years ago. But again, it depends on the standard of the judges I'll be with.

Tonight, my sensei was telling me many things I need to do better at grappling--sit up in the guard, get out of the guard quickly, move back and push the legs to the side if his feet are in my hips, etc., etc.

The other thing looming over me is that I don't know when I'll be able to test again. I can't keep this pace up. I have, at 52, the most demanding job I've ever had. I am missing classes taking my daughter to visit colleges. I have another child generating a lot of worries for me. My wife misses seeing me because I'm either working or training.

So this feels a bit like a last chance to try for the black belt, for now at least.

Friday, April 10, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons

I have been remiss: I need to pass along to a deserving blogger the "When Life Hands You Lemons" award, pictured on the left.

I received the award from Hack Shaft, a newcomer to middle age and martial arts, who's studying Tae Kwan Do and who has TWICE had ACL reconstruction surgery.

I am passing along the award to Michele, whose blog is called "Just A Thought." She also is a martial artist who has undergone ACL reconstruction.

This is a particularly appropriate award for Michele because, following her ACL inury, she has been moved to produce a particularly thought-provoking blog. I don't study a traditional martial art; but for me, Michele and her blog exemplify values that I associate with traditional martial arts: strength, gentleness, modesty, balance, persistence, confidence.

She has tackled subjects like bullying, personal safety and parenting as well as the joys and rigors of traditional martial arts.

Recipients of the "Lemons" award are asked to:

* Post the logo on your blog.
* Nominate blogs that show great attitude or gratitude
* Link to the nominees within your blog post.
* Notify the recipients of the award by commenting on their blog.
* Share the love and link back to the person from whom you received your award.

So here's to Michele of Just A Thought, who has taken the lemons life handed her and turned them into lemonade.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sweet Sparring, and Lemonade

Last night, I applied some hard-won lessons in sparring class, and enjoyed the change. With instruction in recent weeks from Sempai Hemans, an old-time karate-style classmate, I applied a key lesson to sparring:

Don't kick a counterpuncher.

I have pretty good roundkicks. They're very effective against many classmates. But whenever I use a round kick on Hemans, he comes back with at least three quick, hard punches or kicks. He's so fast that I'm still trying to regain my stance from my kick, and so I'm not really prepared for it.

So instead, I just used my reach advantage and I jabbed. And circled. And jabbed and circled and jabbed and circled. I kept my right hand right up at my head for protection while my left was flicking out.

Result: No big openings for him to attack me. No thudding blows to my body and head.

I did the same thing with Joshu DeLury, who also is a counterpuncher. After a couple of minutes, he actually started laughing because he could see what was happening--he had no counterpunching opportunities. He dropped his hands and stuck his chin out to tempt me to attack recklessly. I didn't bite.

It was, very simply, so much fun not getting pounded into the floor by those two black belts.

Meanwhile, Hack Shaft has graciously nominated me for the "When Life Hands You Lemons" award. I still need to post the image of the award and nominate someone else for it, which I'll get to later this weekend. Got to get ready for class now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lots of Training

Lots of training the past three days; Friday night, kickboxing at 9:15 PM, where I suddenly started to learn (with some help from him) about how to spar with a black belt who has bedeviled me for a long time. Saturday, two hours of classes, both of which became grappling classes (another learning session); and today, I went with a friend to a private trainer for some cross training.

Michele is right, it will be fun catching up in sparring. The lesson I learned Friday night was, when facing this counterpuncher with very fast hands, rely on my jab, keep circling, make him so frustrated that he will come in to attack (and be therefore vulnerable). Also to use my snapping front kick, which I've been hesitant to use--the jab of the legs.

On grappling, I'm learning when I have the opponent in my guard, I should just roll to the side and see what I can come up with--kimura, sweep, guillotine, all sorts of things can come if I just make that move.

I'm a little sore after all that training, and I have another class tomorrow night, but then a day off on Tuesday.

Good luck to everybody with their training, recovery, etc.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sparring Retread

I took my first sparring class in weeks. I had missed many due to schedule troubles, illness, and, for the most recent two weeks when I DID attend, a focus on footwork drills instead of actual sparring.

As a result, I was terrible. One of the more veteran black belts said he remembered when I used to hit hard and stick people with my front kick, and he was sure I would be doing that again. Since I hadn't asked for sympathy, this was totally voluntary on his part and showed how obvious my decline had been.

This is frustrating because sparring is my favorite part of my school's curriculum.

You learn how to ride a bike as a kid, and you always remember. You don't need a reminder about how to read.

But there are other types of skills, like sparring, like grappling, that need constant honing or you lose ground.

I know I'll regain it. With work.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Colonoscopy and "Situational Neurosis"

Huzzah, I can eat and drink again. I completed my colonoscopy; no cancer, one tiny doodad snipped off that they'll check out. If it's nothing, I'll be back in five years. If it's precancerous, I'll be back in a couple of years.

I got a bit nervous when I had to put on the patient robe to prepare for the colonoscopy--it started seeming real then. But I was completely unaware of the procedure. They opened the tap into the catheter for my arm for the anesthesia, and I was out within a few seconds; when I woke up, I thought the colonoscopy hadn't even happened yet.

The most annoying part of the colonoscopy was drinking the stuff that flushed out my system the day before, and having my system flushed out. It wasn't awful, it was really more an annoyance. Not eating for 36 hours also wasn't great, but wasn't terrible.

Before the procedure, I chatted with the anesthesiologist, who said my pulse settled down to the 60 to 62 range before the operation--before going into martial arts eight years ago, my pulse was somewhere in the 70s. Blood pressure was 135 over 90, which I thought sounded worrisomely high, but he said no, it was fine, even though I was in a situation of "situational neurosis." I said I liked that term, I'd never heard it; he said another term might simply be "anticipatory anxiety."

He said my oxygenation level (measured through a clip on my pointer finger) was 100%, so that was good.

So: Don't fear the colonoscopy, folks.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Middle-Aged Milestone

On Monday, I will reach (celebrate isn't quite the right word) a middle-aged milestone: I'll be getting my first colonoscopy.

I'm actually overdue by two and a half years--I was supposed to get my first at 50.

From everything I hear, the procedure itself isn't bad--I'll be knocked out. But I'm not looking forward to tomorrow, Sunday, when I can't eat anything, and eventually will have to start drinking junk that clears out my inner plumbing. Newspaper columnist Dave Barry once described it something like: Have you ever watched the space shuttle take off? Well, imagine your body is the space shuttle.

Two hours of martial arts class today, following one hour each of the preceeding three days. I had to finish by doing 100 pushups, which I completed in four sets, not the three I hoped. My arms feel like they're made out of lactic acid.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"It feels like you're back"

The antibiotic I started taking Sunday a week ago seems to be doing its job. I made it to four hours of martial arts training this week, more than I've been to for a while. It was hard, hard training, and I can feel how I've fallen behind on push-ups in particular, but I made it, sweating buckets, through each class.

On Saturday I took two classes in a row. In the second, I grappled with Larry, my friend who had ACL surgery about a year before I did, and who now has his black belt. He's a much better grappler than I am; adding to the difficulty/novelty, I was trying the class without any brace. (I learned I should wear knee pads, the pressure when kneeling directly on my incision scar is painful.) At the end, Larry was very complimentary, saying I had properly gotten out of all his attempts to get me in locks or arm bars, and that I had also done my share of attacking. "It feels like you're back," he said.

This is very encouraging because grappling is the part of my school's curriculum that I feel the least skilled at.

Later that day, my wife asked me how I was feeling, and I said something like, "Pretty healthy." She smiled and said it's the first time she's heard me say that in weeks.

Maybe I am back.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News

I'm going to one of those seven-day-a-week doc offices today, Sunday, because it's been four weeks since my cold and I still have sinus pressure, congestion, a cough, and low energy. I suspect sinusitis piggybacked on my cold. The continuing low energy has made it hard to do more than minimal training.

I like my regular doctor, but she doesn't have office hours on the weekend, and it's very disruptive to try to take time off from work to see her during the week.

Meanwhile, in other doctor news, my buddy The Hulk got two MRIs of his left knee and leg done AFTER his black belt test. His leg was swollen, his leg kept buckling, and he had knee pain going into the test. Turns out he had a torn meniscus in two places; a torn ACL; a bone cyst; and possibly a torn hamstring. He took his grappling test despite this damage, and was told he didn't pass because, once again, at age 60, he was relying too much on his tremendous physical strength and not enough on technique. He was in pain throughout the test. He was understandably disappointed by the results. I can't blame him, he should get a frickin' medal just for showing up and not getting submitted.

He can't get his ACL operation done now because he's the owner of a business, and given the economy, the business could go under if he weren't there interacting with and retaining clients every work day. He might get a meniscus operation since the recovery is much faster.

Here's my hat off to The Hulk for his courage and persistence. I hope he takes care of himself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Delay of the Black Belt Candidate

I spoke with my sensei tonight, and I'm going to skip this Sunday's test and wait until May to test for black belt.

I've lost too much ground with my current illness; sensei said he wouldn't be able to sleep if he sent me to the test and I got hurt because I wasn't in condition.

The plan is:

1) Get healthy.

2) Improve my eating habits. On days when I'm training in the evening, maybe have two meal substitutes/small meals in the evening instead of a dinner soon before training, and then some protein afterwards.

3) Get back to class and train regularly.

4) Cross train by doing bag workouts, including sprint-like punching/kicking sessions. This substitutes for the interval sprinting I used to do to prepare for competition/testing, and which I can't do anymore because of plantar fasciitis (painful soles of my feet).

I would have gone if my sensei said I should, but I'm relieved I'll have more time to really prepare.

Wicked Virus, Bad Timing

I am on my 10th day being sick, and my black belt test is in less than a week.

I haven't had a virus like this in a long time. I AM getting better, but it sure is slow. Last night, I got up at midnight from bed and moved to the living room couch because my coughing was waking up my wife. I don't want her to be sleep deprived and then become sick as well.

My brother, who lives in another state, had the same thing and he said it took him two full weeks to kick it. I'm blaming him for giving me the virus over the phone.

I haven't been to a martial arts class since TWO Thursdays ago (it's Martin Luther King Day as I write this) and I haven't been doing such basic prep for the test as cardio, push-ups and sit-ups, let along grappling training, etc.

I'm going to speak to my sensei tonight about what I should do. Given how I feel at the moment, I will only be slightly disappointed if he tells me I should put off the test.

It has been difficult the past nine or 10 months to put in as much training as I'd like. My job has been relentlessly demanding; combined with my three-hour round-trip commute, finding time and energy for family and life necessities has been tough, let along martial arts. I put in a burst of extra training when I decided to try again for the black belt, but this illness has derailed that effort.

I don't know what's going to happen at the moment.